The United States women's national soccer team played in a thrilling six-goal opening game on Wednesday, pulling out an impressive win after falling behind by two goals. Their 4-2 victory over medal contenders France was wild and unpredictable as it happened, but in retrospect, there isn't a single thing about the game that we shouldn't have seen coming.
Everything that was seemingly surprising, either pleasantly or unpleasantly, should have been predictable. Somehow, even the most dedicated followers of women's soccer failed to see the writing on the wall. In no particular order, here's everything that that should have been entirely predictable before the match, even if no one said it out loud.
The USWNT's terrible start
At the Women's World Cup, all of the big teams were on relatively equal footing. Because Women's Professional Soccer was still operational, almost every single player on every contender for the cup played at a similar club level. Every team had a select few players in the United States, while every member of the USWNT except for Ali Krieger -- who plays in at a high level in the Bundesliga -- was playing in WPS.
A year later, WPS has folded and none of the members of the USWNT play for full professional club teams. Meanwhile, every member of France's team plays in D1 Feminine in France, and most of them played in the UEFA Champions League this year. Seven members of France's starting XI played for Olympique Lyonnais, the European champions, during this past season.
It should come as no surprise that France was the less rusty of the two teams and did not need too much time to find their footing. Unlike the members of the USWNT, all of their players have been training and playing at a high level every single week since the end of their post-World Cup vacation. Even though all of the United States' players have trained every day and remained fit during the last year, most of them have not played in matches at the level of the D1 Feminine or UEFA Women's Champions League for a long time, save for their CONCACAF qualifying match against Canada.
France's defense falling apart
In the semifinal of the World Cup, France gave the United States women all they could handle, but their defense eventually let them down in the end. They struggled when they failed to find a consistent partner for Laura Georges, so it's not shocking that they struggled with Georges starting the game on the bench, then replacing Ophélie Meilleroux at halftime. Corine Franco was not effective as a makeshift defender, and Bruno Bini will be hoping that he has both Georges and Meilleroux fit for future games.
France could win a medal with that central defense pairing, but they really need to find a pair that they can live with and stick with it. The central defense shuffle was their downfall at the World Cup, and Bini does not appear to have learned his lesson.
Alex Morgan's two goals
Alex Morgan is just 23 years old, has just one year of professional club soccer under her belt and was a substitute at the World Cup, so it might be a little jarring that she's already this good. Her goals weren't the least bit lucky, nor was either of them a product of her blistering pace. She scored her first goal with fantastic timing and technique, then scored her second because she knew exactly where she was supposed to position herself. Her instincts are insane for someone her age, with her relatively low level of experience.
This is nothing new, though. Even though the United States women have been out of the national spotlight since the World Cup ended, they still had matches to play. Through Olympic qualifying, friendlies, and now this opening Olympic match, Morgan has been absolutely stellar. Her two goals on Wednesday took her to 19 national team goals in 2012. If she scores one more goal at the Olympics, she will become the fourth American woman to score 20 national team goals in one calendar year.
Megan Rapinoe's dominant performance
In the basic 1-10 match rating system that most football publication's use, it's rare to see anyone get a 10. That's usually reserved for truly masterful performances; it's for the kind of stuff the Mia Hamms and Lionel Messis of the world do once every other year. On Wednesday night. Megan Rapinoe was a 10 out of 10. Not only did she provide two assists, but she hit two passes that were just as vital as the assist on the United States' other goals.
Perhaps even more impressive than her part in four goals was the way that she did it. The first goal was assisted by Rapinoe on a corner kick, the second came through her lofted ball to Abby Wambach, the third was assisted by her with a short pass on the ground, and the fourth was set up by her long through ball on the ground to Tobin Heath. Not only did she set up four goals, but she did it in four entirely different ways. It was a truly world class performance.
Rapinoe's been a great player for a long time, but she was a bench player for good portions of the World Cup. She set up Abby Wambach's dramatic goal against Brazil, but it's easy to forgive anyone for being surprised that she's as good as she showed against France. Since the World Cup, she's taken on a more prominent role with the national team and she was in the form of her life entering the tournament. This was just the continuation of Rapinoe's steady improvement over the last couple of years.
It used to be understandable to keep Rapinoe on the bench in order to fit the likes of Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney and Heather O'Reilly into the same team. Now, Rapinoe is undroppable.