Friday, August 3, 2012
Public Readings - Alex Morgan leads US women's soccer team into match against Colombia
Public Readings - Alex Morgan leads US women's soccer team into match against Colombia. Sporting News soccer writer Brian Straus with a preview of the USWNT's next match in the London Olympics.
The U.S. women's soccer team had the Olympic spotlight to itself Wednesday and made the most of the opportunity, coming from two goals down to defeat France, 4-2, in a wild tournament opener.
"Somehow, we always like to make things really dramatic for the fans, so you're welcome," Abby Wambach told NBC viewers from Glasgow's Hampden Park immediately following the game.
"I'm proud of us. This team, no matter what bumps we approach, we hop over them together. We had to finish this game off and we had to get three points out of it, and I'm proud of us for doing that," she said later.
The rest of the group stage isn't expected to be nearly as complicated or compelling. So go ahead and check in on the basketball or badminton Saturday as the U.S. meets Colombia (9 a.m. PDT, NBC Sports Network), because the drama is over for the time being. After that hour of dominance against France, there's little standing in the way of the Americans until the quarterfinals kick off on Aug. 3.
Since FIFA began ranking women's national teams in 2003, the U.S. has lost to a country outside the top 10 only once (Mexico in November 2010). The Colombian women, currently 28th and playing in their first Olympics, are in the U.K. to enjoy the experience and fill out the tournament bracket. At last summer's Women's World Cup in Germany, the Colombians' first, they failed to score a single goal and were dispatched with ease by the U.S., 3-0, in the group stage. They were shut out again on Wednesday, losing to North Korea, 2-0.
The most significant U.S. concern, a shaky back four that struggled against France before being bailed out by a high-octane attack sparked by Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, won't face much of a test on Saturday in Glasgow. The July 31 first-round finale against the North Koreans in Manchester likely won't present much of a challenge either (the U.S. is 3-0-1 all-time against eighth-ranked North Korea).
France was the primary first-round hurdle, and the U.S. negotiated it with speed, strength and spirit in equal proportion.
"It's a huge confidence boost," said Rapinoe, who had two assists Wednesday and was a constant threat with her creative dribbling and accuracy on long passes and free kicks.
"Obviously, France is such a quality side and being able to open up with them is a little bit nerve-wrecking, but coming back to get a 4-2 win is huge for us. It really sets the tone for the whole tournament," she said.
Coach Pia Sundhage has one injury concern—defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx will miss the Colombia match with a bad hamstring. But Carli Lloyd, who scored after replacing Boxx on Wednesday, is more effective in a withdrawn position than she was in the playmaking role she attempted to fill at the World Cup and should be fine. The back four will get a bit more practice, and Morgan will look to continue a tear that has brought 19 goals in 16 games this year.
Morgan's emergence represents the primary difference between this U.S. side and the one that took silver at last year's Women's World Cup. Sundhage wasn't ready to trust the then-22-year-old in Germany and didn't get much out of Amy Rodriguez.
But Morgan now has proven she's the perfect foil for Wambach. Fast, opportunistic and skillful, she runs smartly off the ball and can turn score from just about anywhere. That was evident in the 31st minute against France, when Morgan leveled the score with a stunning left-footed half-volley that Sundhage said was "world class."
The coach continued, "She's proven that she's not only fast, but she's strong. She has that balance. She's a good finisher and when she gets behind that back line, if she gets back and the team is putting her behind the back line, it looks really good and we get some goals."
Morgan's next goal will be her 20th, a milestone that's been hit only six times in U.S. women's history (Wambach has done it twice, Mia Hamm managed it just once). Watching the former University of California star continue her astonishing run might just be the best reason to tune in for the rest of the Olympic tournament's first round. The momentum established there will matter in the knockout stage.
"I think Alex will continue to grow, she's had a fantastic year, she's our leading goal scorer and I continue to support her and she will continue to support us because team accolades are what it's all about," Wambach said last week. "She is in her part of her career where it needs to be a little more goal focused. If she's focused on scoring goals, she's helping our team win championships."
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