Watch 29-year-old midfielder Megan Rapinoe play soccer for five, 10 minutes — or even just one possession — and something becomes vividly clear: She is a rampaging tornado of confidence. And that was on full display in Winnipeg, Canada, yesterday. She scored twice and set up another goal to help the United States Women’s National Team defeat Australia, 3-1, in its opening match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Rapinoe shoots a lot, from positions all over the field. If she played basketball instead of soccer, she’d probably take 10 three-pointers in the first quarter, miss six, and keep on looking for buckets all game long. But Rapinoe’s confidence and ability to shake off mistakes is a huge part of what makes her such an electrifying player (along with her tremendous talent). Rapinoe’s unflinching self-belief and eagerness to take a chance shone through in both of her goal-scoring efforts.
In the 12thminute of yesterday’s match, Rapinoe tried to settle the ball about 13 yards outside the box. An Australian defender got a foot in for a tackle, and Rapinoe stumbled over the ball before turning and dragging it behind her with a clever half-Maradona sort of move. Pushing the ball onto her right foot, Rapinoe took two touches toward the 18-yard line and ripped a shot through the closing gap between two Australian defenders. She didn’t have a great angle or much room to shoot. Leaving her foot, the shot looked like it was going wide left. But the ball deflected off a defender’s knee and ricocheted into the far side of the net. It was a go-ahead goal made with confidence, skill, and a little bit of luck.
Team USA was up 2-1 when Rapinoe scored again in the 78th minute. Picking up the ball at half field, she cruised toward goal with the ball glued to her feet. As Rapinoe broke into the box, the defender never stepped to tackle her. Rapinoe made a dazzling cut to her left, freeing up space. She could have sent a diagonal ball across the box to set up a teammate with an easier angle, but Rapinoe opted to do it herself, blasting a worm-burner far post.
Rapinoe was Team USA’s most exciting player by a significant margin in game one. Her crossing was all over the place and she skied a few shots, but she delivered at key points. She has a knack for pushing forward and forcing pressure in the attacking third of the field, and building off that will be huge for the U.S. going forward. Rapinoe’s self-belief was on full display on Monday night. It remains to be seen if her confidence is contagious.
Keeper Clinic: Goalies-in-training, keep your eyes locked on Hope Solo, who gave a free lesson in the importance of fundamentals against Australia. Solo made two huge saves in the first 20 minutes of the game. The first big stop was a two-handed dive to her left to block a rip from Emily Van Egemond. Solo’s form was ideal. She generated power from her legs, and with two rock solid hands on the ball, she was able to push the high shot off the crossbar and out of danger.
Solo was called upon again in the 13th minute to stop a point-blank volley from the edge of the six-yard box. Samantha Kerr got a dangerous foot on the ball and sent it bouncing and spinning toward net, but Solo got a strong hand on it and redirected the ball across the net. The save looked like a pure reaction effort, but Solo was able to make the play because of her excellent footwork and ready position. Knees slightly bent, arms suspended at her side, Solo was able to spring forward and dive with enough power to redirect the ball because she launched from her toes and not her heels.
Morgan Watch: Subbed into the game in the 79th minute, speedy Team USA forward Alex returned to action for the first time since April 4. She got involved quickly, running down a through ball, making a sharp cut, and sending a shot wide. Morgan has been dealing with a knee injury for the past two months, so working her back into the game plan quickly but with an eye on her health is vital for the U.S.
Next Up: The U.S. faces Sweden on Friday, June 12 at 8 p.m. ET. Sweden tied Nigeria 3-3 in its first game and is led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.
Photo: Adam Pretty - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images (Rapinoe), Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images (Solo)