Strange things tend to happen in the jungle … even in the Olympics.
The United States women’s national soccer team played Colombia to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday at the Amazonia Arena in Manaus, Brazil — a metropolis that sits in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, 1,771 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The draw was perhaps the most surprising result of the women’s soccer tournament at the 2016 Olympic Games so far.
Top-ranked Team USA continued its historical dominance over 24th-ranked Colombia for much of the 90-minute contest, but the score-line tells a different story.
Why? Two words: Hope Solo.
The USA stalwart endured a nightmare in Manaus. She conceded two free-kick goals to Colombia’s Catalina Usme through her own goalkeeping errors. All the while, fans taunted Solo with boos and chants of “Zika” every time she kicked the ball, and they seemingly took great delight in her mistakes.
Solo is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the women’s soccer world. But she had a bad game and cost USA two points and a win.
That doesn’t mean head coach Jill Ellis should replace Solo mid-tournament. We expect Solo to rebound from this setback, as she has done throughout the career.
Solo’s gaffes were highlight moments in a game that the USA controlled from start to finish. With qualification to the quarterfinals already secured, Ellis made four changes to the starting lineup in an effort to rest some players and give others the experience of game time in a pressure-packed tournament atmosphere.
USA might have expected to drop its performance level in its third game in six days. That didn’t happen because of a mix of its depth of quality and Colombia’s fatigue.
The U.S. created six goal-scoring chances, including one off the crossbar in the first 20 minutes. No goals came.
Solo allowed Usme’s 26th-minute free kick to slip through her legs, but Crystal Dunn, one of the leaders of a new generation of U.S. talents, scored the tying goal in the 41st minute. Instead of halftime hand-wringing, USA went into the dressing room confident that this wouldn’t be an off night.
The second half continued in the same fashion, with USA hogging the ball and pinning Colombia deep inside its own half. Halftime substitute Mallory Pugh then punctuated this period of control with a fine solo goal.
Up 2-1, USA was coasting toward the final whistle. Then the referee awarded Colombia a free kick just yards away from the touchline and goal-line. Most players would aim a free kick at a teammate’s head inside the penalty area. Most goalkeepers might have stayed on their line.
Usme shot. Solo waved. The ball rocketed into the far corner.
No notable action followed, and Solo was left licking her wounds.
USA clinched the top spot in Group G with the result. But its Olympic winning streak has ended after 13 games.
As is the case for Solo’s air of invincibility in goal.
Here are a few other notable aspects of USA-Colombia.
Megan Rapinoe’s return
The winger last played for Team USA in October, tore her ACL in December, recovered quickly and was a shock inclusion on the Olympic roster.
Rapinoe played just the first 30 minutes (before exiting in a planned substitution), but they were eventful. She had a couple near assists during USA’s early flurry. But her foul near the U.S. penalty area led to Colombia’s first goal. Not that Usme’s strike was Rapinoe’s fault, but it still came from a dangerous position.
Carli Lloyd’s scoring streak snapped
The U.S. hero had scored in her last six games at major championships, dating to the 2015 World Cup Round of 16.
Lloyd didn’t score against Colombia, but her run of 27 goals in her last 29 games for Team USA remains a jaw-dropping statistic.
Thumbnail photo via Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports Images