GLASGOW, Scotland – Falling behind by two goals after just 14 minutes wasn’t exactly the script Alex Morgan had written for her Olympic soccer debut. But it’s the one she found herself acting out Wednesday
“Once I stepped on that field and the whistle blew, I was considered an Olympian. That was an amazing feeling for me,” Morgan said. “And then we were hit with two goals. It was a quick turnaround.”
So Morgan, 23, the youngest U.S. player on the field, turned to Abby Wambach, the second-oldest, and came up with a plan.
“Me and Abby looked at each other and we were like ‘All right, a goal each,'” said Morgan, who went that one better, scoring a goal in each half to lead the U.S. to a 4-2 victory over France on the first day of group play in the London Games.
Wambach also had a first-half goal and Carli Lloyd came off the bench to get the go-ahead score for the U.S. just after halftime. Both of those goals, as well as one of Morgan’s, were set up by midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who joked afterward that the early deficit simply served to make the game more exciting.
“There’s a lot of other sports going on,” she said. “So we have to catch the attention early.”
Still, falling behind early then rallying late has become a well-worn game plan for the U.S. women, who needed a goal in overtime stoppage play to get past Brazil in the quarterfinals of last summer’s World Cup. And four years ago, in the opener of the Beijing Olympics, the U.S. gave up two goals to Norway in the first four minutes.
But the Americans trailed for just 25 minutes, combined, over their next five games en route to their second consecutive gold medal.
“After 2-0, I thought about China,” U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage admitted. “We’ve been here before and we came back. This team is better than 2008.”
Largely because it has Morgan, who was a sophomore at California during the last Olympics. This year she’s come into her own, though, scoring a team-high 19 goals in 16 games.
“She’s proven that she’s not only fast, she’s strong. And she has balance,” Sundhage said. “She is a good finisher.”
On Wednesday she helped finish France _ which is no easy feat.
The French came into the Olympics as the hottest team in the world, having won 17 consecutive games. And when Gaetane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie scored two minutes apart early in the first half, the French appeared to be in control again.
Then Wambach started the comeback, heading in a long corner kick from Rapinoe in the 19th minute. It was the first goal France has allowed in eight games.
But 13 minutes later Morgan got another one after a massive breakdown by the French defense allowed keeper Hope Solo’s goal kick to bounce unchecked toward the net. Morgan narrowly beat French goalie Sarah Bouhaddi and defender Ophelie Meilleroux to the ball, then chipped a soft left-footer over Bouhaddi’s head and into the goal.
That marked the first time France has given up multiple goals in a game this year. But the U.S. wasn’t done, with the next goal going to Lloyd early in the second half.
The sequence started with an opportunistic Rapinoe picking up a loose ball left behind when France’s Eugenie Le Sommer slipped. Rapinoe then dribbled up the right wing to the edge of the area before dumping the ball back to Lloyd, who blasted a shot into the corner at the far side.
Morgan closed it out 10 minutes later after Rapinoe stripped the ball at midfield and sent it ahead to Tobin Heath, who made a 40-yard run up the left side before slipping a cross-goal pass to Morgan, who redirected it home from the far post.
“I don’t think any deficit with that amount of time is too much for this team,” Rapinoe said. “We’ve shown that many times. We never give up. We always believe that we’re going to win.”
The U.S.’ next game in group play is on Saturday against Colombia. The top two teams in each of the three groups, plus two third-place teams, will advance to the quarterfinals.