Maura Gladys drops science on the USWNT Olympic opener
Don’t call it a comeback. The United States 4-2 victory over France was a comeback in a numeric sense only. The U.S. didn’t rally, or swing momentum or shift fortunes or fight back. It answered two goals with four goals.
The match was a string of mistakes by individuals and groups, not waves of undulating momentum. It was not a true comeback. And that says a lot about how strong the United States is, physically and mentally. They went down 2-0 within the first 15 minutes, but it never felt like they were truly trailing.
That first 20 minutes was a little tough to process as it happened, with three straight jaw-droppers coming right in a row.
1. Amy LePeilbet misplays a header directly back to Gaëtane Thiney, who takes a few touches under no pressure and fires a cracker to the upper right corner to put France up 1-0.
2. Two minutes later, the ball bounces around inside the U.S. penalty box, which has six U.S. players inside it, and falls to Marie-Laure Delie who blasts a point blank shot at a helpless Hope Solo to give France a 2-0 lead.
3. Three minutes later, Shannon Boxx goes down with an injury and needs to be subbed out for Carli Lloyd, a former bona-fide star who has been relegated to the bench. (WAIT before jumping on me for this one.)
Just 17 minutes in and the U.S. was down two goals and had lost a sub. It had the perfect makings of a monumental comeback with a long, hard-fought battle where the U.S. slowly clawed their way back from defeat.
But before anyone could even start to wax poetic about the epic task the team had in front of it, Abby Wambach sliced the lead in half with a trademark header into the net, as if to send the message, “We are still the better team.”
2-1. Game on.
Then came the Alex Morgan equalizer 10 minutes later, a perfectly timed ball by Hope Solo that was perfectly read by Morgan who maneuvered right where the ball would land and knocked it in.
At 2-2, the only question left was who would score the winning goal for the U.S. and how many would they score after that.
In the 56th minute, Carli Lloyd won the game with a smashing shot from outside the box that was set up by a brilliant ball from Rapinoe, followed by a true teamwork goal between Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Abby Wambach and Morgan. Rapinoe again played a beautiful ball to Heath down the win, who charged at goal and slid a ball across the goal mouth at the last minute, as Wambach crashed the keeper leaving Morgan wide open for the tap in.
The U.S. won the game in the moments that they didn’t touch the ball.
Abby Wambach’s camp out at the far post to head in the first goal, Alex Morgan’s superb positioning and reading of Solo’s ball, Lloyd’s connection on the end of Rapinoe’s pass and Heath and Rapinoe’s link up down the wing are all the key moments that led to goals, all of which are the result of whip-smart positioning and vision.
The defense still had it’s shaky moments. France’s second goal was largely due to the U.S. defense’s inability to clear the ball quickly, a situation that occurred several other times throughout the game. While that kind of defending won’t be good enough against Japan, who would devour chances half as good as the ones that were sitting for France, the back four should be able to tighten up against Colombia and North Korea.
Overall, France never played that bad. You wouldn’t look at France’s collective performance and think that it should have conceded four goals. But, the U.S. was that much more focused, composed and smarter, which is good reason for the rest of the world to be on alert.