The United States women’s national soccer team has won three of the four games it has played at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Not a single one of those victories have been in commanding style.
Team USA prevailed in its latest outing, defeating Colombia 2-0 on Monday in the Round of 16. The Americans advanced to the quarterfinals, and their mission to win their first World Cup since 1999 remains on track.
After laboring through a goalless first half, the game exploded early in the second period. Team USA navigated the wild 20-minute stretch that featured one dismissal, two penalty kicks (one missed) and two goals — all in the United States’ favor — better than the Colombians. When the dust settled halfway through the second half, only one team realistically was going to advance: the team that is winning by any means necessary.
Colombia’s pregame trash talk suggested Team USA wasn’t going to breeze past “Las Cafateras,” and their play on the field confirmed it as fact. Team USA started well, but faded after 15 minutes when Colombia found its footing in the game. The teams entered the halftime break on even footing thanks to Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez’s quick reflexes, but her decision-making would swing the contest in Team USA’s favor shortly after the interval.
Perez fouled Alex Morgan on the edge of the penalty area, earning herself a red card and giving away a penalty kick. Abby Wambach then missed from the spot in eye-popping fashion in the 50th minute, adding further legitimacy to calls for head coach Jill Ellis to drop her from the starting lineup.
Thankfully for Team USA, Morgan and Perez’s replacement, Stefany Castano, conspired to bail out Wambach and Team USA in the 53rd minute. Morgan shot from a tight angle, and Castano batted the ball into the goal in a tragically timed error.
Morgan’s first goal of the tournament gave Team USA a boost and pushed Colombia to the brink of desperation. Megan Rapinoe, who shook off a suspension-inducing, first-half yellow card, confirmed the Americans’ superiority with a forward raid, which resulted in another penalty kick. Carli Lloyd, not Wambach, stepped up and delivered the knockout blow in the 65th minute.
The swashbuckling style Team USA displayed in previous World Cups and Olympics won’t make a sudden appearance in Canada. Fans hoping for quality, variety and verve from the Americans must look to other, more technical teams, as the nature of women’s soccer (and the United States’ place) has changed forever. Team USA was heavily favored to beat Colombia, but the balance of play proved there are no more pushovers.
Winning is Team USA’s sole objective in this tournament. It currently relies on the world’s best goalkeeper in Hope Solo and defends with sturdy excellence. Head coach Jill Ellis has organized her players tactically, and their physical and mental qualities are better than the opponents they have faced so far.
We’ll learn Friday when Team USA faces China if those strengths can take Ellis’ group one more step forward.