Solo the Hero as USWNT Beat France 1-0
Goalkeeper Hope Solo remained quiet in the USWNT’s first match at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Making only one save, and it coming in stoppage time of the second half, Solo was largely unseen. The situation changed when the reigning Olympic gold medalists faced the world’s third best team, France, on Saturday. Despite the tough challenge the French posed, the US walked away the 1-0 winners, a step closer to the next round.
The US made two changes to the lineup that beat New Zealand on Wednesday, replacing Julie Johnston and Mallory Pugh with Whitney Engen and Crystal Dunn, respectively. Johnston sat out the match with groin soreness, and Pugh was still struggling with the ankle injury she picked up against New Zealand. The US coaching staff, though, insisted that the two players were only kept out through precaution, and were both available off the bench.
The first half of a matchup that could very easily be seen at the end of a tournament belonged to France. The US had their opportunities at the French goal, but the World Champions often found themselves defending opportunities from the French. The French attack were having a field day shooting at Solo, in particular captain Wendie Renard, who was a constant presence in the air as her team tried to gain the edge in the match. Solo, though, remained strong when her defenders would give her up and kept the match scoreless heading into the second half.
The story was different in the second half for the USWNT, who looked far more dynamic after the break. In the 63rd minute, a goal finally came for the US. Tobin Heath made a run into the penalty area, and took a shot from a wide position. The ball hit the goalpost and went back into the penalty area, with many players to greet it. It ended up at the feet of US captain Carli Lloyd, who scored her second goal of the tournament from close range to send her team up 1-0. France, though, were eager for an equalizer.
For the remainder of the match, it was all on France, and they were close on many occasions. A header from Marie-Laure Delie was stopped point-blank by Solo. Renard came charging into the penalty area and took a shot, which substitute Ali Krieger sent wide for a corner. Corner after corner was given to the French, only for Solo to find it and end the play.
Meanwhile, the US would take any opportunity they could to send the ball away from their goal. Alex Morgan, who scored against New Zealand, was crucial in two efforts in an attempt to widen the lead. First came a shot from distance that barely soared over the crossbar. Second came a battle at the corner flag with French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, when Morgan won the ball from her while the goal was empty. The forward sent the ball back into the center of the field, but her teammates were not in prime position to capitalize.
The failures of the US to grab a second, combined with the success France was having by getting into the US penalty area frequently, made it seem like a French equalizer was coming. Yet, after five total shots, all of which were on target, eight corners, and seven saves from Solo, the French were left with no reward. The US took the three points and won the battle between two of the greatest teams in women’s soccer.
Despite edging out the French, the US were not at their sharpest. The defense, missing Johnston, left many gaps for the French to capitalize on, and without the heroics of Solo, could have looked at a less preferential scoreline. The attack was unimpressive at times in the first half, with Dunn remaining highly inactive on the right side of the pitch. In total, an attack featuring Morgan, Lloyd, and Heath, among others, managed only two shots during the match, only one of which was on target. French goalkeeper Bouhaddi was forced into only making one save.
The US close out group play against Colombia on Tuesday, August 9.
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