Three thoughts on U.S.-North Korea
The U.S. overcame a sluggish start to beat North Korea in its World Cup opener
Lauren Cheney finally cashed in after her first four shots were right at the keeper
There's reason to be concerned about the U.S.' left side and its skill on the ball
Three thoughts after the U.S.' 2-0 victory over North Korea on Tuesday in the Yanks' opening game of the Women's World Cup in Dresden, Germany:
The U.S. figured things out in the second half. After a scoreless first half in which the North Koreans looked more dangerous than the U.S., the Americans dominated the final 45 minutes and took away three important points and a plus-two goal differential that could help in a tough group that also includes Sweden (which beat Colombia 1-0). North Korea owned the right side as it attacked ruthlessly in the first half, but U.S. coach Pia Sundhage shored things up in the second half and the U.S. started firing in dangerous crosses from both sides. It was Abby Wambach's cross from the left that set up the U.S.' first goal (by Lauren Cheney) and Ali Krieger's cross from the right that bounced off the crossbar and eventually fell to Rachel Buehler's foot for the clinching strike. Good work by the Americans not to panic after a dicey first 45.
Lauren Cheney's surprise start paid off (in the end). Sundhage took a risk by inserting Cheney into the starting lineup for Megan Rapinoe, but Cheney's persistence paid off with her 54th-minute goal to break the 0-0 deadlock. Up to that point Cheney had already taken four shots on goal from a variety of spots, but all of them had been fired directly at the goalkeeper. Cheney's lack of defense on the left flank had contributed to the U.S.' problems in the first half, but those issues dissipated as she defended more in the second half and cut inside on the attack at the appropriate times -- including on her goal, a header on a useful cross from Wambach (who can do more than just score herself).
The U.S. may still be vulnerable on its left side. You can be sure that stronger and more experienced teams than North Korea (like Germany, Sweden and Brazil) will take note of the Americans' struggles on the left side in this game. Left back Amy LePeilbet had a rough first half and was beaten more than once by inexperienced but energetic North Korean attackers. There's also reason to be concerned about the U.S.' skill on the ball, which was not as good as North Korea's, to say nothing of Germany's, Brazil's or even Japan's. But the U.S. is still adept at maximizing its best traits, including athleticism, fitness and determination. Those were plain to see in the second half of what turned out to be an encouraging opening game.
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