U.S. Coach Jill Ellis blamed the team's early struggles in Monday's women's soccer World Cup opener on nerves since eight players on the team were making their World Cup debuts.
But one player she said she didn't have to worry about was midfielder Megan Rapinoe. And Rapinoe rewarded that confidence with two goals in a 3-1 win by the U.S. over Australia.
"Megan thrives in these big games, big moments," Ellis said. "She's got ice water running through her veins, but a lot of passion inside of her. She's a game changer. And that's what makes her special."
Rapinoe changed the game twice Monday, scoring the first U.S. goal with a shot that deflected off defender Laura Alleway in the 12th minute, then dribbling half the length of the field to score the goal that put the game away in the 78th minute.
On that second score, Rapinoe gathered the ball at midfield and headed up the left flank. Finding little resistance, she kept going, building speed as she went before burying a left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area.
"I was doing my best [Lionel] Messi impression," Rapinoe said. "A much slower version of it."
Hope Solo is sharp for U.S.
A day after two ESPN reports dug deeper into details of her arrest for domestic violence charges last year — the case was ultimately dismissed — U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo appeared undistracted, making two spectacular saves in the first 15 minutes.
"She's tremendous," Ellis said of Solo. "She's the best goalkeeper in the world. I thought that was on display tonight."
Solo said there was little time to relax or reflect after either play.
"It's hard to get lifted as a goalkeeper because you're waiting for the next shot, the next play," she said.
Alex Morgan returns
A bone bruise to her left knee left Alex Morgan's status for this World Cup in doubt. But a week after returning to regular training, she made her first appearance for the U.S. in more than two months, going into the game in the 79th minute against Australia.
She managed only one shot, which went wide, in her 11 minutes but playing at all, she said, constituted a victory.
"It's kind of a sigh of relief for me to be back on the field," said Morgan, who appeared to be moving gingerly on her way from the locker room to the team bus. "It doesn't matter how long it was. I'm glad I got on the pitch.
"I had no pain. Obviously I was a little tired. "
Most of Winnipeg has shown little interest in the World Cup but thousands of Americans have crossed the border to see the U.S. play, turning pockets of Manitoba's largest city into a sea of red, white and blue.
One of those pockets was Investors Group Field, where Monday's noisy sellout crowd was decidedly pro-American.
"A couple of players said it felt like we're playing at home," Ellis said. "It was tremendous. They were behind us.
"It was great to have that kind of noise and that kind of support."