The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team began its quest for an unprecedented three-peat at the Women's World Cup with a sluggish 3-0 win over Vietnam. There was little surprise about the outcome at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand — the only question was by how much the U.S. would win.
The U.S. dominated possession, weathered a slew of Vietnamese fouls and controlled the tempo most of the game. In the 14th minute, the U.S. opened the scoring when Alex Morgan flicked the ball to WWC newcomer Sophia Smith who knocked it by Vietnamese goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh.
In the 44th minute, the U.S. received a penalty kick after Trinity Rodman was knocked down in the penalty area. Morgan took the kick and booted the ball low and to the left, exactly where the Vietnamese keeper lunged, saving the shot. But in stoppage time, the U.S. did get on the board again when Smith scooted the ball through the goalkeeper's legs to net her second goal of the half.
Vietnam, ranked #32 in the world, did not attempt a single shot against the U.S. in the first half (the Americans had 16 chances). The U.S. completed twice as many passes and kept the ball mostly on the Vietnam side the entire half — but surprisingly could not find a way to score more than two goals.
Expectations are high. The U.S. had never lost an opening match in any of the nine Women's World Cups (seven wins and two draws), and with this victory, the Americans have won the last 13 WWC matches — a tournament record. In fact, the U.S. has conceded just a single goal in its nine games played this year.
The U.S. is the most successful team in the history of the tournament, which began in 1991, having won the title four previous times. But Americans haven't looked as dominant in the lead-up to this competition and are facing off against other countries that have narrowed the competitive gap in recent years.
The U.S. began the second half against Vietnam much how it started the game — controlling possession and creating scoring opportunities, but struggling to get the ball into the net. In the 62nd minute, the U.S. got a spark when veterans Megan Rapinoe (making her 200th appearance for the national team) and Rose Lavelle came off the bench — both have been nursing injuries and playing limited minutes.
Co-captain Lindsey Horan added to the U.S. lead with a strong strike in the 77th minute after a sweet pass from Smith (giving her two goals and an assist for the match — an impressive WWC debut). That would be all the scoring — and Vietnam ended the game without taking a single shot or winning a corner kick.
"I came into it with the mindset I'll do whatever it takes to help this team win, and tonight that's what it was," U.S. forward Sophia Smith told Fox Sports after the match. "It's good to have a game under our belt. We know the next two games are going to be hard. We'll celebrate this for a second and then put our focus into the next game."
The 2023 Women's World Cup is being co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand (a first for any WWC). The U.S. is playing its three matches in group play — against Vietnam, the Netherlands and Portugal — all in New Zealand.
But to advance to the later rounds, the U.S. can't overlook any of its opponents and needs to fine tune its lineup. It entered this tournament with 14 WWC newcomers on the 23-person squad. Against Vietnam, the 11 U.S. starters had never played together competitively (six of them made their WWC debut). Familiar stars, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle and Julie Ertz, have had to mesh and share bench time with soon-to-be standouts such as Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith and Sofia Huerta.
The tournament starts with eight groups of four countries. Each squad will play at least three games (one against each team in the group). The top two countries from each group advance to the knockout stage.
The next game for the U.S. is a rematch of the 2019 WWC final against the ninth-ranked Netherlands on Wednesday, July 26 at 9 p.m. ET.