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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

U.S. Women Reach Their Seventh Straight World Cup Quarterfinal After 2-0 Win Vs. Colombia

After four games at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, I think we are starting to get a pretty good sense of what the U.S. women's national team is all about: they are an outstanding defensive team that for whatever reason simply has trouble scoring goals. It is not the most attractive brand of soccer but so far it has been effective as the U.S.' shutout streak reached 333 minutes (and counting) after a 2-0 victory over Colombia at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. This sets up a juicy rematch of the 1999 World Cup Final with China on Friday night (7:30, FOX).

There was little chance of the U.S. losing this match, even though they mostly sleepwalked through a scoreless first half. It only took them the first 21 minutes of the second half to take control and put Colombia in the rearview mirror. It started in the 47th minute when Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez chopped down Alex Morgan on the edge of the area, earning a red card. Abby Wambach subsequently blew the ensuing penalty kick (blasting it wide of the net) but the U.S. would soon take advantage of Colombia playing with 10 women and also down to their backup goalkeeper-Stefany Castano-in the country's biggest match ever.

Morgan opened her account in Canada with a gift from Castano in the 53rd minute: rather than cross it, Morgan chose to put a tough angle shot on net and surprisingly, it trickled in. Ali Krieger had the assist on Morgan's 3rd all-time goal at the World Cup (each scored in knockout games with the last coming in the 2011 Final vs. Japan). The U.S. received another penalty kick in the 66th minute, this time earned by Megan Rapinoe after she made a dangerous attacking run into the box. Carli Lloyd got a crack at the second penalty kick and she came through for the insurance tally.

Colombia never really put together any significant offensive pressure so it was another light workload for goalkeeper Hope Solo (8th World Cup shutout, 87th all-time; tied Brianna Scurry for most wins by an American (133)). That won't always be the case and while China is not the powerhouse that they used to be, they figure to pose more of a challenge than Colombia. There is also the innate pressure on the Americans, something that only host Canada can relate to at the moment; they are expected to be the best and that can be tough to live up to at all times.

Furthermore, the bad news to come out of this match for the U.S. is that star midfielders Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe both picked up their second yellow cards of the tournament so they receive an automatic suspension vs. China. It is also a short turnaround to Friday and they'll be traveling to Ottawa so this should be a good test for head coach Jill Ellis who thus far hasn't exactly impressed. I would like to see veteran Heather O'Reilly perhaps get a start against China (she has yet to see the field in Canada) with their two best midfielders out but Ellis subbed in Morgan Brian and Christen Press tonight so they seem like the safest bet to go into the starting lineup.

This is certainly not the way we thought the U.S. would play but if they win the World Cup next weekend, we won't complain. It is a clearly imperfect team but they have enough strengths and individual talent that they can still go all the way. The winner of U.S.-China will meet Germany or France in the semifinals on June 30.

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