In the United States Women’s National Team biggest match of Olympic group play, Hope Solo delivered a spectacular performance to drive Team USA to a vital victory on Saturday afternoon.
Hope collected her 200th cap in dominating fashion, holding the third-ranked team in the world off the board for 93 minutes to allow the USWNT to remain undefeated in the Olympic Games with a 1-0 victory over France. No. 1 is the only goalkeeper, man or woman, with 200 international appearances, and with the shutout she also has a world-leading 102 clean sheets under her belt.
“I played France for my 100th cap,” Hope said. “To play against them for my 200th cap… it makes it that much more meaningful when you can walk away, get the three points, get the win and also post the shutout.”
For a USWNT squad drenched in youth, it was again the team’s veterans who carried the day in front of 11,782 fans at Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Hope starred on defense, while captain Carli Lloyd headlined on offense.
Lloyd, who scored the game-winner versus New Zealand on Wednesday, proved to be the difference-maker against France as well. In the 63rd minute, Tobin Heath went for with a golden opportunity on the left side, but her shot bounced off the near post. French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi also got a piece of it on her way down, but the opportunistic Lloyd was there waiting for the rebound. The U.S. captain tapped the ball in from close-range for the game’s only tally.
“When the ball came off the post, and I was literally right there,” Lloyd said. “I think it hit off my shin, but a goal’s a goal. That’s what I need to do. I need to find a way.”
That goal marked the 90th of Lloyd’s career and her eighth in Olympic play. The veteran midfielder is now two tallies away from tying Abby Wambach’s American Record of 10 Olympic goals.
Lloyd’s second half tally proved to be the difference, but she never would’ve been in position to put the U.S. in front without an extraordinary performance from Hope, particularly in the first half.
The French offense was on the attack early and often, and at times found their way through the strong USWNT defense, rattling off 14 total shots to just five from Team USA. But they never got by Hope, the final line of defense for the American women. No. 1 posted six stops and held down the goal from wire to wire.
“Hope is ice, nothing can rattle her,” Lloyd said. “She had a fantastic game tonight, huge saves and came up really big.”
Hope’s first big save came 16 minutes in when she leapt up to swat away a header by French captain Wendie Renard, coming off a dangerous free kick.
“I don’t know how we kept them out of the back of the net with how many set pieces they had,” Hope said.
Ten minutes later, French forward Marie-Laure Delie ran down the left side and tried to sneak one through, inside the near post, but Hope poked it out for yet another save.
Hope kept the match scoreless with another key stop in the 40th minute. In that instance, No. 1 smothered a shot from point-blank range, making a save right on the chalk of the goalie box.
The Americans picked up their pressure and got things going on offense early in the second half, and finally found the back of the net with Lloyd’s goal. That tally forced the French back onto the attack and with the pressure amplified in the waning minutes, Hope kept her composure.
In the 77th minute, she dove to her right to make one more big stop and held on to secure the win.
“What’s important to me is that I played the best quality of football that I can play and that hopefully our team makes it to the final,” Hope said afterward.
The USWNT is now 17-1-2 against France all-time and 16-0-1 in 2016 thus far.
With two victories, the USWNT (six points) leads Group G. Brazil (Group E) and Canada (Group F) are the only other undefeated countries with six points in the Olympics thus far.
That makes Team USA all but a lock for the top seed from the group, as they own head-to-head wins over both France and New Zealand, who are tied for second place with three points apiece. Their final opponent of group play, Colombia, trails them all without a point after a pair of defeats.
All four teams return to the pitch Tuesday to conclude Group G play. Hope and the USWNT face Colombia at Amazonia Arena in Manaus, Brazil. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. ET, with the match viewable on NBCSN and NBC Universo, as well as streamable on NBCOlympics.com.