Early in the second half of the United States’ Olympic match against France, Tobin Heath found herself with nothing but green in front of her. The French defenders saw the same space she did, instantly migrating to contain her.
But by the time Heath’s shot bounced off the near post, U.S. co-captain Carli Lloyd had already snuck behind France’s overcompensating back line, in perfect position for the rebound. An easy tap-in from Lloyd in the 63rd minute gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in their second Olympic match Saturday afternoon in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
“Tobin, for me, was woman of the match. She was on a different level and she deserved to be part of the goal,” FC Kansas City and national team captain Becky Sauerbrunn said in an email message from Brazil. “She's been finding some great space on the outside shoulder of their outside back and got a great ball played to her in that space. And Carli was doing the right thing by being opportunistic and found herself in front of an open goal for a tap-in.”
That Heath-Lloyd sequence was enough for a 1-0 win, and a solid position in Group G for the U.S., who also beat New Zealand earlier this week.
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Clinging onto that 1-0 margin, the U.S.’ biggest scare came in the 80th minute, when Ali Krieger came flying in to make a clearance, and instead kicked the ball into her own goal’s side netting.
U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, despite being heartily booed by the crowd, was the star for most of the match, keeping France contained despite several chances. She had drawn the ire of Brazilians early this week after posting a picture on social media showing her plethora of mosquito-fighting equipment; fans chanted “zika” at her each time she had control of the ball.
But control the ball she did. Arguably her most athletic save came in the 41st minute when she denied Marie-Laure Delie in one of France’s closest chances. Delie charged toward the far post from a one-on-one position, and looked to be setting up a point-blank chance. But Solo jumped off her line, dropped to the ground and smothered the ball into her stomach as soon as it left Delie’s foot.
“Hope was fantastic tonight. It's so nice as a defender to have someone like her behind you, organizing and moving us where she needs us, but then also able to make the game-changing save when it breaks down,” Sauerbrunn said. “She did that tonight, probably several times. She's poised and takes everything in stride, I don't think anything gets to her when she's in her zone, and she was in the zone tonight.”
In front of Solo, the rest of the U.S. team had trouble finding a rhythm against France, currently the third-ranked team in the world.
Several corner kicks in the second half kept France challenging Solo. She had to once again jump to the ground and swallow a shot in the 83rd minute, after a bouncing header from a corner kick rebound trickled through the U.S. defense.
With six points accumulated through its first two matches, the U.S. is in good position to win its group and advance to the Olympic knockout stage. Group play will round out Tuesday, when the U.S. will take on Colombia at 5 p.m.