Four years ago, there were under 6,000 people inside Red Bull Arena for the final send-off game against Mexico before the Women's World Cup. This year, the game was sold out.
Not only that, but Jack Demsey's -- the official American Outlaws bar in New York City -- was packed. People were climbing onto the top of booths to watch the game. In fact, one fellow at the bar remarked that there were actually more people there for the opening game tonight than there were for the final against Japan four years ago.
This just in: United States Women's Soccer has arrived.
While we sit here and debate the "status" of women's soccer within the United States and how they compare against the men, they came away with a quiet win. This 3-1 result wasn't the, say, number 8 team (Canada) beating the number 16 team (China) 1-0, or even the 11th ranking team (Norway) beating the 29th ranked team (Thailand). Instead, this was the United States beating the number 10 ranked FIFA team 3-1, a team that many consider a dark horse to go far in the tournament.
That being said, that doesn't mean the game was without drama. The US only went ahead 1-0 off a deflection of the blessed kneecap of Australian defender Laura Alleway. Would that shot have gone in without it? I have no clue; the speculation could go either way. What really made that great was how it changed the game. The US was getting outplayed in the opening minutes. The team may have been struggling, but they were not out of Hope.
Hope Solo came up big and saved the team on several occasions. The US gave up a second goal in the 26th minute. How? Several US defenders stood by and watched the ball get spanked past Solo. The goal scorer, Lisa De Vanna, did what she couldn't do for Sky Blue: finish. Some, including the Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, remarked afterwards:
Frankly, US lucky to be at 1-1. AUS better in almost every way so far: Passing, chances, sharpness. Two big Solo saves making a difference.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 9, 2015
Fox Soccer's Alexi Lalas even remarked:
"Make no mistake. The reason the U.S. is in the game this half is because of Hope Solo and the saves she has made." - @AlexiLalas #USWNT— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 9, 2015
As halftime passed, it was obvious that the U.S. was nervous. Abby Wambach missed chances, and central midfielders Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd remained anonymous after a quiet first half. It was Christen Press who stepped up. Passing the ball in the goal to put the United States up 2-1, it was the relative newcomer to U.S. soccer that was the star. The 2013 Golden Boot winner from the Damallsvenskan league, Press took the stress off the United States.
A goal considerably more impressive than her opening shot/deflection, Megan Rapinoe finally put the game away in the 78th minute. Despite commentators stating their obvious contempt at a 2-goal lead, the United States would hold on and put Australia to bed.
Did the team improve after the first half? Certainly. But the question if they deserved the lead is less obvious. However, only one statistic matters, and that is the final score.
Here are 3 thoughts from the game:
1. Hope Solo is a beast.
Whatever you might think about Hope Solo, despite her amazing saves and remarkable athletic ability this year, she's been an emotional distraction to the rest of the team. She's been embroiled in a drinking incident, a cellphone incident, and the now-infamous domestic violence incident. However, putting all that aside, she is the reason that the United States won today. She came up with huge save after huge save. And while ESPN may have tried to throw her under the bus yesterday, there is no doubt that today the team would've gone astray if not for her.
2. The United States isn't perfect.
Yes, the United States won 3-1 today, but that doesn't mean there wasn't problems. Tactically, the United States seemed disjointed. Not quite sure how to deal with Australia's fast-paced offense, the team's fullbacks, Megan Klingenberg and Ali Krieger, were often left in 1-v-2 positions because wide midfielders didn't track back. In fact, it was one of those 2-v-1's for Australia that allowed them to equalize. Even though it seemed the United States struggled, they were playing a solid team.
When Christen Press scored, it was quickly pointed out in the Once a Metro chat that playing players in positions that they're familiar with will benefit the team. For example, the 2nd goal was a result of Press reading the game area and putting the goal away. She abandoned her position on the left, and Press was left alone in the center of the pitch where should could put the ball away in the net. Only Jill Ellis can elucidate if that was part of the plan, but all I can say is that the United States women's national team needs to get better.
3. Abby Wambach is trying to figure it out
Abby Wambach today failed to score on her few chances today. The most discerning problem was the fact that the chances were exactly what she was looking for. Sure, they could be described as anomalies; she just misplaced her headers off-target. But that is uncommon for her. Wambach was missing what you'd consider golden chances -- chances she normally would bury in her sleep.
The idea that Wambach shouldn't be a starter could make the team look very differently. However, the major benefit of this is the recovery. While we wait for Abby to regain her form, there is no doubt the USWNT can rely on their depth to grab a late goal to steal the game. The United States has more than enough depth to not only shake off their own personal demons, but to shake off 95% of opponents. So, even if Wambach isn't performing her best, all is not lost.
The United States is the real winner today. After a draw between Nigeria and Sweden, they sit alone in first. However, nothing is guaranteed.
So make sure you cheer on the US for their next match against Nigeria at BC Place in Vancouver at 8 pm on Friday. But don't hop onto the top of booths at sports bars. That is unsafe and probably against the health code.