Photo: (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, Scotland — They knew. From woman to woman, the U.S. Olympic soccer team knew it wasn’t over.The reigning two-time Olympic champions stared down a stunning deficit early against France on Wednesday night and never flinched.
Especially former Stanford star Kelley O’Hara, who looked at Cal alum Alex Morgan and said, “Four goals.”
Talk about being spot on. Morgan scored twice in her Olympic debut to help lead a rousing American comeback in a 4-2 victory as the London Games kicked off in famed Hampden Park on a beautiful summer night in Scotland.
The backdrop could not have better for Morgan, 23, who is on the cusp of becoming a breakout star of the Olympics. She did nothing to dissuade that notion after scoring the equaliser in the 31st minute that changed the game’s complexion.
But it’s not something on the mind of the latest U.S. sensation who didn’t start playing seriously until age 14.
“All that is on my mind right now is the Olympics,” Morgan said.
That’s all anyone could ask on a night the Americans had another heart-stopping exhibition after France took a 2-0 lead before 15 minutes had been played.
The four unanswered U.S. goals were reminiscent of the rallies at the World Cup last year. The United States’ players might have lost a step to the technically sound Japanese and French but they possess an intangible that can’t be replaced.
They never give in.
“As you saw in the World Cup
that’s a mentality you always want to have,” said Stanford graduate Rachel Buehler, who had a heavy workload as a central defender.
Buehler was in the thick of the two French goals, including a rocket by Gaetane Thiney that goalkeeper Hope Solo had no chance to thwart.
After all the fireworks at the World Cup in Germany last summer, this group has emerged as America’s most compelling women’s team since the 1999 World Cup. It could gain momentum as the tournament continues against Colombia on Saturday at Hampden Park and then the final group game July 31 against North Korea at the legendary Old Trafford in Manchester.
Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain won’t soon be forgotten but the way the current group responds to adversity has touched a nerve.
It starts with Abby Wambach, who scored her 139th international goal in the 18th minute. It ended with unmarked Morgan tapping in a gift after a great build up from Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath in the 66th minute.
Almost lost in the highlight reel was Carli Lloyd’s game winner 10 minutes into the second half. Lloyd came off the bench to score after getting the game-winning goal in the Olympic final in Beijing.
It came about when Rapinoe sent a nice ball to Lloyd. The midfielder just blasted it into the far corner to beat goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi for a 3-2 U.S. advantage.
As exciting as that score was many were talking about Morgan’s first goal that punctured French confidence.
“When she gets behind that back line it looks really good and we get some goals,” coach Pia Sundhage said.
Solo set up the play with a long kick into the U.S. attacking third of the field. Wambach went up for a diversion and the ball fell to Morgan.
“I knew there was a defender on my back so I was looking to shoot it,” she said. “I can’t honestly tell you where the ball came from.”
It seemed as if it came from heaven after the opening 14 minutes when France looked capable of scoring five times.
The outlook appeared even more dismal when veteran midfielder Shannon Boxx had to depart with a quadriceps muscle strain when getting kicked on the ground.
But the Americans didn’t panic. They had an unspoken pact of resilience, O’Hara said.
The intoxicating forward combination of Morgan and Wambach made their own deal.
“Abby and I looked at each other and said, ‘OK, a goal each,’ ” Morgan said.
“We were like ice cold when we were down 2-0,” Solo added. “We weren’t ever fazed.”
United States women’s soccer team vs. Colombia, 9 a.m.
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