Wall Street Journal 6.20.2019
Team USA is three games into what it hopes will be a seven-game tournament capped by a second consecutive World Cup title on July 7 in Lyon.
It now enters the knockout round, where a loss means going from fresh-baked French bread to french fries.
LE HAVRE, France—The signs were mildly menacing for the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup game Thursday against Sweden. Swedish players had spoken of the U.S. looking past the game. Both teams had already qualified for the round of 16. Yellow-and-blue-clad fans filled large sections of Stade Océane at a tournament where U.S. fans have overwhelmed others.
Then the game started.
In the third minute, Megan Rapinoe fired a corner kick through traffic to Lindsey Horan, who poked the ball past Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Horan’s goal was the fastest of this World Cup.
The message was loud, and amplified by the crowd of 22,418 that still packed in plenty of Americans: The U.S. wasn’t messing around. It cruised to a 2-0 victory over Sweden to win Group F and signal to future opponents that its first two games weren’t just résumé padding.
The defending World Cup champions and No. 1 team, having dispensed with the world No. 9 team, look ready to take on other top contenders.
“I think we’re hitting our peak at the right time,” U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle said.
Minutes into the second half, Rapinoe passed from the left side across the middle and Heath settled the ball in the right corner.
Then Tobin Heath dribbled around her defender deep into the right corner. She fired, and the ball bounced off Sweden defender Jonna Andersson and into the left corner. It later was ruled an own goal, and it put the U.S. up, 2-0.
“I was obviously itching to play because I didn’t play the last match,” Heath said of coach Jill Ellis’s decision to start a lineup of mostly backups against Chile. “And it’s the World Cup so you kind of want to bring your best and perform.”
The U.S. broke a record for goals scored in a World Cup group stage, with 18.
U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, the biggest question coming into this tournament because she hadn’t played a single World Cup minute, stood up to several stout shots after facing almost no pressure against overwhelmed Thailand and Chile. So far in the World Cup, U.S. opponents are scoreless.
“Alyssa was fantastic today,” Heath said.
Thursday was the sixth meeting between the U.S. and Sweden in the World Cup, making it the most common matchup in the tournament’s history. The U.S. now has a 4-1-1 record against the Swedes at the World Cup, the lone loss coming in 2011.