U.S. Women’s Soccer takes early lead in group stages after rocky start
The United States women’s national team entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the world, but they did not play the first half of their first game like the No. 1 team. The U.S. started the group stages playing No. 8 North Korea. The two teams met four years ago in a match that ended in a 2-2 tie. The United States made a lineup change in their first game: starting forward Lauren Cheney for midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who helped clinch a World Cup berth for the U.S. with a goal against Italy during qualifying. Although the first half was slow for the U.S., Cheney had a couple strong shots on goal and on target, proving she earned the start.
The United States had some problems getting the ball wide and making crosses to forward Abby Wambach who is a serious threat in the air. The U.S. managed to make smart passes through their defense and into the midfield, but North Korea’s defense was tight in the first half and broke up passes in the front. North Korea’s back line kept up with the quick feet of Heather O’Reilly and Alex Rodriguez and managed to keep them in front of the defense. The United States needed to continue to attack in the air against the shorter North Korean team.
The North Koreans gained more confidence as the first half went on and they continued to shut the U.S. women’s team down. The North Koreans moved the ball smartly down the flanks and their defense continued to hold up late into the half. The North Koreans had some strong chances. In the 34th minute, 16-year old Kim Su Gyong beat defender Amy LePeilbet and struck the ball from close range. Goal keeper Hope Solo made a diving stop to punch the ball out of bounds for a North Korean corner kick. Minutes later, Song Jung Sun beat LePeilbet and slid a pass across the goal, past Hope Solo, but the pass was not met by any North Koreans and defender Ali Krieger cleared the ball to safety. In the 42nd minute, Kim Su Gyong beats LaPeilbet again and slips another pass across the goal that is tipped by one of her teammates towards goal, but Solo scoops the ball up safely.
The United States had a sniff of a shot in the 40th minute. Wambach headed the ball to the feet of Rodriguesz inside the box. Rodriguez struck the ball but the North Korean defense blocked the shot. The U.S had another chance when O’Reilly dribbled through the midfield and passed the ball to Rodriguez who cut in towards the goal. She passed to the outstretched Wambach who missed the ball and was picked up by a North Korean defender.
The first half ended in a 0-0 tie. The United States took the halftime break to discuss taking the ball wide and making crosses in to the box. They needed to work around the North Korean defenders instead of trying to play through them. The changes the United States needed to make, they did make and they proved to be successful. Cheney, who had taken four shots on goal throughout the game, took a cross in the 54th minute from Wambach and headed the ball into the opposite corner of the goal to take a 1-0 lead. After their first goal, the United States began to look more confident. They broke down the defense more than they had in the first half and kept the ball wide. The North Koreans began to chase the ball and had less control and possession than the first half. The United States earned a corner in the 76th minute. The corner flew over everyone and was picked up by Krieger who crosses the ball off the crossbar. The ball drops into a sea of North Korean and U.S. players and defender Rachel Buehler slips the ball low and into the corner of the goal. The second goal provided insurance to the U.S. who now leads their group because of goal differentials.
The United States finished this game 2-0. They play their next game Saturday, July 2 at 12 ET against Colombia.