WINNIPEG—Southern California soccer fans had plenty to cheer about—along with the rest of the world—while watching the US women’s national soccer team defeat Australia, 3-1, on Monday, June 8, inside Winnipeg Stadium.
The American team, who has never lost an opening World Cup match, escaped an impressive effort early on from the Australians in Game 1 of this years World Cup thanks in large part to three first-half saves by Hope Solo in goal.
USWNT head coach Jill Ellis, a former head coach at UCLA for 12 years, recorded her first win as the head coach of America’s team and showed a sense of relief on the sidelines as each of the three goals were scored.
Ellis, 48, coached the UCLA Women’s Soccer team from 1999 to 2010, leading the team to eight Final Fours including seven straight from 2003 until 2009 and six straight Pac-10 Conference Championships from 2003 until 2008.
She left UCLA to take a full-time position with U.S. Soccer and became the coach of the women’s national team in 2014.
Both Ellis, who finished at UCLA with a record of 229-45-14, and the national team–with former Bruins Sydney Leroux and Lauren Holiday on the roster–are under immense pressure to earn America’s first World Cup title since 1999.
The opening game victory puts the US team atop of the standings in Group D, known as the “group of death” in this year’s tournament, and preserves an unbeaten streak against the Australians.
Christine Press, playing in her first-ever World Cup, calmed her nerves with a go-ahead goal in the 61st minute off a pass from Sydney Leroux, a native of Canada, into the middle of the box. Megan Rapinoe, the forward playing in just her second World Cup, was the star of the game scoring two goals and providing much of the emotional edge to her teammates throughout the game.
“It’s huge to come out and secure points in the first game. … Megan was definitely my player of the match. That’s a leader by action, and that’s somebody I want to follow,” said forward Abby Wambach.
There was comfort in knowing, for Ellis, that the youth on this year’s roster is ready to compete and help win games for a team whose most familiar faces—Alex Morgan and Wambach—are dealing with their own individual setbacks.
Morgan returned to full practice just this week after dealing with a bone bruise in her left knee she suffered in early April. What was originally classified as a “minor injury” has forced the Team USA forward to miss the USWNT’s three friendly games on their send-off tour prior to heading north to Canada.
Wambach, on the other hand, has played in all the games leading up to the tournament, including every minute of Monday’s match. But, the team captain whose playing in her fourth World Cup, showed her age, 35, by failing to connect on crosses she normally racks up goals on, making critics wonder just how effective she can be for the next month.
Both Rapinoe and Holiday, whose married to New Orleans Pelican guard and former Bruin, Jrue Holiday, were cautioned, meaning if they pick up a second yellow through the quarterfinals, they will be suspended for one match.
“We obviously were a bit nervous,” said Rapinoe in a post game interview on the field. “Couldn’t have played much worst at times. But, got three goals and Hope Solo was freaking huge today. Everybody stepped up…its big.”
“Obviously, it the first tournament for a lot of people. It’s only my second; first game. So to get out of here with a win (three points) is huge. On to the next.”
Fans across the country—especially UCLA junkies—can watch the next USWNT match on Friday, June 12 as they take on their former head coach, Pia Sundhage, and her Swedish national team at 5:00 p.m. PST.