Faced with a rival opponent in a high-stakes matchup as a precursor to this summer’s upcoming World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team stood up to the challenge on Wednesday afternoon, and perhaps the biggest challenge of all was overcome by goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Hope made seven saves and, backed by goals from Julie Johnston and Christen Press, Team USA defeated France 2-0 to win the 22nd Algarve Cup title on Wednesday in Portugal. The championship victory was the 10th for Team USA in the history of the tournament. It also made a statement about the resolve of the Americans, as they bounced back from a loss to France last month in France, and showed drastic improvement with the World Cup on the horizon.
“France is a very good opponent and one of the best teams in the world,” Hope said. “[Coach Jill Ellis] had a great game plan, we stuck to it, and had an organized defense, which led to our counterattack. It was a better tactical game plan and we came out on top.”
The shutout was Hope’s 81st of her career, extending her USWNT shutout record and her 127th victory for the national team, moving her within six wins of all-time record holder Briana Scurry (133). After allowing a goal in the 43rd minute of Team USA’s 2-1 victory in the tournament opener, Hope went more than 315 minutes without allowing another goal, ending the tournament with a streak of three consecutive clean sheets.
“The minute she rejoined the team she’s had a focus,” Ellis said after Wednesday’s win. “I was really pleased with giving up just one goal in this tournament and she’s a big part of that. I thought today her distribution was tremendous, her presence was excellent and obviously she had the big save on the penalty kick that was massive for us to maintain the two-goal advantage.”
Indeed, the highlight of Hope’s day was one of the overall highlights of the tournament, an incredible save on a penalty kick attempt by France’s Amandine Henry. The U.S. was holding tight to a 2-0 lead with under 10 minutes left when Meghan Klingenberg was whistled for a grab in the penalty box. Henry stepped up to take the shot, but Hope read her first twitch move, dove to her right and made the stop to keep France from building any momentum.
“It’s one of those things that you never know what you’re going to do when you step on the line,” Hope said afterward. “I stayed calm, I stayed relaxed and made the save.”
That save was one of seven made by Hope on her busiest afternoon of the tournament. Going into the championship match, she was mostly untested with eight saves on nine shots faced, but she was up to the challenge presented by France.
Team USA went into the match in search of a bit of revenge after the French team defeated them 2-0 in an early February exhibition in France. It didn’t take the Americans long to get off the schnide on Wednesday as they capitalized on their first scoring chance of the match.
It came in the seventh minute, after Press drew a foul setting up a free kick. Lauren Holiday took the free kick to the left of the box — from about 23 yards out — and delivered a perfect ball to the middle of the goal box, where Johnston was able to get to hit and redirect it with her head into the back of the net to give the USWNT a 1-0 lead.
“It was a very tactical game, but we were on the same page and we knew what we were doing,” Hope said. “We dropped back into a 60 defense or a 70 defense, and we had an organized defense, which led to our attack.”
Hope made that cushion stand up in the minutes that followed. Her first test came in the ninth minute, when Henry launched a kick into the box that Hope ran up to grab with ease, thwarting France’s first scoring opportunity. The French had a more legitimate chance in the 22nd minute, but Hope stood tall, as described in U.S. Soccer’s game recap:
“France’s Camille Abily geared up for a long range shot from outside the box that she drove past U.S. defender Julie Johnston. Solo needed to move slightly to her right to save the high-paced attempt and did well to prevent any rebound, leaning over to corral the shot.”
France remained on the attack for the next several minutes, but didn’t manage to get another attempt on net until the 35th minute, when they were awarded a free kick just outside the box to the left, following a yellow-card foul on WNT midfielder Morgan Brian. Abily took the free kick and curled it toward the right post, looking for a teammate to direct it home. But Hope was the first to the ball and punched it out of the air away from the net.
Hope denied yet another golden opportunity for the French to knot the score in the 40th minute when the ball was centered to Kheira Hamraoui who fired a low line drive shot to the left side of the goal from about 25 yards out. Despite being partially screened, Hope reacted quickly and dove to her right, going all out to make the save. Her deflection of the ball allowed for a rebound, but the ball caromed in the direction of Johnston, who cleared it out of bounds.
“She’s a rock. We never doubt her,” Press said of Hope after the match. “She knows what she’s doing. We listen, trust and respect her. The best part is that other teams do too and she imposes herself in every game. She’s huge for us and she makes the saves when we need her.”
Shortly after that, her second save of the match, Hope helped to create a scoring chance that Press finished on the other end. After the ball went out of bounds near her net, Hope’s ensuing goal kick made it all the way to midfield, where Amy Rodriguez played it toward Press.
Once Press got control of the ball, she aggressively weaved through the French defense and dribbled ahead. She cleared the last line of defense at about 30 yards from the net and from there it was a footrace that she won long strides. At the conclusion of her run, Press fired a shot from 18 yards out, just inside the right post, to give the USWNT a 2-0 lead.
That lead carried the U.S. into halftime and in the second half it was up to Hope to make it stand up. She did so with aplomb.
“I feel comfortable. I feel good. I feel relaxed. I feel confident,” she said after the match. “I think that’s what our defense needs. At times I get too intense for them…so I’ve taken more an older approach, trying to lead in a more relaxed way and it feels good.”
Her first test of the second half came in the 49th minute when Hamraoui arched a kick from outside the box in to Eugénie Le Sommer, who was open in the box. Le Sommer got off a clean header on net, but the attempt was swallowed up by Hope for her third save of the day.
Though she had a few more shots to field off net in the early stages of the second half, Hope wasn’t truly tested again until the 71st minute. On that chance, it was a cross from Laure Boulleau that curled into the goal box toward the net. But Hope extended to tip the shot, which appeared bound for the crossbar, off net.
The biggest challenge for Hope in the match, and by extension the tournament came 10 minutes later, after a foul on Meghan Klingenberg inside the penalty box in the 80th minute set up a penalty kick for Henry.
One-on-one with a striker for the first time in the tournament, it was the type of challenge Hope had been looking for since her return to Team USA and she proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that her instincts are still excellent as she adeptly read Henry’s move and dove to stop the shot, which was ticketed for the bottom left corner of the net.
She was asked afterward how she deciphered Henry’s motives and read the shot so perfectly, and she told FOX Sports that some things are better left unsaid.
“I can’t give away my tricks,” Hope said with a grin after the game. “They say it’s one of the toughest things to do in sports. I stayed calm and stayed relaxed.”
After the rebound attempt went out of bounds, Hope got up with an ear-to-ear smile on her face and received congratulations from several teammates before buckling back in for the end of the match.
France kept coming in the final 10 minutes and Hope had to turn away a few more shots before her work was done. In the 86th minute, Marie-Laure Delie got a run through the right side of the box, caught up to a pass from Abily and fired a hard shot with her right foot on goal. But Hope was able to stay in front of and catch the shot for her fifth save.
Moments later, in the 88th minute, Boulleau put a cross into the center of the box, where Kenza Dali was waiting, but Dali couldn’t get enough on her header attempted and Hope easily scooped up the shot with no harm done. Then in the 93rd minute, as the French strikers desperately tried to get on the scoreboard, Delie fired from 20 yards out, but Hope moved to her left and caught the ball with ease to preserve her shutout.
The simple save was her seventh and final stop of the match, as the U.S. finished the tournament with a 2-0 victory to claim their 10th Algarve Cup. Afterward, Hope commented that the win was a strong statement of where the USWNT stands in their preparation for the World Cup.
“This is the best tournament in the world besides the World Cup and the Olympics,” Hope told FOX Sports after the match. “It was just great to play in a final. The atmosphere, the nerves and you have to manage the nerves and have a different game plan going in. It was just awesome. It’s just great going into the World Cup, great for me, great for the team.”
After their Algarve Cup triumph, the USWNT won’t be back in action until early April, when they play host to New Zealand in a friendly at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It’s the first of four friendlies on U.S. soil before the World Cup begins in Canada this June.
“We’re on the right track to peak for the World Cup which is still three months away,” Hope said after the Algarve Cup final. “We’re not at our best yet but we’re getting there. We have a lot of work to be done.”
The match with New Zealand is set to begin at 12:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, April 4th and can be seen on FOX Sports 1.
- WNT Defeats France 2-0 to Win 10th Algarve Cup (US Soccer, March 11, 2015)
- Jill Ellis and Players Discuss WNT’s 2-0 victory (US Soccer, March 11, 2015)
- Watch Hope Solo save a penalty kick against France (USA Today, March 11, 2015)
- Solo Stops Late Penalty Kick as U.S. Women Win Algarve Cup (NY Times, March 11, 2015)
- Hope Solo stands tall for U.S. in Algarve Cup final (Yahoo! Sports, March 11, 2015)
- Christen Press leads USA women to Algarve Cup title (FOX Sports, March 11, 2015)
- Hope Solo helps United States blank France (Seattle Times, March 11, 2015)