Lloyd Leads U.S. Women Into Semis
OTTAWA, Ontario -- If it's the World Cup, the United States must be in the semifinals. On the strength of Carli Lloyd's second-half goal, which made the U.S. captain the third American to score a goal in her 200th appearance, the United States defeated China 1-0 on Friday and advanced to the semifinals for the seventh time in as many World Cups.
The U.S. women played without starters Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe, suspended due to yellow cards, and used Abby Wambach only as a late substitution.
The United States advances to face Germany in a semifinal Tuesday in Montreal. The most recent World Cup meeting between the two was Germany's 3-0 win at the same stage in 2003 in Portland, Oregon. Abby Wambach is the only starter from either team that day who is likely to start in Montreal.
There is more to come from Ottawa, but here are three observations from Friday's game.
1. United States created more than enough to advance
The United States, be it in the form of coach Jill Ellis or numerous players, has talked again and again the past few weeks about creating chances. At least from afar, it all sounded like a wine snob carrying on about hints of cedar and overtones of apricots. Maybe they taste all of that, but it just tastes like wine to a lot of us -- some good, some not so good. Maybe the Americans saw the hints of cedar and overtones of apricot in their attack, but it just looked like vinegar to a lot of us.
But even after another scoreless first half Friday -- the third in five games -- it felt on this night like a goal had to come, when in previous games it only felt like one might. When Lloyd rose above Lou Jiahui and drove a header down toward the corner of the goal off a terrific service from Julie Johnston, the lead was more than merited.
The United States played the game in China's half much of the night. From the opening sequence, which unfortunately saw Amy Rodrigurez flub her line at the end with a shot sent well wide to Tobin Heath dancing around a Chinese defender and delivering a cross to the far post that Kelley O'Hara had a look at, the Americans created. From Morgan Brian's switching the point of attack to begin a sequence that eventually led to a decent look for Alex Morgan to Johnston's stepping in and maintaining possession in China's half, they created. And they did so without three of their cornerstones for most or all of the game.
The Americans needed individual magic from Rapinoe to score multiple goals against Australia. They needed a man advantage and two penalty opportunities to score multiple goals against Colombia. They only got one goal Friday but deserved more.
Some will suggest that is still cause for concern about the final product, all the more because Germany isn't China, but give credit where credit is due. This looked like a team worthy of a World Cup semifinal.
2. Morgan Brian made Lloyd's 200th cap more enjoyable
Whether it is her final start in this World Cup remains to be seen, and it presents quite a conundrum for Ellis, but Brian showed against China why she won the Hermann Trophy in back-to-back seasons at the University of Virginia and secured a place on the national team ahead of the normal schedule for players these days. In doing so, she freed Lloyd to play her most aggressive game of the tournament.
With Lloyd and Holiday next to each other, it felt like the roles of the two central midfielders were ill-defined, which left both stuck near the back line. With Brian clearly prepared to tuck in behind Lloyd when the latter went forward, Lloyd did exactly that. The final product wasn't always perfect, but even an imperfect product was a welcome change in that it came on the front foot. The Houston Dash teammates, albeit briefly, looked in sync.
To put it simply, the roster for the United States is old. But in Brian and Julie Johnston -- who might lament two good looks at goal that went wanting but served up the assist and again played like one of the best on the field -- this World Cup has provided at least some youth to go with Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux in the under-25 club.
Miscast wide in her first start against Sweden, Brian was ineffective. Given a role in the center of the field, she not only looked better, but she made everyone else, including the American captain on this night, look better.
The other American changes -- Rodriguez up top and Kelley O'Hara out wide, before coming off after taking a shot to the face in the second half -- did little to influence the game other than play with great energy, but Brian stepped in and stepped up in a big way.
3. China didn't do much to challenge the shutout streak
The flip side of the improved American possession was that China, as organized as it was throughout the tournament, simply didn't have much with which to apply pressure on the United States. Whether lightly tested, as was the case in the first half, or moderately tested, as was the case as China pushed to equalize in the second half, the American back line continued to be the team's best asset. It is getting repetitive to write (and likely to read), but the quartet of Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn, with Hope Solo behind them, looks very much championship-caliber.
The United States has now gone 423 minutes without conceding a goal, the longest such streak for any American team in the World Cup and the third longest by any team in the tournament.
The back line playing its part in building the attack is easy to overlook.