The United States opened up their 2015 Women's World Cup with a 3-1 win over Australia. Megan Rapinoe scored a pair of goals and Hope Solo came up big as the Americans grabbed all three points to jump to the top of Group D after the first match. But did they look look? Or bad?
Let's start with a few things here that are inarguable. Rapinoe scored a great goal, benefitted from a deflection and Solo was absolutely phenomenal. The Americans were out-played for much of the first half and didn't really look like they were on the front foot and in control until the last 15 minutes. The question is how we interpret that and what it all means.
Here is the positive spin, and the negative spin. As is usually the case, reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
The U.S. didn't play near their best and still came away with three points. That's a trait that often comes with experience and the U.S. has plenty of that, which will undoubtedly pay dividends again later in the tournament.
Still, every team will be nervous at the start of a World Cup. It doesn't matter how much experience you have and the Americans showed some early nerves. That won't be a problem in future matches.
All the while, we saw that Solo is fueled by controversy and should be at her best all tournament long. That's a huge advantage the U.S. can ride through the final, while ineffective matches by Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd didn't doom the team. They showed they can overcome such struggles, as well as a relatively absent Abby Wambach. Toss in Alex Morgan's appearance and the likelihood that she'll be able to start before long and you have the makings of a team that will only get better.
One match, three points, top of Group D. The U.S. is in a good place and the arrow is pointing up.
The U.S. got steamrolled in the first half and were only level because Solo was a magician. They were entirely too direct, often looked out of ideas and their organization was a disaster. So how did they start the second half? With a long ball off of the kick off.
The Americans struggled, yes, and in a vacuum, that can be chalked up to finding their feet in a new tournament, but this can't be looked at in a vacuum. The U.S. has struggled for more than a year now and the opening match was just a bigger stage for them to show where they're not quite good enough.
The long ball tactics, either playing to Wambach's head or space for Sydney Leroux to run into isn't just a misuse of the rest of the team's talent, but the U.S. aren't even playing to those tactics at their best. They don't have a defensive midfielder, so they need to keep the ball, only they don't do that by playing so direct and are painfully vulnerable through the middle. Christen Press, a fast player who is the Americans' best finisher, plays out on the wing where her skill is minimized and her place on the right means Heather O'Reilly sits on the bench, unable to whip in the great crosses that one would think the U.S. would want.
All in all, the U.S. looked like a team that didn't know what they wanted to do, didn't have their best players to do it, and had far too many players out of position. That's been a running theme and sure, the Americans' talent is enough to beat a team like Australia, but as soon as they come up against high quality opposition, they're going to pay in a big way.