United States' Megan Rapinoe, right and Alex Morgan celebrate together… (Chris Clark / Associated…)
GLASGOW, Scotland — Pia Sundhage, coach of the U.S. women’s soccer team, raised some eyebrows earlier this week when she suggested that the players who would make the biggest difference in the Olympic tournament would be the ones starting the games on the bench.
"They know their role," she said. "They embrace their role. Everybody wants to be in the starting lineup, of course. But when they get in they’re ready.
"I truly believe that whoever is coming in, they will be game-winners."
PHOTOS: U.S. vs. France
Carli Lloyd then went out and made her coach a prophet Wednesday, breaking open a tie game early in the second half to spark the U.S. to a 4-2 win over a talented French team in the opening match of group play.
Lloyd came on for Shannon Boxx in the 16th minute with the U.S. already down, 2-0. France didn’t score again — but the U.S. sure did, getting two scores from Alex Morgan and one from Abby Wambach in addition to Lloyd’s go-ahead goal.
Lloyd’s score came after an opportunistic Megan Rapinoe picked up a loose ball left behind when France’s Eugenie le Sommer slipped. Rapinoe, who played a marvelous game, setting up three goals, then dribbled up the right wing to the edge of the area before dumping the ball back to Lloyd, who blasted a one-timer in the corner of the net to the far side.
But while Lloyd’s goal put the U.S. ahead to stay, it was the striker tandem of Morgan and Wambach — along with midfielder Rapinoe — that did the bulk of the heavy lifting for the U.S.
Morgan’s first goal came in the 33rd minute after a massive breakdown by the French defense, which allowed a long goal kick by keeper Hope Solo to bounce untouched toward the net. The speedy Morgan narrowly beat French goalie Sarah Bouhaddi and defender Ophelie Meilleroux to the ball, then volleyed a soft left-footer over Bouhaddi’s shoulder.
That came 14 minutes after Wambach headed home a long corner kick from Rapinoe, ending a string of seven consecutive shutouts for France.
France had not allowed two goals in a match this year, much less in a half. And when Morgan scored again in the second half, the U.S. had equalled the total number of goals France had give up in 17 previous matches — all wins — this year.
That final goal, Morgan’s 19th in 16 matches this season, once again came on a play started by Rapinoe, who stripped the ball away at midfield and sent it ahead to Tobin Heath, who made a 40-yard run up the left side. Heath then bent toward the net and slipped a pass across the front of the goal, past a sliding Wambach to Morgan, who found an open net from the far post.
Both Morgan and Rapinoe came off minutes later, each to warm applause.
By then, France’s quick start was a distant memory.
Gaetane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie scored in the first 14 minutes, Thiney on a right-footed shot from well outside the area 12 minutes in and Delie two minutes later after the U.S. did a horrible job of clearing a loose ball from the edge of the 18-yard box. The ball was touched by at least five U.S. players — including Rapinoe, who got a foot on the ball twice — before Delie blasted another shot off Solo’s hands and into the goal.