Hope Solo and the United States Women’s National Team found themselves locked in a defensive battle against Sweden in their second of three Group D contests at the 2015 Women’s World Cup on Friday, and one late play on the goal line spelled the difference between a draw and defeat for the USWNT.
In the 77th minute, the Swedish sent a corner kick into the box, from Hope’s left. As the ball arced to the middle of the box, Hope slid into position to protect the left post. But as the ball came down in the middle of the box after a well contested header, it landed in position for Sweden’s Carolina Seger, who managed a nifty shot with her right foot sending the ball far to Hope’s left. The kick was ticketed for the back of the net as No. 1 scrambled toward the other side of the goal.
Fortunately, Hope had the help there she needed.
Team USA defender Meghan Klingenberg, who had been positioned on the right post for the set piece, reacted and headed the ball off the line, where it glanced off the crossbar and safely away. That key late play allowed the Americans to preserve the 0-0 draw and remain atop the Group D table. As Klingenberg explained afterward, practice, as well as her rapport with Hope, helped to keep the USWNT out of the loss column.
“We’ve been practicing set-pieces a lot because they can win or lose World Cups and games in the World Cup,” Klingenberg said afterward. “This is something we’ve been practicing all week. I know when Hope slides across I need to slide in and make sure I’m covering the line because I’m her far side. That’s what I did. Luckily I got my head on it and it went out.”
The attempt by Seger was the only shot on goal by the Swedes all game, thanks to a tremendous effort by the U.S. defense. As a result, Hope registered the 85th shutout of her career. It was her first clean sheet in World Cup play since the group stage in 2011, and her sixth overall in World Cup competition. She’s second in USWNT history in that category, behind only Brianna Scurry, who recorded 10 shutouts. Hope also made her 172nd cap on Friday night, moving her to second all-time among USWNT goalkeepers, just one behind Scurry at 173.
While it was a save-free match for Hope against the defensive-minded Swedish side, it wasn’t completely devoid of action for No. 1. Sweden had numerous scoring chances and recorded nine shots in total, though just the one was on goal. They tallied eight corner kicks throughout the evening in front of more than 32,000 fans in Winnipeg. However, the USWNT was brilliant in defending those set pieces, not allowing Sweden much room with which to work inside around the goal.
Hope was a big part of that outstanding defense. In the 38th minute, she made a gutsy play to thwart one of the many corner kicks from Sweden. On this particular attempt, the Swedes packed five women in the box, while Therese Sjogran booted a corner in from the left side of the goal to the right side of the goal box. There it was a jump ball involving two Swedish attackers and three U.S. defenders, but it was Hope who skied between them to jab the ball away.
The Swedish defense sat back and stifled the American attack. Team USA head coach Jill Ellis held Abby Wambach out of the starting lineup, though both she and Alex Morgan entered the game in the second half as substitutes for Christen Press and Sydney Leroux. However, even the squad’s two star scorers couldn’t break through the Swedish lines.
“They’re big, strong and they made space very limited for us,” Ellis said of Sweden’s defensive approach. “Did I expect that? No. I mean, I told the team we could expect a team that sits deeper and looks for transition moments or a team that’s going to press us high. So we were prepared for both. I think the message for us at halftime was I felt like we could change the point (of attack), and once we got the ball out onto the weak side then we had to be more productive in what we were doing. And certainly our commitment in the box needed to be better and our focus in the box sharper.”
The draw earned the USWNT one point, and kept them atop Group D with four total points. Australia, after a 2-0 win over Nigeria on Friday, sits in second place with three points. Sweden is in third with two points after consecutive draws in their first two group matches.
Hope and Co. will close group play against Nigeria, where a win would earn them the top seed in Group D. That final group play match is set for an 8 p.m. ET kickoff on Tuesday from Winnipeg Stadium and will air on FOX.