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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 27, 2012

USA women off to good soccer start

by Keith Peters

Stanford grad Kelley O'Hara made her Olympic debut with the U.S. Women's National Team one to remember as the Americans rallied from two goals down to post a 4-2 soccer victory over France in an opening-round match on Wednesday at the famed Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland.

O'Hara and fellow Stanford grad Rachel Buehler both started and played the entire match, witnessing the stirring comeback that earned Team USA three points in its quest for a third straight Olympic gold medal. Cardinal grad and backup goalie Nicole Barnhart did not see action behind starter Hope Solo.

Carli Lloyd came off the bench just 17 minutes into the game and scored the game-winning goal, Cal grad Alex Morgan contributed two goals and veteran Abby Wambach had the USA's first tally as the U.S. rebounded from an early deficit in the first 13 minutes with four unanswered to open the Olympics atop its group.

"You can't look at only the first minutes or the last minutes, it's the whole game," said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. "If you look at the whole game, I'm really proud of the team. Scoring four goals, and goals that were fantastic, that's one way to prove that you are ready (for the Olympics). It was a little shaky beginning, but I think it was amazing the way we came back and responded to those two goals."

The USA had started the game off well but, after allowing the two goals, it seemed things were going from bad to worse for the Americans who were forced to make an early substitution after midfielder Shannon Boxx suffered a hamstring injury in the 17th minute and was replaced by Lloyd. It actually turned out to be a turning point in the match.

Shortly after the change, the USA got one foot back into the match as Wambach, who missed the 2008 Olympics with a broken leg, tallied her first Olympic goal since the 2004 Athens gold-medal game, heading home a Megan Rapinoe corner kick in the 19th minute.

The Americans now had the momentum and the prodigious right leg of keepr Hope Solo set up the equalizer in the 32nd minute. Solo sent a kick deep into the French defensive third where it flew over the leaping Wambach and her mark, and skipped through to the streaking Morgan. Morgan then held off defender Ophelie Meilleroux and lifted her left-footed shot over onrushing France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi and into the net. The strike was Morgan's first Olympic goal after scoring twice in the Women's World Cup last summer.

Lloyd gave the USA the lead in the 56th minute with a rocket shot from 25 yards out that screamed into the left side of the net almost before Bouhaddi could make a move toward it. Lloyd had received a ball in midfield and took a few dribbles to free herself for the winning shot, which she then celebrated by running to the U.S. bench and executing a perfect knee slide into a gaggle of teammates.

Lloyd's goal was her second straight Olympic game-winner as she had the lone goal in the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game to defeat Brazil, 1-0, in overtime.

Morgan sealed the match in the 66th minute with her team-leading 19 goal of the season.

The two second half goals took the fight out of France, and although the talented French tried to pull a goal back, the U.S. defense led by Christie Rampone and Buehler, closed off the back and shut down almost every French attack in the final 45 minutes. Solo ruled her penalty area after the two early goals, making several brave catches in traffic and controlling the tempo of the match with her distribution and kicking game. She also made a nice grab off a header from Élodie Thomis in the first half.

Along with O'Hara, four other U.S. players made their Olympic debuts on Wednesday: right back Amy LePeilbet, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and forwards Morgan and Sydney Leroux. O'Hara was one of six players making their first start in the Summer Games.

The USA now has a 13-0-1 record in the series with France that dates to the first meeting on July 29, 1988 — a 1-0 USA victory in Rimini, Italy. France entered these Olympics on a 17-game winning streak.

The Americans will continue Group G play against Colombia at Hampden Park on Saturday at noon (PDT) and wrap up group play on Tuesday against Korea DPR at 9:15 a.m.

Both games are televised live on the NBC Sports Network (Comcast cable 723).

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