WINNIPEG — For her second goal of the night against Australia, U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe channeled Lionel Messi.
Rapinoe dribbled the ball before her long, low shot breezed past diving Matildas goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.
“I was doing my best Messi impression,” Rapinoe laughed, before adding: “A much slower version.”
Rapinoe’s two goals gave the United States a 3-1 victory over Australia on Mondau night in the Americans’ opener at a Women’s World Cup that began with both FIFA and the U.S. team facing controversy.
Christen Press also scored for the second-ranked U.S., which is seeking its third World Cup title and first since 1999. And embattled goalkeeper Hope Solo saved four shots on goal, including a pair in the first 15 minutes by the hard-charging Matildas.
Lisa De Vanna had tied the score midway through the first half for No. 10 Australia, which kept the United States for the opening hour.
“A little bit choppy. I think you could tell we were a little bit nervous,” Rapinoe said. “But we settled in a bit and we were able to get some goals. Three points, that’s most important, especially in this group that’s shaping up a little weird.”
The field has expanded from 16 teams to 24 this year, and the Americans’ next match in difficult Group D will be Friday against fifth-ranked Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. They finish group play on June 16 against Nigeria, which played to a physical and somewhat surprising 3-3 tie with Sweden in the opener of Monday’s doubleheader.
U.S. star forward Alex Morgan, sidelined by a bone bruise in her left knee, entered in the 79th minute in her first game action with April 11 with her Portland club.
“I felt really good. I had no pain whatsoever,” Morgan said. “Obviously, I was running down balls a lot and trying to keep possession, making sure we kept the 3-1 lead. I felt good, and I’m looking forward to getting more time, hopefully next time.”
Rapinoe scored in the 12th minute for the Americans, Press put the U.S. ahead for good in the 61st, and Rapinoe added her 31st international goal in the 78th, the first two-goal game at the World Cup for the U.S. since Abby Wambach against Norway in 2007.
The Americans, who won the title in 1991 and ’99, improved to 5-0-2 in World Cup openers and 23-0-2 in all matches against Australia. The game was televised in prime time back home, where large numbers of fans tuned in last year for the men’s World Cup in Brazil.
“Couldn’t be prouder to have the women of Team #USA representing us in stars, stripes, and shin guards. Good luck,” Democratic president candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted.
In the absence of the 25-year-old Morgan, 35-year-old Abby Wambach and Canada-born Sydney Leroux started up top against the No. 10 Matildas, whose best World Cup finish was sixth in 2007
While the American women have won three straight Olympic gold medals, the third World Cup title has eluded them. They lost the 2011 final to Japan on penalty kicks.
The World Cup is being played as FIFA deals with a scandal which U.S. prosecutors allege involves more than $150 million in bribes. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is not at the tournament, announced last week that he plans to resign.
Solo started a day after an ESPN report revealed new details about her arrest last June in Washington state on domestic violence charges.
“That was a long time ago. I’ll be honest, we’ve moved on,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “She’s been a fantastic player and teammate. None of that has even resonated with us, and I’m sure many of the players aren’t aware of it.”
Asked whether it was it difficult to maintain concentration, Solo responded: “I’m perfectly focused.”
She was tested in the fifth minute, when she tipped Emily Van Egmond’s shot off the crossbar and over. She made another save on Michelle Heyman in the 13th.
“Hope came up absolutely huge for us,” Rapinoe said. “At least three saves that no one else in the world could make.”
Rapinoe’s kick from the top of the penalty area deflected off an Australia’s Laura Alleway past goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.
But De Vanna tied it when she slotted the ball inside the near post for her 36th goal in 100th international appearance appears
Press scored off a cross from Leroux. When Press was subbed off seven minutes later, she was given an ovation from the crowd of 31,148, which overwhelmingly sided with the Americans. It was her first career World Cup goal.
Ellis said Rapinoe’s player of the match honour was well deserved.
“Megan thrives in big games, big moments,” Ellis said. “Yeah, she’s got ice running through her veins.”
Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press