June 28, 2011

United States 2, Korea DPR 0

They say it's always a good idea to make your coach look brilliant and that's just what Lauren Cheney did in the United States' opening match against Korea on Tuesday. Cheney scored the winning goal in the 54th minute to lead the US to a 2-0 victory.

Cheney was placed in the starting lineup as a midfielder in place of the normal starter Megan Rapinoe and the move paid dividends to US coach Pia Sundhage. While Cheney was playing midfield, she appeared to be almost a third striker for much of the match.

The United States looked a bit nervous early on, perhaps a combination of opening match jitters and pressure. The first half was played pretty evenly between the two sides and the Koreans certainly had stretches were they held the advantage.

The way things went early on, especially for Cheney, it appeared that the Americans were out to play kick and catch with Korean keeper Hong Myong Hui. The first evidence of this was in the 11th minute as Cheney drilled a hard shot, but right at Hong.

Korea did not get any especially dangerous chances early on. Jon Myong Hwa did put one over the bar from distance in the 25th minute.

Cheney again placed a hard shot on frame from 15 yards, but again right at Hong in the 34th minute.

But later in the half, Korea were knocking at the door. Just a minute later, Kim Su Gyong nearly snuck one inside the right post, but Hope Solo was there to make the save. Then Song Jong Sun sent the ball past a diving Solo across the goal mouth, but no one was making a back post run and the ball rolled harmlessly away. In the closing minutes of the half JoYun Mi nearly tipped in a cross by Kim, but to no avail.

The second started with some beautiful passing from the US. Carli Lloyd sent the ball forward to Abby Wambach who sent it square to Amy Rodriguez. Rodriguez then connected with a nice pass to Cheney. Once again, Cheney's shot was right at Hong.

But if the first half was pretty even, the second half was a dominating performance by the United States. They created chance after chance in the 2nd half. First, Shannon Boxx sent one just over the bar. Then Cheney again tested Hong from 12 yards, but the Korean keeper was up to task yet again. In the 51st minute, Rodriguez made a nice run up the right side, sending the ball across to Wambach who missed connecting from just in front of the goal.

The US broke through in the 54th minute. Lloyd sent a well-weighted ball up the left side with Wambach running onto it. Wambach settled, cut inside to give herself room and hit a right-footed cross. Lauren Cheney was waiting eight yards out and even with the back post. Unlike all of the shots off her foot, her header was perfectly placed, back across the goal and inside the left post. The United States led 1-0.

Korea came close to tying in the 56th minute as Ri's shot from distance glanced off the top of the crossbar. It was as close as the young Koreans would come to tying the match.

The United States continued to keep Hong busy. Amy LePeilbet's cross in the 65th minute found Wambach wide open. She headed the ball down hard, with the ball bouncing in front of Hong, then off Hong's hands and then hitting the underside of the crossbar, before bouncing out. Later, Rodriguez hit a bending shot that appeared might sneak inside the left post, but Hong was able to get a hand on that to keep it at one.

The United States put the game away in the 76th minute as Ali Krieger's shot from the left wing struck the crossbar, with the loose ball eventually coming to Rachel Buehler at the 18.. She neatly slotted the ball just inside the left post to give the US a safe 2-0 lead.

Korea did put some pressure on in the final five minutes, but Solo and the US were able to keep it at a shutout. Meanwhile, the US thought they had a third when Megan Rapinoe appeared to beat Hong to the ball and hammer it home from in close, but the referee ruled that Hong had gotten her hands on the ball just before Rapinoe connected. The goal was disallowed and a foul called on the American midfielder.

For the United States, several players had strong games, most notably Cheney and Rodriguez. The US were able to limit Korean star Jo's chances to just a few. Hope Solo was solid in goal, but really not overly tested. Hong did well to keep the score at 2-0 in goal for the Koreans.

The United States put themselves in a very favorable position in Group C with three points and a +2 differential. They will take on Colombia on Saturday, a match that they should enter as prohibitive favorites. North Korea meets Sweden on Saturday in a very important match for both teams.