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Holiday, Rapinoe lead US to 2-0 win over China women

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POSTED April 6, 2014 9:51 p.m.

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — The thunder rumbled near the stadium and pelting sleet began to fall, sending the U.S. players scurrying for cover.

No matter, their work was done anyway.

Moments after the Americans beat China 2-0 in an exhibition game Sunday, the skies turned dark and opened up. This after a day of sunshine and mild temperatures.

At least the weather wasn’t as bad as a year ago, when the U.S. men beat Costa Rica on the same field in a heavy snowstorm.

This time, there were only a few snow pellets. Forward Sydney Leroux pulled the hood over her head as she stopped to chat, before bolting for the locker room.

“We literally went through every single season,” Leroux said. “Sunny and now it’s snowing.”

Sun, rain, sleet, snow, didn’t matter — this was the kind of game the U.S. needed to get back on track after a disappointing performance at the Algarve Cup last month. The Americans went 1-2-1 to finish an uncharacteristic seventh.

“We didn’t play our best,” said Heather O’Reilly, who stepped in as captain against China with Christie Rampone sidelined by a toe injury. “We learned from it and we’re moving on.”

Certainly did. Lauren Holiday scored off a ricochet late in the first half and substitute Megan Rapinoe added another goal to help the U.S. improve to 31-8-12 against China.

It could have been worse. The U.S. had a 23-1 shot advantage while running its unbeaten streak on home turf to 81 games (71-0-10).

Coach Tom Sermanni just wished his team could have put more away.

“I thought our movement was good, thought our passing was quite incisive,” said Sermanni, whose team plays China in another friendly Thursday in San Diego. “What we should’ve done better is finish the game off a lot earlier. We really need to be finishing these games off when we’re creating chances.”

Holiday was back in the lineup after missing the Algarve Cup because of a family commitment. She scored in the 39th minute — the U.S. finally solving goalkeeper Zhang Yue after a flurry of shots. Holiday nearly had another goal early in the second half, only to have China deflect it away near the goal line.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo wasn’t challenged in the first half and Jill Loyden took over in the second half, making the only save for the Americans.

The defense only allowed one scoring chance to China, which played a defense-oriented game even after falling behind.

“They’re a team rebuilding and become a team that’s been very, very disciplined defensively,” Sermanni said. “They did try to make life difficult for us.”

Veterans Abby Wambach and Rapinoe began the day on the bench, but entered the game in the second half.

Rapinoe took a free kick at the 78th minute, lining a shot that rolled through all the traffic in the penalty box and struck the right post, before bouncing into the net. It was her 25th career goal.

Sermanni experimented with his formation against China, going with a 4-3-3 alignment (four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards). The team usually goes with a 4-4-2 concept.

So far, so good.

“If we can continue to grow and play a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2, we’re going to be extremely dangerous,” Holiday said.

The Americans are mixing things up to figure out just the right combination before 2015 World Cup qualifying begins in October.

“The most important thing is coming together now and figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” Leroux said. “We’re getting better every single day.”

O’Reilly was honored before the game for appearing in her 200th career match for the national team in March. She made her debut in 2002 at 17 years old.

“This is something I’m incredibly proud of,” O’Reilly said. “There are some very, very talented players in this country. To be able to suit up that many times is definitely an honor.”

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