An early start to the Olympics turned into an early win for the U.S. women's soccer team, which gave up two quick goals before unleashing an attack the rest of the world will find hard to stop.
Abby Wambach used her size and strength to put in a header, Alex Morgan applied her speed to chip one over the goalkeeper and Carli Lloyd broke the tie with a 25-yard rocket. All of which sent the two-time defending gold medalists to a 4-2 victory over France on Wednesday as they opened their London Games far from London.
Locals will recognize a few faces on the team, including Amy LePeilbet from Crystal Lake, Lauren Cheney from Indianapolis and Shannon Boxx, alum of University of Notre Dame.
The Americans allowed more goals in the first handful of minutes than they had allowed in any game since the World Cup final loss to Japan last year. Gaetane Thiney (12th minute) and Marie-Laure Delie (14th) found holes in a supposedly impenetrable defense — a potential cause for U.S. concern as the grueling tournament progresses.
But Wambach scored in the 19th, Morgan in the 32nd, Lloyd in the 56th and Morgan again in the 66th. Wambach now has 139 international goals in her pursuit of Mia Hamm's record of 158, and 23-year-old "Baby Horse" Morgan — the second-youngest player on the team — has a remarkable 19 this year alone.
While the Americans are favored to win gold again — and even though the U.S. is now 13-0-1 all-time against France — it was hardly a surprise to see the French make it a game. The teams were tied late in the second half in last year's World Cup semifinals before the Americans finished off a 3-1 win, and France entered these Olympics on a 17-game winning streak.
The United States plays Colombia in its second group game on Saturday. France will face North Korea.
The French took the lead on a deflected long ball that ended up at the foot of Thiney, who had plenty of time and space to unleash a 22-yard shot into the upper right corner of the net, grazing the fingertips of leaping goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Two minutes later, the Americans played a dangerous game of pinball deep in their own end, failing in five separate chances to clear a corner kick. Inevitably, the ball bounced to a French player, Delie, who put the easy shot past Solo, again off the goalie's outstretched left hand, to make it 2-0.
But the Americans are arguably stronger, deeper and more diverse than they've ever been, and they have the firepower to overcome such a deficit — and quickly. Wambach, who has the best header in women's soccer, started the comeback by nodding in Megan Rapinoe's corner kick.
The goal awakened some of a crowd that so far had behaved as if watching a BBC documentary. Chants of "U-S-A!" began to echo in sections of Hampden Park, the 109-year-old landmark that serves as Scotland's national stadium.
The 52,000-seat stadium was perhaps one-third full at kickoff, but the game needed to draw only a couple of thousand to surpass the all-time Scottish record for attendance at a women's game. Organizers gave away some 30,000 tickets to schools and local clubs to keep the stands from being embarrassingly empty in a region where soccer is overwhelmingly a man's game.
The American fans who made the trip had their enthusiasm rewarded when goalkeeper Solo got an assist when her long ball was chased down on the first bounce by Morgan, who chipped it over goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi to tie the score.
Lloyd's tiebreaker was never in doubt, a blast that left Bouhaddi helpless as it found the left side of the net. Heath made the margin a comfortable one with a long run down the left side deep into the penalty area before running into interference. The ball slid over to Morgan, who merely had to tap it in for the game's final goal.