(L-R) Lindsey Horan celebrates with teammate Megan Rapinoe after scoring her team's first goal at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup on June 20, 2019 in Le Havre, France.
Tested for the first time in the FIFA Women’s World Cup and facing the team that knocked them out of the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the U.S. women’s soccer team never flinched.
Team USA beat Sweden 2-0 Thursday at Stade Oceane in the northern city of Le Havre, France, to go undefeated in Group F and advance to the Round of 16, where it will play Group B runner-up Spain on Monday in Reims. A win in that match would potentially set up a quarterfinal showdown with host France, arguably the two best teams in the tournament.
The U.S. and Sweden have met at every World Cup dating back to 2003, though the rivalry kicked up a notch in 2016 when Sweden defeated the Americans in the Olympic quarterfinals. The loss marked the earliest the U.S. has gone out in a major championship, and the flames were stoked further thanks to fiery postgame comments from U.S. goalie Hope Solo.
As much as that loss stung for the U.S. team, coach Jill Ellis has said it forced the U.S. to adapt to a more dynamic 4-3-3 formation that allowed it to better take on a team that bunkers down defensively, as Sweden did at the Olympics.
The defending champion U.S. team showed few signs of weakness Thursday.
Facing their first true test after opening the tournament with wins over Thailand and Chile, the Americans came out looking sharp, and that showed in the third minute when Samantha Mewis deflected a low corner kick at the near post. A streaking Lindsey Horan met the ball in front of the goal and slammed it in. It marked the fastest goal scored so far at the World Cup.
The Americans continued attacking throughout the first half and finally found the back of the net again in the 50th minute. Forward Tobin Heath got the ball on the edge of the penalty area, faked her defender and then drilled a near-post shot past Sweden goalie Hedvig Lindahl.
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The goal was confirmed following a VAR review that appeared to show that, though teammate Carli Lloyd was offside on the play, she did not touch the ball. However, FIFA later ruled the play to be an own goal because it deflected off Sweden defender Jonna Andersson.
Either way, the goal was Team USA’s 18th so far in France, setting a new record for most goals scored during the group stage at the Women’s World Cup.
It was also all the U.S. needed to advance through the group stage unscathed.
Next up for the Americans is Spain, a team on the rise following its World Cup debut in 2015. Spain has reached the quarterfinals at the last two European Championships and was 1-1-1 in Group B.
After switching up seven starters in the first and second games, coach Jill Ellis returned to her top lineup from the opener against Sweden, though with one key omission. Midfielder Julie Ertz — who started on defense against Thailand, in place of the injured Becky Sauerbrunn — missed the Sweden match as a precaution due to what U.S. Soccer calls a “minor” hip contusion. She’s expected to return against Spain, while Sauerbrunn started her second game in a row today.
Ellis also tapped her attacking depth with her substitutions against Sweden.
With striker Alex Morgan banged up in the first half, veteran Lloyd came on as a halftime sub. She moved into a midfield role in the 63rd minute, with Christen Press coming in at center forward and Rose Lavelle coming off. Mallory Pugh replaced Megan Rapinoe on the left forward spot in the 83rd.
Lloyd, who at 36 is the oldest player on the U.S. team, has begrudgingly moved into a supporting role at this World Cup, though she continues to make a case for more playing time. With a goal against Thailand (as a sub) and two against Chile (as a starter), she had scored in a World Cup-record six games before being held off the score sheet against Sweden.
For the first time in the tournament, U.S. goalie Alyssa Naeher was tested by Sweden, which sent two shots on target. Through three games, the U.S. has yet to give up a goal.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.