WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Hope Solo brought her A-game. Megan Rapinoe did too, and that was enough for the U.S. to prevail 3-1 in its World Cup opener against a game Australia side.
The score flattered the U.S. to a degree. The Americans played well below their best for long stretches, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say they rode their luck at times, even as two goals by Rapinoe and another by Christen Press allowed them to prevail.
The U.S. flank defense looked vulnerable. The midfield once again found little success in sustaining an attack in the final third. Even Rapinoe's first goal had a hint of good fortune, as her first-half strike deflected off Australia defender Laura Alleway, past a stranded Melissa Barbieri and into the Matildas' goal.
Yet ultimately, the U.S. wore Australia down, and now it can content itself with the fact that it sits atop Group D.
As for Solo, she looked sharp from the get-go and showed no ill effects from the latest round of attention surrounding the domestic violence charges that have dragged on since June 2014. Of course, sharp goalkeeping often camouflages slack defending, and that was the case here.
Rather than go at the inexperienced Meghan Klingenberg, Australia attacked World Cup veteran Ali Krieger, and the result was a pair of golden chances inside the first 13 minutes. On one occasion, Julie Johnston came to the rescue, but her header only went as far as Emily van Egmond, whose shot was touched onto the bar by Solo. Eight minutes later, a diagonal ball caught Krieger watching, and Kerr's first-time strike was denied only by Solo's superb, reflex save.
Between those saves, Rapinoe put the U.S. ahead, but there was little change in the overall flow of the game. Australia, to its credit, continued to stick with its game plan of attacking the flanks and utilizing crisp passing to open up the U.S. defense. Lisa De Vanna's 27th-minute equalizer was completely deserved.
The Americans, meanwhile, looked very much like the team shut out by Korea Republic back on May 30. The off-the-ball movement seemed minimal, as was the speed of play, a trend that stretched into the second half.
It's no surprise then that the game winner came on a piece of individual brilliance by Sydney Leroux in the 61st minute. Receiving a pass from Rapinoe, Leroux powered past Alleway and put the ball on a plate for Press to side-foot home. Rapinoe then made the game safe in the 78th minute with a powerful finish after a long, solo run of her own.
The good news is, as is often the case, the Americans found a way to win. With Sweden and Nigeria tying 3-3 earlier in the day, the U.S. is now firmly on course. And the team's ironclad mentality is still evident.
Since the 2007 World Cup, the U.S. has scored 21 of its 27 goals after halftime. One can chalk that up to fitness, but it's also an outgrowth of self-belief, which the U.S. has in abundance.
Managers like to see their teams grow during a tournament. Certainly, there is plenty of room for improvement, though there's a sense the Americans' tried-and-true attributes of athleticism, individual skill and belief won't be enough in this tournament.
For now, however, the U.S. can be satisfied that the first hurdle has been safely navigated.
Player ratings: (0-10)
G Hope Solo, 9: Solo delivered two spectacular saves in the first 13 minutes, and there was nothing she could do about De Vanna's strike. Her second-half saves weren't as difficult, but she looked sharp, nonetheless.
D Meghan Klingenberg, 6: Klingenberg held up well defensively and put in some dangerous crosses. She was also very precise with her distribution.
D Becky Sauerbrunn, 7: The timing of her tackles remains impeccable, and she came to Johnston's rescue by stifling Kerr in the second half after she broke clear.
D Julie Johnston, 4.5: Johnston resorted to the long ball too much and was badly beaten by Kerr on one second-half sequence.
D Ali Krieger, 4: Krieger was given a torrid time by Kerr, and she got caught ball-watching on one opportunity. For whatever reason, she was closest to De Vanna on Australia's goal and couldn't get near De Vanna. She recovered to a degree in the second half.
M Megan Rapinoe, 8: Rapinoe went for the killer pass a little too often, but she was at least looking to try things. No complaints about her finishing, and her first goal was the residue of winning a second ball and slick work to free herself.
M Lauren Holiday, 5.5: Holiday connected her passes but didn't seem to provide much of a defensive presence, including one second-half sequence on which she allowed van Egmond a clear strike at goal.
M Carli Lloyd, 5.5: Defensively, there can be no complaints, as Lloyd's tackling and heading presence helped stabilize things. But it was just one of those days when she was missing with her passes in the attacking third.
M Christen Press, 6: Press wasn't having her best day prior to her goal, but she stuck with it and was perfectly placed to slot home the winner. She still needs to be more impactful from the run of play.
F Sydney Leroux, 7: With service lacking for most of the day, Leroux made the most of her limited chances and set up Press's game winner with a determined run.
F Abby Wambach, 6: It was her knockdown that helped set the stage for Rapinoe's strike, but Wambach should have done better with her header in 39th minute.
M Tobin Heath, 6: Heath brought some patience to the attack and tracked back well defensively.
F Alex Morgan, 6: The good news is Morgan got on the field and even found time to blast a shot over the bar.
M Morgan Brian, NR: Brian's late cameo allowed Rapinoe to leave to a standing ovation.