Jill Ellis, head coach of the United States women’s national soccer team, reached into her bag of tricks and found nuggets, which took her team to a higher level at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Team USA defeated China 1-0 on Friday in the quarterfinal, delivering its finest and most complete performance of the tournament to date.
Carli Lloyd scored the decisive goal early in the second half. Her second goal in as many games was the highlight of a second half that Team USA dominated from start to finish.
Ellis reinforced Team USA’s core strength, defending, by transforming a sturdy protective unit into an aggressive, swarming pack of ball-hunters, who prevented China from establishing its heralded quick passing game. Forwards Alex Morgan and surprise starter Amy Rodriguez led the effort from the front, pressuring China’s defenders at every turn. Morgan Brian and Kelly O’Hara started in place of suspended duo Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe. Brian and O’Hara joined Lloyd and Tobin Heath in providing balance and industry in the midfield. Goalkeeper Hope Solo and the back four — Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Ali Kreiger — were nearly flawless once again.
Team USA now boasts a 423-minute shutout streak, which spans four-and-a-half of the five games it has played in Canada. If defense wins championships, it’s no surprise Team USA has blocked and repelled its way to its last four victories.
The United States should have beaten China by a larger margin, but it carried its goal-scoring struggles on the trip from Western to Eastern Canada. Rodriguez missed a second-minute shot badly, and substitute Christen Press should have converted the chance she created with two minutes remaining in the one-sided contest. China’s deep-lying denied Morgan space to exploit with her speed.
Lloyd scored from a set piece, heading Johnston’s hopeful delivery past the goalkeeper. Lloyd’s goal wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Team USA did satisfy observers, who were clamoring for a more dynamic attacking style by passing at a higher tempo than before and varying the points of attack. Rodriguez was excellent in advancing this particular cause.
Team USA was favored to beat China and it did so by playing to its potential and meeting expectations. Ellis relied on the considerable depth she has at her disposal, and Team USA didn’t miss Rapinoe and Holiday, two of its best passers, one bit.
A much stiffer test awaits Ellis’ group. Second-ranked Team USA will face top-ranked Germany on Tuesday in Montreal in a much-anticipated semifinal meeting of superpowers of the women’s game. Ellis’ task is to find the right combinations of players, who can retain Team USA’s dependable defensive posture but add punch to an offense that lacks it. Ellis will find herself on the brink of glory if she succeeds in doing so. Failure will result in nothing short of an inquisition from an expectant and growing fan base.
Thumbnail photo via Michael Chow/USA TODAY Sports Images
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