Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan spark U.S. team
MONCHENGLADBACH, Germany -- With the United States on the ropes for most of its semifinal matchup with France, second-half substitutions helped lead a stunning offensive outburst to seal the Americans' ticket to the final.
France outplayed the U.S. for most of the match, dominating possession, outshooting the Americans 25-11 and forcing Hope Solo to make several big saves. But U.S. coach Pia Sundhage's second-half substitutions of Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan sparked the U.S. late.
The United States finally broke the 1-1 deadlock in the 79th minute when Abby Wambach scored. Rapinoe connected with Morgan to make it 3-1 just three minutes later.
"You can mark my words. [Morgan's] going to have many World Cup goals. She's a talented young player," Wambach said after the game.
Morgan subbed in for Amy Rodriguez immediately after France's Sonia Bompastor tied the match 1-1, and Rapinoe subbed in for Carli Lloyd nine minutes later. Their fresh legs, along with the French clearly tiring, helped tip possession in the United States' favor to close out the game.
"That's kind of what I've been doing in these past few games," Morgan said. "Getting in and making the defense tired, as they're already a little tired from the rest of the game. I was able to get in behind the back line a few times today."
Rapinoe's effort was another in a string of strong performances as a second-half sub in this tournament. She scored a goal against Colombia in the group stage, then saved the U.S. against Brazil with a mesmerizingly perfect last-gasp cross to set up Wambach's game-tying header just three days ago.
A regular starter in the games leading up to the tournament, Rapinoe was moved out of the starting lineup in favor of Lauren Cheney once the World Cup began. She has registered a goal and two assists in her four games coming off the bench.
"Megan has confidence in herself," Wambach said. "She knows that she makes a difference, and that's important. She's not sitting on the bench pouting. She's sitting on the bench planning. That's the difference for this team. Megan came on the field today, and I just felt different."
Rapinoe was all smiles after the match.
"Every time I come on, I feel like I'm good enough to be the starter, and I play like that," she said. "The last two games have been pretty good. Maybe I get like a super-sub shirt, or something."
Morgan should get one, too.
Before scoring her eighth career international goal on Wednesday, Morgan had a great chance earlier in the match but kicked her shot straight at Berangere Sapowicz. Clearly it was too early in the match, as Morgan likes to save her goals for late and dramatic moments. Her first international goal came in the 83rd minute of an October meeting with China to earn a tie and save the U.S. from its first home loss in six years. Her fourth and, until now, most famous score came in the 94th minute to give the U.S. a crucial 1-0 win in November in the first of a two-game playoff with Italy just to make it to this World Cup.
"She's got a nose for the goal, for sure," Rapinoe said. "I think when she's in there, that's what she looks to do. That's her job. That's what we expect of her, and I think that's what she expects of herself."