U.S. women blank Colombia, advance to WWC quarterfinals, despite their offensive woes.
By Robert Wagman
(Monday, June 22, 2015) - Despite an attack that unexpectedly continues to sputter, the United States women defeated Colombia 2-0 in a FIFA Women's World Cup Round-of-16 confrontation before a sparse crowd of 19,412 tonight at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
The U.S., in recording its third straight clean sheet moves on to face China in the quarterfinals Friday night in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Striker Alex Morgan and midfielder Carli Lloyd provided the margin of victory with second-half striker.
With the defense anchored by the central pair of Julie Hohnston and Becky Sauerbrunn, U.S. goalkeeper face only two easy shots on target, both coming after the 84th minute and the Americans ahead by two goals.
Catalina Perez, Colombia's 20-year-old keeper who will return to University of Miami for her junior season, was called on because starter Sandra Sepulveda was suspended for her two yellow cards in group play.
Despite having made only eight appearances for her national team, Perez kept the game even in the first half with three difficult saves, but she made a major mistake two minutes after intermission when she took down U.S. striker Alex Morgan at the top right of her box.
French referee Stephanie Frappart hesitated momentarily, but then pointed to the penalty spot and sent Perez off with a red card. U.S. forward Abby Wambach missed the penalty kick badly wide left, but Colombia was left with its third keeper and only 10 players.
Morgna took advantage of Stefany Costano, Colombia's third-choice keeper to put the Americans ahead to stay in the 54th minute.
The U.S. finally took the lead in the 54th minute when Morgan took a pass from defender Ali Krieger and overpowered Costano with a 10-yard blast from a sharp angle in the right side of the box.
Carli Lloyd confidently converted a penalty kick 12 minutes latefor a 2-0 advantage after Colombia defender Angela Clavijo tripped U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe in the box.
It's difficult to put a finger at exactly what is bedeviling the U.S. offense, which is comprised of players clearly more talented than their efforts have shown thus far in the World Cup. Wambach and Morgan, playing on top, are simply not in sync. The occasional pass between them goes astray and neither is making herself easily available to the other.
Meanwhile the four U.S. midfielders are not taking much advantage of the width of the field and are pressing into the middle and into the teeth of the opposing defense. Time and again they try to put a ball onto Wambach's head rather than exchanging passes and opening space.
Again, an early goal by Wambach was disallowed and the Americans went into intermission without scoring. The U.S. became inpatient and tried to force things with little result.
So far in this tournament, the U.S. midfield is well aware that the defenders and keeper Hope Solo, riding a string of 333 consecutive scoreless minutes, have more than ably backed them up. Still, the midfield play has too often been sloppy.
A strong back-line might be enough to carry the Americans to a World Cup title, but don't bet on it. The toughest teams still await. It would be helpful -- no, necessary -- for the attack to wake up and play up to its potential.
Perhaps, the biggest news coming out of this match is that midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday received their second yellow cards and thus both will miss the quarterfinal meeting with China. Morgan Brian will probably replace Holiday, with Christen Press a strong candidate to take over for Rapinoe.
Friday night's game against China will be at Landsdowne Stadium in Ottawa at 7:30 p.m. (ET) and televised by Fox Sports 1 and Spanish-language NBC Universo. China lacks experience, but is a disciplined side that will require a better effort from the U.S..
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 6.5: It's not her fault that opponents are not giving her much to worry about. She continues to be steady and seems unemotional as she racked up her third straight shutout.
Defender Ali Krieger - 6: She had some problems with Lady Andrade and a few shaky minutes early, but settled in. Overall, she had a fine match. She assisted the Morgan goal that gave the U.S. the lead.
Defender Meghan Klingenberg - 7: She was the star in back, playing her strongest match of the tournament. She made no mistakes defensively and was able to get forward to make some key passes in the offensive end.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn - 6.5: She was strong with her head and cleared a number of balls. Once again, she made few mistakes..
Defender Julie Johnston - 6: She was more restrained than in previous matches, defensively solid, though she made fewer runs forward..
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe - 6: Her second yellow card of the tourney and subsequent suspension for the quarterfinal, marred a good overall performance. She made some good crosses and some fine runs. The card did not seem justified.
Midfielder Lauren Holiday - 4.5: After being given more attacking responsibility, she became visibly frustrated when things did not go right. She made uncharacteristic errors in her worst outing of the World Cup.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 5.5: She suffered a poor first half, but was better in the second 45 minutes. She nicely converted the U.S.'s second penalty kick, as a competent veteran should.
Midfielder Tobin Heath - 5: She was denied an early goal by a quality save. She never really seemed to settle into the match and made little impression on it.
Forward Alex Morgan - 7: She scored the decisive tally, her first strike of the World Cup. She has not been getting much in the way of service. Her hard work had little effect..
Forward Abby Wambach - 5: She is working, hard but not accomplishing much. She badly missed her penalty kick, sailing wide left with the match still scoreless. She was closely marked and unable to get off any headers, generally having little effect on the proceedings.
Forward Morgan Brian (69th minute for Wambach) 5: She had some success on the ball and was able to hold it, helping run out the clock.
Midfielder Christen Press (75th minute for Rapinoe) - 5.5: She added some pace to the final minutes and was helpful on defense.
Defender Lori Chalupny (81st minute for Krieger) - no rating: A token appearance in her tournament debut.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Alex Morgan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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