WINNIPEG, Manitoba - On a night when the United States played far less than its best soccer, two of its best players made sure the Americans side-stepped disaster in their Women's World Cup opener.
Buoyed by two goals from midfielder Megan Rapinoe and a superlative performance by goalkeeper Hope Solo, Team USA secured a hard-fought 3-1 Group D victory over Australia on Monday night.
The win propelled the USA atop its group with three points after Nigeria and Sweden battled to a 3-3 draw in the first game of the doubleheader.
"It's not always going to be pretty, and that's the moral of this story," USA captain Abby Wambach said. "We're a work in progress and hopefully we're playing our best soccer by the final."
Rapinoe put her stamp on the game with a stellar performance on the left wing. She was involved in all three goals, scoring twice and helping to set up the game-winner by Christen Press in the 61st minute.
"Megan thrives in these big games, big moments," USA coach Jill Ellis said. "She has ice running in her veins but a lot of passion inside of her. She's a game-changer, and that's what makes her special."
The same can be said of Solo, who finished with five saves, including two outstanding stops to keep the Americans in the game in the first half.
"Hope saved our rear ends a few times," Wambach said. "Some world-class goals she just hand-picked away. Just mentality-wise, it was just a killer for them."
The crowd was pro-American, but the U.S. team endured an uneven start and was fortunate with a 1-1 halftime tie.
"Comparing to past world championships, it's pretty par for the course," Wambach said. "A little nerves."
Rapinoe thinks Team USA can improve. "I don't think we played that well today," she said. "We can be better on possession."
Solo's first vital save came in the fifth minute when she got her fingertips on Emily Van Egmond's close-range shot and the ball ricocheted off the crossbar.
"I actually thought it was going to hit my gloves and still hit the net," Solo said. "I was more relieved than anything."
The save may have given her teammates a lift, but not Solo. "It's hard to get lifted as a goalkeeper because you're waiting for the next shot, the next play," she said. "I have to remain level the entire time."
Against the run of play, Rapinoe scored from 12 yards, converting Wambach's feed in the 12th minute. Solo denied Samantha Kerr with a spectacular save moments later but could not stop the unmarked Lisa De Vanna, who tied it at 1-1 by capitalizing on a USA defensive error in the 27th minute.
The Americans settled down as the second half wore on.
Solo started the sequence for the USA's second goal in the 61st minute with a long goal kick. Rapinoe brought it down and fed the streaking Sydney Leroux on the left wing. Leroux sent a sliding pass to the open Press, who drilled a 12-yard shot into the lower right corner for a 2-1 lead.
Solo continued her outstanding play with another point-blank stop, denying Van Egmond in the 70th minute.
"A couple of fantastic saves and they win you matches, don't they?" Australian coach Alen Stajcic said.
Rapinoe added an insurance goal after taking a pass from Carli Lloyd and motoring down the left side and into the box, where she struck a shot inside the far post for the final score in the 78th minute.
"Yeah, I was doing my best Messi impression," Rapinoe said of her run. "A much slower version of it."