Soccer

Fewer goals, tamer celebrations, but U.S. women make strong statement vs. Chile

They won by just three goals on Sunday instead of 13. And, despite insisting they didn’t care what critics said, they did not celebrate quite as exuberantly as they did in their opening game.

In fact, Carli Lloyd, the ageless 36-year-old veteran, made it a point to do a polite golf clap after heading home the first of her two goals on Sunday. She later ran over and slapped hands with her teammates on the sideline, as if to say, `Yes, we heard the critics, but we’re not going to ease off. We’re still fired up.”

As well they should be.

The U.S. Women’s World Cup team proved once again to be the most dominant team in this tournament with its 3-0 victory over Chile. Coach Jill Ellis made seven changes to the starting lineup – yes, seven – and the Americans still won with relative ease to clinch a spot in the next round.

The main reason the score wasn’t more lopsided was the phenomenal performance of Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler, the 6-foot former University of South Florida player, who looked right at home in Paris, where she plays for Paris Saint Germain. She made six world-class saves, including a fantastic kick stop on Lindsey Horan’s clear shot and another great play on a shot by Christen Press.

Endler, whose father is German and whose idol is German legend Oliver Kahn, made the goal look much smaller than it was.

Former U.S. goalie Hope Solo tweeted: “Endler isn’t average..she is spectacular!...Thank you @TIANEendler for bringing such pride to the GK position! Keep your head up!”

Former U.S. star and T.V. analyst Julie Foudy tweeted: “Can we please give a slow clap for Christiane Endler, the GK for Chile. My word, what a game. Could have been 6 or 7 goals if not for her huge night.”

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FOX analyst Alexi Lalas went a step further: “Christiane Endler, best GK in the world. I have spoken.”

The Americans scored three goals in the first 35 minutes and never scored again. They were held scoreless in the second half after scoring 10 second-half goals against Thailand. Clearly, the FIFA World Rankings are not accurate, as Chile was ranked No. 39, five spots below Thailand. The Chilean team, a World Cup rookie, has made its country proud, losing just 2-0 to Sweden and 3-0 to the United States.

(Chilean players are also to be commended for their patriotism. When the abbreviated version of their national anthem stopped playing through the stadium loudspeakers, the players continued to belt out the next several stanzas.)

Things are about to get more difficult for the Americans with Thursday’s final group game against Sweden, a team that has been a thorn in the U.S. side in past tournaments.

The starting U.S. front line – Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath – will be well-rested after sitting out the Chile game. One big question is whether Lloyd’s performance on Sunday will earn her more minutes – or even a starting role – against Sweden.

It should.

Although she is turning 37 in July, Lloyd remains a force and has a nose for the goal. With her goals against Chile, she became the first player in Women’s World Cup history to score in six consecutive games. Her confidence and energy are infectious. Problem is, the U.S. roster is loaded with talented players, and Ellis has chosen so far to bring Lloyd off the bench.

It’s a great problem to have.

This team is so stacked its backups would have a realistic chance of winning the World Cup. And the next-11 players left off the squad would make a deep run, too.

Kudos to Ellis for getting all her field players onto the field over the first two games. Most coaches would not have made seven lineup changes during a World Cup, but most coaches don’t have players like Lloyd, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Morgan Brian, Jessica McDonald, Tierna Davidson, Allie Long, and Emily Sonnett on their bench.

Chances are, Ellis will go back to her Thailand lineup against Sweden. But those other players were worthy of playing time, and it was nice they got that chance.

As we head into the final group-stage games, one thing is clear: the Women’s World Cup has gotten better every four years. More depth. Fewer routs. More exposure.

The T.V. audience in France for the opener was 10.65 million, meaning 48 percent of all T.V.s were tuned into the France-South Korea match. The previous high was 4.2 million for the 2105 quarterfinal. By contrast, last week’s French men’s Euro 2020 qualifier vs. Turkey drew 5.1 million.

The England-Scotland game drew a record 4.6 million on the BBC. And 19.7 million Brazilian viewers tuned into to their game against Jamaica, the second-highest domestic T.V. audience ever for a women’s soccer game. The only one bigger was the U.S. audience for the 2015 final between the United States and Japan.

It was great to turn on the T.V. Sunday and see a sellout crowd of 48,000 packed into the Parc des Princes. They got their money’s worth – even without seven U.S. starters.

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