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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

U.S. Women Reach 2015 World Cup Final With Impressive 2-0 Win Over No. 1 Germany

Thanks to more clutch play from captain Carli Lloyd (who scored a goal for the third straight game), an impenetrable defense (which has five straight clean sheets, 513 minutes without allowing a goal) and an insurance goal by a most unlikely source (Kelley O'Hara), the U.S. women's national team defeated No. 1 Germany 2-0 tonight at Montreal's Olympic Stadium in the 2015 World Cup semifinals. They'll face the winner of Japan/England on Sunday (7, Fox) in Vancouver. With the win, the U.S. tied Germany for most all-time appearances in the World Cup Final (4) as they go for their third title (1991, 1999) overall and first in this century.

Germany came out fast but after the Americans were able to withstand that early push, then they methodically took over possession and in terms of quality scoring chances. German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer (playing in her last World Cup) stopped her club teammate Alex Morgan with a kick save in the 15th minute after the U.S. forward broke in alone for a breakaway. The other notable play in the first half was a brutal collision of heads between U.S. midfielder Morgan Brian and German forward Alexandra Popp going up for the ball in the U.S. defensive box. After a long delay, Popp was left with a nasty gash on her head while a clearly woozy Brian slowly walked off the field. Strangely enough, both soon returned to the game. Ugh.

The U.S. should have been up by at least a goal at halftime but yet again, their lack of finishing touch hurt them. Still, they have not conceded a goal in any second half at this World Cup plus they always seem to ratchet up their execution when it's truly winning time. The second half was a non-stop swing of emotions as first Germany drew a deserved penalty kick in the 59th minute when rising star Julie Johnston pulled down Popp. Johnston earned a yellow card and German goal-scoring machine Celia Sasic stepped up to the spot to take it. American goalkeeper Hope Solo (89th career shutout; 10th in the World Cup tying former teammate Brianna Scurry's World Cup record) wasted as much time as she could and it must have worked on some level as Sasic pulled her curling, low shot just wide of the post. After going 12-for-12 all-time in World Cup penalty kicks, Germany had finally missed one.

It was the U.S.' turn to get a penalty kick as Alex Morgan was taken down right at the edge of Germany's defensive box in the 69th minute by Annike Krahn. Lloyd drilled her third successful penalty kick in a row for the 1-0 U.S. advantage (they've never lost in the World Cup when they have a lead). Given the quality of their opponent and the high stakes of this match, this was undoubtedly the best performance by the U.S over these past six contests in Canada. My favorite aspect of it was that they didn't settle for a nervy 1-0 victory, instead they went for the kill and sent Germany to the third-place match with a beautiful goal in the 84th minute. Abby Wambach pulled it back to Meghan Klingenberg who played the ball ahead to Lloyd, she got a step on her defender and lofted a perfect cross right on the goal-line for O'Hara to re-direct with her foot. Would you believe it was her first ever goal in a U.S. jersey? Talk about timing!

England is clearly the underdog-just happy to be in tomorrow's match vs. Japan who won the 2011 World Cup (5-4 in penalty kicks over the U.S.). Tonight proved without a doubt that the U.S. is the team to beat and it should give them so much confidence going into Sunday's match. There is almost no question that they would come out on top against England but if you are a U.S. fan, you have to be hoping to see Japan on Sunday. After all, it would only be right to have this long drought end by beating the previous champion. This is shaping up to be a storybook journey for the U.S. and that represents the ultimate ending.

UPDATE 7/2: Bring on Japan! They beat England 2-1 last night on one of the most brutal own goals that I've ever seen.

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