The U.S. got a little redemption at the Women's World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Sweden. The U.S. powered to the win with a strong defense and relentless attack. It was the hardest game yet for the Americans and shows the team is in top form as it enters the knockout round to defend its World Cup title.
A capacity crowd of 25,000 at Stade Océane in Le Havre, France got to see a gem of a match. The U.S. was sharp and precise from the beginning. It didn't take long for the Americans to score. In the third minute, Megan Rapinoe punched a corner kick into the penalty area. It skipped low through the box and Lindsey Horan poked it into the back of the net for the fastest goal scored in this tournament.
The second goal came in the second half at the 50th minute. Tobin Heath did some very Tobin Heath things with her footwork. Faced with a crazy angle, she blistered the ball off a Swedish defender into the goal.
This was the toughest opponent the U.S. has faced so far. At the last two games there was an assumption that the U.S. would win, this time around the only known was that some very good soccer would be played. And indeed, it was. Sweden pressured the U.S. but it was never enough.
The U.S. team was well-rested. Seven of its starters did not play in the last match against Chile. The biggest surprise was the absence of midfielder Julie Ertz. She is the anchor of the U.S. backfield and held out of competition today for precautionary reasons. U.S. Soccer said Ertz had a "minor hip contusion." Star forward Alex Morgan played the first half but went down late and was replaced by Carli Lloyd at halftime.
Both the U.S. and Sweden had already advanced to the knockout round regardless of what happened on the field today. But this match was about bragging rights. There's a long history between the U.S. and Sweden.
The teams have played each other 38 times going back to 1987, and they've faced off at five previous World Cups. The U.S.'s record in those matches is three wins, one loss and one tie.
In fact, it was at the 2015 Women's World Cup when these two teams also squared off in the final game of group play like today. The Swedish coach then was Pia Sundhage who had led the U.S. until 2012 including Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. It was also her Sweden team that knocked the U.S. out of the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals.
That loss still stings the U.S. Soccer program. It was the earliest the Americans got bounced from a major tournament and forced the team to change to a more attacking style of play that was both more technical and more tactical. U.S. forward Christen Press says the loss sticks with her to this day. "You don't forget the taste in your mouth when you fail and when you lose in a world championship," she said. "There's a little bit of that that will definitely act as motivation. And you always play to win and to never have that feeling again."
With the win, the U.S. will take on Spain in the Round of 16. Spain has struggled offensively and squeaked into the knockout round of the Women's World Cup for the first-time ever. The Spaniards defeated South Africa 3-1 in the opener, then lost to Germany 1-0 and played to a scoreless draw against China. The U.S.-Spain match is Monday at noon (ET) at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims.
Laurel Wamsley contributed to this report.