U.S. gets by Colombia to advance to Women’s World Cup quarterfinals
By Eric Adelson
June 22, 2015
Alex Morgan #13 of the United States scores her first goal against goalkeeper Stefany Castano #1 of Colombia in the sec
EDMONTON, Alberta – They were bigger, they were better, they were badder.
Yet they are still vulnerable.
The United States women’s national team quieted the trash-talking Colombia team on Monday by physically overpowering the smaller South America side – that was down to 10 players after a 47th-minute red card – to win 2-0 on an Alex Morgan right-footed rocket and a Carli Lloyd penalty shot. The victory was resounding in one sense but still troubling in another, as the U.S. attack is still woefully imprecise.
The knockout stage will get trickier now, as the Americans next take on China but will do so without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday – both drawing their second yellow cards of the tournament and therefore will sit out Friday’s quarterfinal in Ottawa. After the match, Abby Wambach had some loaded comments about French referee Stephanie Frappart.
“I don’t know if they were yellows,” Wambach said. “It seemed like she was purposefully giving those yellows to, maybe players she knew were sitting on yellows. I don’t know if that’s a psychological thing. Who knows?”
Whether FIFA will take issue with that commentary is not yet known, but head coach Jill Ellis has to figure out how to replace the best playmaker on the club in Rapinoe, along with one of her trusted sidekicks. Ellis will likely go with Morgan Brian and Christen Press to start the next match, but she hasn’t been able to make the impressive pieces into a more potent whole.
When asked about the manner in which the U.S. is winning, the coach became ever so slightly testy. “This is the World Cup,” she said. “I’m really satisfied with advancing. It’s about finding a way.”
The Americans did find a way, but only after finding a way to blow a golden chance. Wambach inexplicably missed the net on a penalty shot after Colombia goalkeeper (and University of Miami player) Catalina Perez was red-carded for diving into Morgan.
“I just shanked it,” Wambach said.
Wambach opted to shoot with her left foot and sent the ball wide, causing an eruption of sound from the already loud Colombia fans here. This came after a first half in which the upstarts went toe-to-toe with the U.S. with chippy play and strong goalkeeping from the 20-year-old Perez. The Colombians ran off the field after a scoreless first half with arms waving in excitement, and for a time it felt like a home crowd for Las Cafeteras.
The Americans, meanwhile, had sputtered. Morgan said she may have gotten fewer than 10 touches in the first 45, and said the entire offense “rushed way too much.” It’s befuddling how these stops and starts can happen to a team this experienced, but it keeps happening.
“In the first half, I don’t know why we weren’t creating that many chances,” Morgan said.
Even against an undersized club, the Americans still faced the same inertia as they did in the group stage: lethargy on offense and a reliance on the stout defense to wall off any counterattack. Wambach’s whiff was yet more evidence that the U.S. is neither creating nor taking advantage of chances that won’t come as often as the knockout stage progresses. The Americans have still not faced a deficit, and it’s not clear if they can summon offense when it’s crucial.
“I expect more,” said forward Tobin Heath, referring to her own play but making a point that it goes beyond that. “It’s about getting better tempo, and rhythm. A little more dynamic in the attack.”
Morgan’s goal, coming only moments after the shock of Wambach’s miss, stemmed the Colombia momentum quickly. She blistered a shot on the short side that third-string goalie Stefany Castano got a glove on but could not stop.
Morgan was actually planning a cross before deciding to blast it past the third-string goalie.
“I changed my mind at the last second to shoot it,” she said, “so it didn’t have as much power on it.”
The U.S. got another penalty shot soon after, when Rapinoe was taken down in the box, and this time it was Lloyd who took it, although Wambach insisted she would have been prepared to go again. Lloyd drilled it, and ended up with Player of the Match honors for doing so.
It was a relief for the U.S. and for the struggling Lloyd, but with the defense playing the way it has all tournament, the game felt out of reach even at 1-0. Credit the back line and Solo, who are only more impenetrable with each match.
Asked how the defense is doing so far in this fortnight, Julie Johnston replied, “Well.” That’s an understatement. No matter how poorly the attack looks at times, an opponent still has to figure out a group brimming with confidence and playing in front of the best goalkeeper in the world.
China is next to try.