Here’s what you need to know:
U.S. GOAL! Nope. Morgan was offside
The initial pressure is all one way, unsurprisingly, and Mewis takes the first shot — a rocket from outside the area that Chor Charoenying fumbles but saves. The next rush up results in a goal — briefly — on a gorgeous long cross from O’Hara to Horan that Morgan helps over the line.
But Morgan was offside, so we stay scoreless.
Two things to watch early, U.S. fans
Watch for the connection between Ertz and Dahlkemper in central defense, and for the connections among Lavelle, Horan and Mewis in midfield. Full disclosure: Thailand is not the team that will really test the United States, but these relationships will come into play in the later rounds. Mewis starts on the left and Lavelle on the right, with Horan in the pivot role between both them and central defense.
This will be a U.S.-flavored crowd tonight
Andrew Keh was in town all day and reports on the scene:
United States supporters have flocked in big numbers to Reims, a small university city northeast of Paris that is considered the capital of France’s Champagne wine region.
The 9 p.m. local start time meant they had plenty of time during the day to stream through the city streets, congregate at sidewalk cafes and take in the local sights, like the impressive 13th-century Reims Cathedral.
Local officials estimated that Americans would account for about half of the sellout crowd at the cozy, 21,000-capacity Stade Auguste-Delaune. After a long early evening downpour, the skies gradually cleared up as kickoff approached.
When the American team ran out for warm-ups about 45 minutes before kickoff, even the half-full stadium let out a mighty roar.
Starting lineups: Horan and Mewis are in, Sauerbrunn is out
The big question for the United States was whether Lindsey Horan, who hasn’t been fully fit this spring, or Sam Mewis, who looked great in the final tuneups, would start alongside Rose Lavelle in the midfield.
The answer has come in an unexpected way: Both will start against Thailand, but center back Becky Sauerbrunn will not. Sauerbrunn has what U.S. Soccer is calling a quadriceps “issue” — not an injury. Basically, she’s feeling something, and with Thailand as the first opponent, the coaches decided — to paraphrase one federation official — “why risk it?”
The good news for the U.S. is that Sauerbrunn’s replacement, Julie Ertz, just slides back from her midfield spot into the role she starred in at Canada 2015.
United States starting lineup: Allysa Naeher; Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Julie Ertz, Kelley O’Hara; Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan; Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath.
Thailand starting lineup: Cal’s Miranda Nild starts up top
We don’t expect many of you are familiar with the Thai team, but one player to watch is the center forward, Miranda Nild. She is the California-raised daughter of a Thai father, and played more recently for the University of California, Berkeley. That also happens to be Alex Morgan’s alma mater, and they met briefly in a hallway in Reims yesterday for the first time.
Thailand’s starting lineup: Chor Charoenying; Srangthaisong, Chinwong, Saekhun, Phetwiset; Thongsombut; Intamee, Phancha, Boothduang, Sung-Ngoen; Nild.
At long last, the World Cup begins for the United States
The United States and Thailand are the final two teams to kick a ball in this World Cup, which opened four weeks — O.K., four days — ago with France’s thumping of Korea in Paris. The Americans had only just arrived in France that day so, perhaps not surprisingly, they are straining at the leash to get started.
“Excitement would be the best word to describe where I am personally and where our players are,” United States Coach Jill Ellis said Thursday at her prematch news conference. “I think when the tournament kicks off and you watch the games, the anticipation for your first match grows. So I think the players are ready, excited, hungry.”
The United States has not played since strolling through a sendoff victory against Mexico on May 27 in New Jersey. The day after that match, the team flew to London and — at Ellis’s insistence — went off the grid for about a week of preparations. They resurfaced briefly for a few days of interviews notable mostly for Megan Rapinoe’s declaring France, not the United States, the favorite to win the tournament.
“I think all the pressure’s on them,” she said.
[For the U.S. and its coach, a low-key start to a high-stakes month.]
Does the U.S. have a soft spot? (Not today, but maybe later.)
Jill Ellis’s team might have the best attacking lineup in the world, with a front line of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath backed by a goal-chasing midfield of Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz and, depending on fitness, Lindsey Horan or Sam Mewis. (That Ellis can bring on players equally dangerous — Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh, Christen Press — up front must strike fear into opposing coaches and tiring defenses.)
But even the outside backs — Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara — like to press forward and get involved in attacks. (Dunn plays as a forward for her club team, so her brain is wired to get into the attack.)
That all makes the United States a phenomenal attacking force, but there have been times that aggressiveness has left center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper and even goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher exposed when quick turnovers turn into counterattacks.
Naeher is the first American not named Brianna Scurry or Hope Solo to start a game at the World Cup in two decades, and so some have pointed to her as a potential weak link. Her teammates and coach vehemently disagree — Andrew Keh of The Times wrote about this supposed “weak link” for our preview section — and Naeher frankly doesn’t care what her doubters think of her.
Her distribution out of the back will be important to what the United States does in transition, but it’s worth noting that the team’s ultra-attacking mind-set might be what gets them in trouble at some point (though probably not today) long before Naeher gets involved.
What can we expect from Thailand today?
The first few days of the World Cup were a mixed bag of debuts for the world’s top teams: France and Norway looked terrific, especially on set pieces, while Germany, England and Canada had to fight for narrow victories. Japan tied. Australia lost.
One thing to watch for today is to see if Thailand took anything out of those performances tactically.
Both China, against Germany, and Argentina, against Japan, were extremely organized defensively and then tried to counterpunch when they could. That is a common approach for teams that are overmatched skills-wise, but the spread in talent today in Reims is among the widest gaps in the first round: the Americans are the world’s top-ranked team, while the Thais are among the lowest-ranked teams in the field. It also can be exhausting, and while fitness levels between elite teams and squads with part-time professionals have been less apparent this year than in the past, few teams can apply sustained offensive pressure like the Americans.
That is why Thailand is taking the game as a test; it rarely gets chances to face top teams, and last played the United States in 2016, losing by 9-0.
“We are here in the finals,” Thailand’s coach, Nuengruethai Sathongwien, said Monday. “That is our success. To play one of the best teams in the world is also a success. Without this tournament, it is not possible for us have chances to play against them in an official match.
“We can take this opportunity to evaluate our ability, where we can improve, and where we need to fix. What we will see tomorrow is something — it may be something that Thailand will bring back home in order to improve and be better in the next appearance.”
Asked if she and her team have allowed themselves to “dream” of the seemingly impossible: a victory, Sathongwien replied: “Of course, dreaming is good. And if we can control our dream, we want that dream to come true.”