GROUP D: UNITED STATES LOOKS SHAKY BUT STILL BEATS AUSTRALIA 3-1
We've heard this refrain before. The United States had an off game, but still managed to pull out a win. Today's World Cup group D match against Australia was nervewrackingly frustrating. There was about half a team out on that pitch for the United States today; the rest melted into the turf, which was no doubt sizzling.
Let's start with the hero of the game: Megan Rapinoe. She provided critical width to the United States on the left and most of the attack flowed through her. She picked up a brace, both times victimizing Laura Alleway. The first goal deflected off Alleway into the net and the second one saw Rapinoe burning Alleway on her way to a tidy finish far post.
Christen Press was the other goalscorer for the United States, rescuing what was turning out to be a rather stale game from her. Jill Ellis has been intent on shoving Press into a right winger role and sometimes it's turned out okay, and sometimes it's turned out like a noncommittal shrug and a wiggly hand gesture.
Press' goal was a beautiful finish from inside the 18. She paced a sprinting Syd Leroux but drifted back from her defender to create some space, and Leroux fought tooth and nail in her typical Leroux way to find her. Press functions much better in that 9 role, but Jill Ellis seems to believe that she must be played on the right, because the United States is sorely lacking in attacking options that can penetrate deep along the right flank and send in service or make cutting runs to draw defenders away from other forwards.
That is, of course, a blatant lie, as evidenced by Heather O'Reilly's existence. Whatever you did to Jill Ellis, HAO, please apologize or pay her back or get cleansed by sage. Tobin Heath is sometimes able to make her particular brand of wizardry work for instead of against her; this game there was certainly an uptick in activity on the right when she was subbed in, but with Abby Wambach on the pitch, HAO seems like the better option.
And then there was Hope Solo, who stood tall in her boots to keep the scoreline at merely frustrating rather than outright panicky. Both she and Becky Sauerbrunn were on their toes for this game.
But if they were on their toes, then Carli Lloyd was on her back heels. The same goes for Lauren Holiday, as both disappeared for long stretches of the game. Abby Wambach was clearly miscalibrated and unable to make the adjustments she needed to find a winning touch.
Meghan Klingenberg was adequate; at the very least she didn't goof as badly as Ali Krieger, who was supposed to be covering the left while Klingenberg was temporarily switched right, leaving Australian bottle rocket Lisa De Vanna all by her lonesome.
So no, it wasn't the United States' finest performance. Yes, they managed to win anyway. No, that won't do against a team like Germany. Yes, there's every chance they'll get it together by the next game. You could go back and forth like this for a while, but it's still fair to say that without stellar play from Megan Rapinoe dragging up the team average, this game could have easily ended in a tie or worse.
The U.S.' next group stage game is against Sweden on Friday, June 12. Sweden is also coming off a disappointing performance, a 3-3 tie with Nigeria that felt more like a Nigerian win after they came from behind twice to equalize. Perhaps if Sweden remains iffy, the United States will catch a break and get away with a muddled performance.
Or perhaps they could just fix the bloody problems and perform to the standard to which they are capable.
GROUP C: JAPAN ESCAPES SWITZERLAND WITH NARROW 1-0 WIN
In the first half Japan looked like the better side despite having to sub Kozue Ando early after an injury, replacing her with Yuika Sugasawa. Their possession play in tight spaces was fluid as usual and even though Switzerland had some chances, mostly through the efforts of Ramona Bachmann, they controlled the half.
Ando collided heavily with Swiss goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann, which had the ref pointing to the spot. Was this really an offense worth of a penalty kick? It seems clear Thalmann was rushing out to block the ball, but her momentum sent her crashing bodily into Ando. The ref seemed to believe that Thalmann simply went into Ando with no intention of going for the ball. You can judge for yourself from the highlights video.
Switzerland shifted out of neutral and all the way into fifth gear in the second half. Ramona Bachmann made several incredible runs, delighting the crowd in BC Place, only to deflate everyone moments later when she would end up dispossessed or shooting off target.
Japan stayed organized around their goal every time the Swiss offence probed around the borders of the 18-yard box, patiently absorbing their attacks and looking for counters. But if Japan was able to prevent Switzerland from scoring, neither were they able to really get forward. Near the end of the match they started to show signs of giving in to entropy as they put up with an increasingly desperate Swiss attack. There was a miscommunication in stoppage that left Japan goalkeeper Erina Yamane vulnerable, but luckily for her Bachmann continued her wildly-talented-yet-somehow-also-ineffective performance by shooting over the goal.
Of note, this was midfielder Homare Sawa's 200th appearance for Japan in her sixth World Cup.