North Korea was a true test, and Team USA responded
Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 10:39AM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 12:39PM
CHENGDU, China -- "I hope you enjoyed the game as I did."
That's how U.S. coach Greg Ryan began his postgame remarks after his team drew North Korea 2-2 in its World Cup opener.
You can't really blame him for sounding more like an excited fan than a coach. After a pretty good first half in which neither side could convert, the teams put on a fantastic show in the second 45 minutes.
North Korea came into the game as something of a mystery. Everything you heard about them was good, but hardly any of it was based on firsthand evidence. Well, in our first look at the Koreans, they were as good as advertised.
They were remarkably fast and surprisingly physical. They attacked with abandon from the get-go -- Ri Un-Suk launched a shot 12 seconds into the game that went just wide. It set the tone for a game that could go down as one of the most entertaining of the tournament.
So what did we learn from it?
The U.S. can come from behind. The Americans have lost once since Ryan took over as coach in 2005, and that was in a shootout. So they don't have much experience playing while trailing. In fact, when North Korea took a 2-1 lead, it was the fourth time in Ryan's 47 games in charge.
On Monday, defender Kate Markgraf talked about how Ryan and his staff constantly put the team through drills in practice designed to get them used to being in adverse situations. It paid off. The U.S. didn't panic after going down 2-1, even though it would have been easy for the wheels to come off the wagon. The Koreans scored twice in a four-minute span at the one-hour mark and had pretty much outplayed the U.S. to that point.
"It was one of those cool moments where the team came together and said, 'We have each other's backs, let's just go forward and get another one,'" said forward Heather O'Reilly. "We believe in each other. So I was impressed with our composure."
The newbies weren't too shabby. In her first World Cup appearance, O'Reilly scored the equalizer with a lethal finish after a half-cleared cross landed at her feet. She also got back and defended well all night and had a great work rate, which was also true of Lori Chalupny. As is often the case, the 23-year-old midfielder was all over the place.