New England Soccer Today

All Heart for Team USA

The United States Women’s National Team punched their ticket to the World Cup final with a 3-1 victory over France in Moenchengladbach today.

Although they were outplayed at times, the U.S managed to defend calmly and keep their shape against the French, clinching their fifth appearance in a Women’s World Cup final, which will be played on Sunday against Japan.

For most of the match, any kind of attack the U.S managed to put together was against the run of play, with the French pushing up and challenging the U.S defense from the opening whistle.

One such example of that occurred in the 9th minute, when Boston Breakers defender Amy LePeilbet fed the ball wide to Carli Lloyd, whose deft touch found Heather O’Reilly making a run on the left flank.  O’Reilly drove a low ball into the penalty area that Breakers midfielder Lauren Cheney poked in for her second career World Cup goal.

But immediately after the early goal, the French began to take control.  In the 24th minute, the U.S. defense allowed Gaetane Thiney to break into the penalty and go one-on-one with Solo. Thiney drove forward and fired a shot at goal that Solo parried away with her right hand.

The U.S. struggled to recover from ongoing French attacks, consistently losing the ball and committing fouls in dangerous areas on the field.  With Lloyd and Shannon Boxx unable to settle down on the ball and get numbers forward, France were afforded golden opportunities to level it from set pieces.

In the 32nd minute, France got a chance off a set piece that nearly produced an equalizer.  Necib played the ball short to Sonia Bompastor instead of crossing into the box, Bompastor’s dipping shot rattling the crossbar.  Bompastor’s chance and the fact that France had outshot the U.S 16 to 6 in the first half were a prelude to what would happen after halftime.

The U.S didn’t make any changes at halftime and paid for it dearly when France grabbed the equalizer in the 58th minute.  Bompastor sent in a ball looking for the head of Thiney.  But Thiney’s head did not make contact with Bompastor’s cross, which bounced into the back of the net past Solo, who misread the play and remained frozen on her line.

Sensing that changes were necessary in the middle of the park, U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage finally made the decisive tactical change in the 65th minute when she replaced Lloyd with the immortal Meghan Rapinoe.  Rapinoe then switched places with Cheney, going to the left and allowing Cheney to hold the ball more in central midfield.  Sundhage also brought on Alex Morgan for Amy Rodriguez to fight for possession and slot in behind Abby Wambach.

The changes paid immediate dividends. Rapinoe and Cheney changed the game for the U.S as suddenly the French lost all the momentum they previously had on the ball.  In the 70th minute, Cheney laid off a freekick to Rapinoe who fired first time and forced a diving save out of French goalkeeper Beranger Sapowicz.

Cheney then took the U.S next set piece, a corner in the 79th minute, and drove a ball to the back post. Wambach ran unmarked into a channel of space at the back post and headed Cheney’s cross into the back of the net to give the U.S the lead again.

“We fought back from everything,” said Cheney.  “We were resilient.  Not only is [Abby] at the right place at the right time but she has the biggest heart.  I know at the end of the day she’s going to get it done.”

Said Wambach, “In the dressing room I said to [Lauren] Cheney: ‘When we have a corner send the ball to the far post and we’ll score’. Her delivery was exceptional. I was so close to the post I thought I was going to bang my head against it, but luckily I made contact with the ball. I couldn’t be more excited, proud or happy.”

Wambach’s goal, the third of this tournament, was her twelfth all-time World Cup goal, tying the leading record held by former U.S national team forward Michelle Akers.

The U.S were then able to exhibit more confidence on the ball, creating chances and getting into open space.  Rapinoe helped put the game away in the 82nd minute by playing a through-ball into space for Morgan, who raced into the penalty area and chipped a shot into the back of the net to make it 3-1.

Morgan nearly doubled her tally in the 88th minute when Wambach played her through again off a header, but her line drive was parried away by Sapowicz to keep the difference at two goals.

“France played well,” said Sundhage. “But, the team found a way to win and that’s the great thing about being the coach of this team. I made some tactical errors today, but my coaching staff gave me a hand and switched the midfield around just when France were playing their best football.”

Though Morgan missed her chance at a brace, the U.S were able to hold off the French, who will now play for third place on Saturday.  In the meantime, the U.S will focus on the final match scheduled for Sunday, their first World Cup final appearance since 1999.

“This team has a big heart,” said Sundhage.  “France played very well.  In the beginning we did okay but then we lost our legs.  We kept up the heart.”

“This is our journey,” said Wambach.  “France is a great team.  There were moments when they were outplaying us.  But this moment is about who wants it more. I know we’re going to pull through.  I just have a belief in this team.”

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