If you just saw the final score – a 3-1 win over Australia – you would probably think that the U.S. women’s national soccer team got off to a great start in its first World Cup match Monday.
If you actually watched the game, however, you probably came away with a different impression.
“Well, I think there’s two different sides you can look at,” World Cup champion Brandi Chastain said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “They got the result they wanted. That’s really the most important. Three points. Now, if you really want to know how they played, they didn’t play very well. They will certainly need to play better in the next game. And with Nigeria and Sweden having the draw in the first game, even that Nigeria game becomes more important. There’s a lot to work on, but there’s only a short amount of time.
“The good thing about the U.S. team, they have a great mentality,” Chastain continued. “They have a will to win. It’s always been present with the U.S. women’s national team, but it would be for them much more relaxing and much better if their play was more calm, more settled, more comfortable on the ball.”
Indeed, the United States out of sync offensively, especially in the first half. Even worse, there were defensive breakdowns. A lot of them. A goalie not of Hope Solo’s caliber would have allowed two or three goals – in the first half.
What was going on?
“Well, this is the World Cup,” Chastain said. “So when I think about situations like that, I think about other sports. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are playing against Steph Curry and the Warriors in the Finals. They’re going to get points. You have to know that. Hope Solo knows that at any point she’s going to be called upon. The good thing is, she was ready and she made those saves when they needed her most.”
Solo, of course, has a bit of a checkered past, a past that includes a 2014 arrest on domestic violence charges. She’s a great goalie, yes, but is she worth the trouble?
“It’s a tough conversation, isn’t it?” Chastain asked. “U.S. soccer has already come out and they suspended her for 30 days, and they felt that was the punishment necessary at the time. I think it’s difficult to know if that was enough. But I think if you look at it from the beginning, no, I don’t think that would have been my own personal decision. But it’s the one that now has been dealt and I think she’s already said that this is kind of the wake-up call that she needed.”
The United States eventually settled down a bit, as Megan Rapinoe scored a pair of goals and Christen Press netted the game-winner in the 62nd minute. Alex Morgan, meanwhile, came on as a late sub and played the final 10 minutes or so. The 25-year-old hadn’t played since suffered a bone bruise in her left knee April 11.
Chastain thought head coach Jill Ellis made the right call in giving Morgan some playing time.
“As a player, you’re itching to get out on the field,” Chastain said. “You know what it’s like. Sitting on the sideline when you want to help contribute on the field and in the game is really difficult, especially for someone like Alex who has been such an integral part of the attack. As that focused player, you want to do your work on the field, so in that way, it’s really good. I think everyone was probably holding their collective breath for those 10 minutes that she played, just hoping for her not to get injured or to aggravate the injury that she was coming back from. That worked in the U.S.’ favor.”
The Americans are one of the favorites to win the World Cup, but they must first survive the Group of Death. They play Sweden and Nigeria on June 12 and 16, respectively. Sweden and Nigeria played to an exciting 3-3 tie on Monday.
“There’s danger lurking for sure in that group, without a doubt,” Chastain said. “I felt that Sweden would handle Nigeria in a winning situation, and Nigeria was relentless. They scored that late goal, so now I’m thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe this group is even tougher than I had once anticipated it being.’ You really can’t at this level take anything for granted.”