The U.S. Women’s National Team didn’t exactly look like a fine-tuned machine on Wednesday night. Still, the reigning Olympic gold medalists began their defense with an ideal result, one which sets them up nicely for the more difficult hurdles that lie ahead.
In the end, it was the USWNT’s superstars that stepped up in a 2-0 win over New Zealand. Carli Lloyd got the USWNT started with a 10th minute finish, while Alex Morgan started the second half with a bang by scoring just over 30 seconds in. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective, as the USWNT never looked truly threatened in a match that saw them cruise through the second half.
Overall, it was a performance worth building upon, one which got the team acclimated to Rio with a successful effort.
“I think we’ve been kind of waiting for this moment to happen, the first game,” Lloyd said. “Now that we have the first game under our belt, we can just continue our rhythm. I think that we get better as the tournament goes on and that’s great because you want to peak at the end of the tournament. For us it’s just continuing to stick to our gameplan.”
From the onset, the USWNT faced several challenges. New Zealand kept the game scrappy, and the USWNT was pressured early and often throughout what turned out to be a rugged game.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian crowd was firmly against the Americans, and Hope Solo in particular. Every Solo touch was met with boos and later chants of “Zika”, mocking the goalkeeper’s social media discussion of the virus.
Still, the USWNT was able to strike early in each half to ease some of the nerves and quite any doubts over their supremacy on the night.
“We wanted to come out strong and dictate the tempo,” Morgan said. “We wanted to go after them more. It’s interesting that it was only 34 seconds into the second half because I felt like there was so much play in our final third in those 34 seconds, almost as much as in the first half. It’s crazy to think it was in the first minute of coming back out. I felt like we needed it after the last 20 minutes of the first half was not that great of soccer. We came out and dominated and did well to finish off the game.
“It felt really good to get our first win under us,” the USWNT forward added. “As the game wore on, we played better and better and possessed better and dictated the tempo of the game. There was a little bit of a lull in the first half, but I feel like getting our goals early in the first half and early in the second half, we were able to put them away early and feel good with finishing the game strong.”
With three points in their back pockets, the USWNT face what could very well be one of their toughest tests of the tournament.
Saturday’s opponent, France, is currently ranked third in the world and boast plenty of talent. After finishing fourth at the last World Cup, France enters with a “bitter taste”, according to Morgan, one which should serve as an even bigger motivator ahead of a clash with the top-ranked USWNT.
France opened the tournament with a win as well. It took just two minutes for France to begin an onslaught of Colombia in a match that ended 4-0, sending France to the top of Group G for the time being. With stars like Louisa Necib and Amadine Henry leading the way, France is exactly the team the USWNT wants to see as the look to fully immerse themselves in this summer’s major tournament.
“I think France has got some great talent. They play really well and like to attack,” Lloyd said. “It’s going to be a very open game, a technical game. New Zealand was on the scrappier side, a tough and grittier game. We’ll have that but we’ll also have some space to play and do what we do best and mix it up in the final third. We have to be ready for anything, but we are familiar with them and we’ve done well against them in the past, but we just have to get it done.
“What happens in this tournament with the quick turnaround is that you can’t focus too much on New Zealand,” Lloyd added. “We’ll make some adjustments I’m sure. The coaches will have some things to implement. All eyes are on France now. We’re really happy with the team and on to the next.”