Hope’s Spectacular Saves Spark World Cup Opening Win

Hope Solo came through with a marvelous performance Monday night for the United States Women’s National Team to open World Cup play, making several key saves in a win that earned her team three points—and one that earned Hope a big hug from her coach.

No. 1 made five saves on the evening, including several spectacular stops in the first half, and with her help the U.S. was able to go into the locker room with the game still tied 1-1. The U.S. offense overcame its lethargic start in the second half, as Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe each scored to secure a 3-1 win. The victory granted the U.S. three points and a nice cushion in Group D to start the FIFA tournament in Canada, and USWNT head coach Jill Ellis was heaping praise on her star goalkeeper after the victory at Winnipeg Stadium.

“I hugged her afterward—I said, ‘You get a hug tonight.’ She was tremendous,” Ellis said of Hope. “She’s the best keeper in the world, and she’s looked really sharp for the last three or four months. She has had laser focus and I thought that was on display tonight. She was the game-changer again.”

No. 1 was tested early and often. Just four minutes in, she showed that she was ready for anything that came her way when she took a hard foul while gathering a loose ball in the box. One minute later, Australia got its first scoring chance.

The American defense failed to clear a ball deep in their own territory, and Australia’s Emily Van Egmond gathered it and fired a shot on frame. Hope leapt to her left and batted the ball up and off the crossbar, and the U.S. gained possession.

“I actually thought it was going to hit my gloves and still hit the net,” Hope said of the hard shot from Van Egmond. “I was more relieved than anything.”

In the 12th minute, the USWNT veterans helped the team settle in. Abby Wambach brought the ball down at midfield with a header, and it was gathered by Rapinoe in traffic. Seven defenders surrounded Hope’s Seattle Reign FC teammate, but she used a spin move and some nifty footwork—what she later called her “best (Lionel) Messi impression”—to get a shot off in traffic. The ball deflected off an Australian defender and glanced back into the corner of the net, putting the U.S. up 1-0.

“It was a little bit of a shaky game for us, especially the first 30 minutes,” Rapinoe said. “Hope Solo was freaking huge for us. I think she had, like, three saves that I don’t think anybody else in the world can make.”

Even after Rapinoe’s goal put the USWNT in front, the Matildas weren’t deflated. In the 13th minute, Elise Kellond-Knight chipped a perfect ball to a streaking Samantha Kerr, who blasted a shot on the run from the left side toward the opposite post—but Hope was there with another tremendous reaction stop. While protecting the near post, she dove back to her left and swatted the ball away, where it was cleared by American defenders.

Seven minutes later, Hope made another strong stop, when Aussie captain Lisa De Vanna blasted a close range-shot to the near post, but Hope deflected the try. The Matildas had myriad chances—nine shots, six shots on goal and three corners—and they finally broke through 27 minutes in.

After successfully stymying a set piece, the U.S. defense was scrambling back into position, and Michelle Heyman gathered the ball between three defenders, where she tapped it to the unmarked De Vanna, who knocked a perfectly placed left-foot shot into the corner of the net, just out of reach of Hope’s diving attempt to stop it.

The shell-shocked Americans allowed another strong chance by the Australians in the final minute of the first half. An Australian free kick bounced through the USWNT line. It was a particularly dangerous play, as Hope was positioned to stop a potential header, but she reacted spectacularly and grabbed the loose ball to keep the score tied at the break.

“Historically, it takes us some time to get our feet under us and really getting rolling and to kind of find our groove,” Hope said of the team’s shaky start. “There’s going to be jitters. We have young players. Even without young players, we tend to take some time to find our groove. I expected that. I was glad that we could weather the storm and eventually play a little bit more comfortable in the second half.”

After Hope guided her squad to an even slate in the first 45 minutes, they returned the favor and took over in the second 45. The game was a tale of two halves, as the USWNT controlled possession and dictated the pace in the second half.

The U.S. had one lapse early in the second half, when Kerr had a breakaway running straight at Hope, but Becky Sauerbrunn raced from behind the Australian attacker and deflected the shot.

Just 11 minutes later, one of America’s budding young stars put in the game-winner. Hope started the sequence, playing the ball off a goal kick to Rapinoe in the midfield. Rapinoe advanced the ball to Sydney Leroux on the left wing and she pushed the issue, bringing the ball deep toward the line. Leroux then tapped it back to Christen Press, who was making her first World Cup appearance. With one touch, the Stanford product slotted the ball into the far corner, giving the USWNT a 2-1 lead.

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Hope had one more save in her back pocket before the night was over. In the 70th minute, the Matildas found a hole off a throw-in and launched another shot on goal, but No. 1 dove to her right and made the save.

Not long after, Rapinoe drove the final nail into the coffin. The USWNT veteran created the opportunity herself as she took the ball all the way down the left side and calmly dropped her 31st international goal through the lethargic Aussie defense and into the far corner, making it 3-1 in the 78th minute.

It was smooth sailing from there for the Americans. Afterward, Hope assessed her squad’s performance, saying that it was a solid start, but that the USWNT must sharpen up as the tournament rolls along.

“Obviously, it’s not good enough, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Solo said. “So as long as we steadily climb, I think we’ll be just fine.”

After the game, reporters asked Hope about her mental state going into the game and the tournament. A report surfaced the day before the game about an incident off the field involving Hope and her family a year ago, but No. 1 replied saying she is fully focused on the task at hand. Her performance showed as much, and she received an incredible amount of support from her coach and teammates after the tournament-opening triumph.

“Hope was world class,” Wambach said.

“She saved us a couple of times,” added Alex Morgan.

“I think she’s the Hope that we have seen in previous years,” Carli Lloyd said. “She’s been fully focused. She’s been great. She’s been leading back there. She’s sharp. She’s been training super hard. … It’s no surprise to me that she came up big in those moments.”

NEXT UP

It could take just one more huge performance from Hope to send the Americans off to the Round of 16. The win over Australia vaulted the USWNT to the top of the Group D table as the only squad with three points.

Australia sits at the bottom with zero, while Nigeria and Sweden are knotted in the middle at one point apiece after their 3-3 draw on Monday.

When Sweden comes calling on Friday, Hope is looking for a few technical areas of improvement from her squad.

“You saw today we went direct, we didn’t play through the midfield. And not just offensively, but defensively we broke down a bit in the midfield,” Hope said. “So we have to tighten up the gaps, we have to compress the field a bit more, and we have to move the ball with pace and rhythm and get them out of shape. Hopefully our set-pieces are better defensively and offensively. We didn’t perform on set-pieces today either.”

Team USA will be back at Winnipeg Stadium on June 12 at 8 p.m. ET to take on Sweden. Another three points would guarantee the team a spot in the next stage of the tournament. The match will be broadcast on FOX.

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