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2015 Women's World Cup

Three things learned: US finds a way vs. Australia

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The United States opened its 2015 Women’s World Cup campaign on Monday with a 3-1 victory over Australia in Winnipeg, sending the U.S. atop Group D.

Group D is already living up to the hype as the tournament’s best quartet. Here’s what we learned from USA-Australia.

U.S. midfield struggles, but gets by: Australia dominated much of the first 20 minutes of the match. The Matildas had an extra player in the midfield with the U.S. lining up in a 4-4-2. Carli Lloyd noted that with Australia’s extra player in the middle of the park, the directive was to play slightly more direct and try to find the flanks.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

But the U.S. largely struggled on the flanks, where Australia drew its chances from in the opening 20 minutes. U.S. coach Jill Ellis cited nerves as the reason for the shaky start.

“We lacked a little bit of movement, especially in the first half,” said Megan Rapinoe, who scored twice.

Around the 40-minute mark the United States settled into the match and they looked better in the second half. Ellis said the message at halftime was to get the wide players more involved in the match.

Luckily for the U.S., Rapinoe came up big again. She seems to live for the big moments, as learned by her role in Abby Wambach’s famous 2011 World Cup quarterfinal goal against Brazil.

“Megan thrives in these big games, big moments,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis. “She’s got ice running through her veins a lot of passion running inside of her.”

Becky Sauerbrunn quietly comes up big again: One of the game’s big moments that will be lost in Megan Rapinoe’s goals and Hope Solo’s saves is U.S. center back Becky Sauerbrunn chasing down Sam Kerr – one of the fastest players on the field – in the 51st minute. Kerr was in behind the U.S. defense and looked like she would go 1-v-1 with Solo in a 1-1 match. But Sauerbrunn, who turned 30 years old on Saturday, chased down the 21-year-old and blocked her goal-bound shot for a corner kick. That could have been a 2-1 lead for Australia. Christen Press scored the game-winner for the U.S. 10 minutes later.

“Becky’s just grown and grown,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said after the game. “I think she is one of the best center backs in the world, probably a little bit underrated by our opponents in terms of what she gives us and what she can do. Without Christie (Rampone) being there, she’s now settled into a leadership role. But her individual defending, here ability to read attacks and snuff things out and chase things down – she’s tough. And she’s good with the ball in front of her and she’s good tracking down the ball from behind. She’s really become a mainstay. I’m just really pleased with her growth.”

One of the several key elements to a deep run from the U.S. in this tournament could be the continued stellar play of Sauerbrunn. She doesn’t wear the armband, but she shoulders much of the on-field leadership in the back.

Australia still very much in the mix: There’s no denying from any parties – Australia, the U.S. or neutrals – that the Matildas controlled the start of the match. Had it not been for world-class saves by Hope Solo in the 5th and 13th minutes, the U.S. would have went down early and conceded an equalizer within a minute of Megan Rapinoe’s first goal. Australia coach Alen Stajcic was encouraged by his team’s play.

“I said we’d come out and attack and not sit back, not let America dictate the game and I thought we did that,” Stajcic said. “The effort of the players and the spirit and the execution was there.

“I certainly thought we were well in the contest and for the first 15, 20 minutes I thought we were the way more dangerous team.”

Australia will face Nigeria on Friday in a matchup of two fast, athletic teams that like to attack. Nigeria gave Sweden fits in the first match of the night.

“You’ve got two very similar teams, haven’t you? You’ve got two teams that like to attack, two teams that like to go at each other.”

Expect Friday’s Nigeria-Australia match to be wide-open.

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