U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe, top, celebrates scoring against Australia with forward Abby Wambach (20), Megan Klingenberg (22) and Carli Lloyd (10). (USA TODAY Sports Images)

U.S. defeats Australia, 3-1

The U.S. dodged its first bullet in the World Cup’s “Group of Death” Monday, pulling away from Australia, 3-1. The Matildas gave the team all it could handle for the first hour of the game, but a goal by Christen Press in the 61st minute signaled a shift toward U.S. dominance.

Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo were the standout performers for the U.S., the former with two goals, and the latter with several huge saves, especially early in the game, when her team was largely outplayed. Another highlight for the U.S. fans who made up the vast majority of the announced crowd of 31,148 at Winnipeg Stadium was a late-game appearance by Alex Morgan, who had sat out the USWNT’s past three games with a knee injury.

Now the rest of Group D is looking up at the U.S. The group’s other game Monday featured a 3-3 tie between Sweden and Nigeria, so the U.S. is the only squad with a win and a positive goal differential. Next up are the Swedes, ranked fifth in the world (the U.S. is No. 2), with whom the Americans will tangle on Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Rapinoe leaves the game to huge cheer from U.S. fans

Megan Rapinoe was already a favorite of U.S. fans, and her two-goal outing Monday did nothing to change that. After a stellar peformance, she left the field in favor of 22-year-old midfielder Morgan Brian, and the crowd saluted Rapinoe’s starring role in what would be a 3-1 win.

Morgan enters the game for the U.S.

It was hard to tell what the pro-U.S. crowd was cheering for more loudly, Rapinoe’s goal or the entrance of Alex Morgan. In the wake of the former’s score, making the score 3-1, Morgan was subbed in for Leroux, making her first appearance for the USWNT since April. Morgan is recovering from a knee injury, but she had been practicing in full in recent days. The 25-year-old forward, an offensive threat and the team’s most marketable star, was able to enter the game at a point where the U.S. appeared to finally be exerting its dominance over the feisty Matildas.

Rapinoe scores again, increases U.S. lead to 3-1

Megan Rapinoe is having a day. The midfielder notched her second goal to make the score 3-1 in favor of the U.S. Whereas her first score came on a deflection, there was nothing fluky about her next effort. Rapinoe collected a pass from teammate Carli Lloyd, and she calmly pushed the ball down the left side, switching the ball from her right foot to her left before knocking it into the right side of the net from a slightly difficult angle.

First substitution: Heath enters for Press

Apparently, Press had done her job. Shortly after scoring to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead, the forward left the field in favor of midfielder Tobin Heath, for the game’s first substitution.

Moments later, Australia subbed forward Kyah Simon in for Michelle Heyman, looking for some more speed as it tried to make up a one-goal deficit.

Press goal gives lead back to U.S., 2-1

Through 60 minutes, Christen Press hadn’t done much in the game for the U.S., but that changed in a hurry. Forward Sydney Leroux broke down the left flank in the 61st minute, and she fed the ball over to Press as soon as she entered the penalty area. The 26-year-old forward made no mistake, slotting the ball into the right corner for her 21 international goal in just her 46th appearance.

Australia continues to menace the U.S. after halftime

Australia served notice in the first half that it would give the U.S. all it could handle, and the first 10 minutes of the second half featured more of the same. The Matildas launched two dangerous counter-attacks, both of which ultimately proved unsuccessful as the score remained tied at 1-1. On the first, forward Samantha Kerr broke in to the clear and sprinted downfield with the ball, with U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn doing very well to catch up and poke the ball away, forcing a corner kick.

U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday lost the ball on the second chance, and then, minutes later, she compounded her difficulties by earning the game’s first yellow card after tripping De Vanna.

U.S. lucky to be tied with Australia at halftime

It’s 1-1 at the half, and the U.S. has to be feeling fortunate about that. The country’s goal came on a deflected shot by Rapinoe, while the Matildas created many more dangerous offensive chances. According to FIFA, the USWNT has a large edge in possession percentage, 59-41, but Australia leads in on-target shots (4-2) and free kicks (9-7).

Only the brilliance of Solo, who entered the tournament under a cloud of controversy, has kept the U.S. from needing to stage a comeback. For what it’s worth, the U.S. has never lost a World Cup game when it was tied at halftime (6-0-3), according to ESPN researcher Paul Carr.

Wambach whiffs on a header 

Abby Wambach appeared to simply miss a chance to head in her record-tying 14th goal in World Cup play, one that would have given the lead back the the U.S. In the 39th minute, she ran into the penalty area as a Rapinoe free kick curled in from the left side. Wambach looked like she was in position to make a powerful shot on net, but the ball skimmed off her head and out of play

Australia ties U.S., 1-1, on DeVanna goal

Lisa De Vanna celebrated her 100th international cap in high style. After the U.S. had trouble clearing the ball from its own end, the forward and Australian captain was left mostly alone on the right side of the penalty area. She moved toward a pass and swung her left leg into the ball, sending it past Solo and into the right corner of the USWNT net.

Rapinoe puts U.S. up, 1-0

Australia had the best of it in the early going, but the first goal goes to the U.S., in the 12th minute. Megan Rapinoe dribbled through several Matildas before taking a shot that deflected off a defender and past goalie Melissa Barbieri. It was the 30th goal in international play for the 29-year-old midfielder.

Moments later, Solo was forced to make another outstanding save as Australia nearly answered right back.

Hope Solo makes a great early save

Australia had the game’s first great chance. Midfielder Emily van Egmond ran onto a ball that had been fed into the middle of the penalty area, and she lashed a ball toward the upper right side of the U.S. net. But Solo was equal to the task, diving to her left to punch the ball away.

Plenty of U.S. fans in attendance

With the 2015 World Cup being played in Canada, it was expected that the neighbors to the south would arrive in droves to cheer on the USWNT. Winnipeg Stadium is only about a 90-minute drive from the North Dakota border, and sure enough there is a lot of red, white and blue in the stands.

Wambach needs just one goal to tie all-time record

Only Brazil’s Marta and Germany’s Birgit Prinz, with 14 each, have more goals in women’s world Cup play than the U.S. star.

Of course, Marta still has a chance to pad her total as well, as the forward is back at the World Cup with her national team. Prinz is retired.

U.S. starting lineup

Courtesy of U.S. Soccer’s official Twitter feed for the USWNT.

Forward Alex Morgan, recovering from a knee injury, will be available as a substitute.

U.S.-Australia preview

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Where: Winnipeg Stadium

The U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) is thirsting for its first World Cup since Brandi Chastain famously whipped her shirt off in 1999, but first it must survive the so-called “Group of Death.” Of the six groupings for pool play, Group D features the highest average world ranking for its four teams. The U.S. leads the way at No. 2, but close behind are Sweden (5) and Australia (10), with Nigeria (33) already having proven dangerous.

This is the first major tournament for Coach Jillian Ellis, who took over from Tom Sermanni last year, but it could be the last one for longtime star Abby Wambach, the leading scorer, male or female, in U.S. history. The 35-year-old Wambach is one of many veterans on the USWNT, which has one of the highest average ages in the tournament. Alex Morgan, 25, is the heir apparent to Wambach, but her health is a major question mark; the forward missed the team’s past three games, as it prepared for the World Cup, with a sore knee, but she has reportedly been practicing in full.

The Matildas, coached by Alen Stajcic, have shown slow but steady improvement in the World Cup. They have qualified for each of the past five tournaments, and they made it out of the group stage in the past two. The team has offensive firepower, with speed to spare, but it will be challenged to keep the U.S. from swarming its net. Dating back to 1987, Australia has not beaten the U.S., managing just two draws in 24 matches.

Nigeria and Sweden play to 3-3 draw

The other two teams in Group D squared off earlier on Monday, and they played a highly entertaining game. Sweden, led by former U.S. coach Pia Sunghage, jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Nigeria scored twice in a three-minute span early in the second half. Linda Sembrant came off the bench to put her squad back ahead in the 60th minute, but Francisca Ordega knotted up the contest for Nigeria in the 87th.

Check out Nike’s new ad featuring the USWNT

Well, that’ll get a person hyped. Just one question: Was Hope Solo in there at all? The goalie certainly has the star power, but she has also created negative headlines off the field, including on Sunday, when her sister strongly refuted claims Solo had made on “Good Morning America” about the domestic-violence incident last June that resulted in her arrest.