U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Before their game against Nigeria, the USWNT sat atop the Group of Death and were in control of their own destiny. A tie would ensure they moved on to the round of 16, a win would help them win the group. But in order to get a win, they needed to score goals. That is kind of the whole point of the game. Goals have been hard to come by for the USWNT, recently. Although they scored three goals against Australia in the first game of group play, the US women had been held scoreless in 5 of their past 13 games, including their 0-0 tie against Sweden in the last game. Wambach went as far as to suggest that the turf fields being used during the World Cup was the problem. “For me, I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we’re playing on grass,” said Wambach after the game against Sweden.
To try and remedy their offensive woes, coach Jill Ellis inserted Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan into the starting lineup to run up top, and Tobin Heath at outside midfield. The changes were noticed immediately as Wambach played a great header to Morgan early, although she couldn’t quite get her foot on it for the goal. A few minutes later, Wambach headed the ball over to Julie Johnston who easily knocked in what looked like the game’s first…until she was called offsides.
And then it came. Right before the end of the half- in the game’s 45th minute- Megan Rapinoe sent a corner kick to the front of the goal. Naturally, Abby Wambach flew through the air to get her foot on the ball, her first goal of the Cup, and a lead for the US going into the half.
The second half started with more of the same for the US. Morgan made some quality runs and got chances, but was unable to convert any of them before she was subbed out for Sydney Leroux in the 65th minute. Leroux soon got tangled up with Nigeria’s Sarah Nndoim. Consequently, Nndoim would get her second yellow card of the game, forcing the Nigerians to play with only 10 players on the field for the rest of the game. With the player-advantage, Ellis brought on Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone to bolster the Americans’ already stout defensive play.
Wambach’s goal in the 45th minute proved to be enough as the USWNT defeated Nigeria 1-0, won the Group of Death, and advanced to the round of 16. Wambach’s goal was the 14th Women’s World Cup goal of her career, tied for second in Women’s World Cup history. The US defense continued to stand out, shutting down a speedy Nigerian attack. Through the three games of group play, the US defense only gave up one goal (v Australia). Hope Solo’s second consecutive clean sheet gives her seven in World Cup play, tying her for second all-time.
The American women have secured their spot in the next round, but are still unsure who their first opponent will be. Look for more of Wambach and Morgan starting together up top after their strong performance against Nigeria. Their next game is scheduled for Monday, June 22.