OTTAWA, Ontario -- As Carli Lloyd's 51st-minute header settled into the Chinese net, more than four games of frustration poured out of the U.S. midfielder. She ran to the corner of the field, karate-kicked the corner flag and then turned to celebrate with her teammates.
The tally proved to be the difference for the U.S., as the Americans prevailed over China 1-0 in a Women's World Cup quarterfinal and will now face No. 1-ranked Germany in the semis.
Lloyd's emotions were understandable. This has by no means been her best Women's World Cup. Even in this match, a bright first few minutes gave way to a rather pedestrian first half. But the Delran, New Jersey, native has tended to save her best for the tournament's latter stages, and this match saw her come through when it mattered once again.
It was another game in which the defense shined, and the U.S. has now gone 423 minutes without conceding. In terms of the attack, the U.S. took some steps forward and created more chances in this game (13) than in any other in the tournament. But without question, the Americans will need to deliver substantially more to prevail over Germany. The U.S. enjoyed some long stretches of territorial domination but too often lacked precision in the final third, be it from midfielders or forwards. That said, Germany will be more adventurous than China, so there will likely be more spaces available to the Americans.
With Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe suspended, U.S. manager Jill Ellis had a chance to tinker with her lineup. Morgan Brian's stepping in for Holiday was expected, but the selection of Kelley O'Hara for Rapinoe and the insertion of Amy Rodriguez for Abby Wambach were surprises, to a degree.
The night proved to be a mixed bag for the trio. While Brian impressed in a holding role, Rodriguez showed considerable rust, especially with her touch, and O'Hara proved an inconsistent presence on the right wing.
The match started promisingly, as Lloyd sprang Rodriguez on a clear breakaway in the first minute but she badly skewed her shot wide. O'Hara and Alex Morgan each had long-range efforts in the first 10 minutes that hinted at a promising half.
At that point, China settled into its customary tactic of defending deep, and the U.S. once again had few ideas as to how to break the Steel Roses down, despite the best efforts of Tobin Heath on the left wing. Julie Johnston had a pair of chances off set pieces, but one free header in the box went over the bar and another shot was cleared off the line by China defender Li Dongna.
Lloyd's goal had a calming effect, and China rarely threatened the U.S. goal thereafter. As such, the U.S. was left to celebrate another victory against a team it was expected to beat.
Now the semifinals beckon, as does the kind of performance the U.S. players have long promised in the tournament. The pedigree of the opponent is there. The performance will need to match it for the U.S. to reach its second consecutive Women's World Cup final.
Player ratings: (0-10, with 5 average)
G Hope Solo, 6: She was never really tested but made the plays she needed to make, including a punch of one second-half delivery. Her 134th career win put her ahead of Briana Scurry for tops all time for the U.S. women's national team.
D Meghan Klingenberg, 7: She was solid with her defending and had some threatening runs forward.
D Becky Sauerbrunn, 7: She timed her tackles with precision and was fairly clean with her distribution.
D Julie Johnston, 7: She should have gotten one header on frame, and she had one shot cleared off the line, but no complaints on the defensive side of things. Her long pass picked out Lloyd for the U.S. goal.
D Ali Krieger, 6.5: She defended her side well and was aggressive stepping into the attack. The only complaint was her crosses continue to lack accuracy; she hit the post with one second-half shot.
M Tobin Heath, 6: Her first-half performance was an improvement over prior starts, in that she was effective off the dribble, though her crosses needed more precision. She seemed to fade a bit in the second half but was better overall.
M Morgan Brian, 7: She had a couple hiccups in her own half early on but otherwise provided a good outlet for teammates and won plenty of midfield duels.
M Carli Lloyd, 6: She started brightly enough, with a gorgeous pass to Rodriguez, but then had difficulty completing passes. That said, she delivered the key play by getting on the end of Johnston's long pass.
M Kelley O'Hara 5.5: She had some bright moments on the wing, including one drive that went narrowly over the bar. But overall, she faded in and out of the match.
F Amy Rodriguez, 4: She missed badly on one early opportunity, and though she worked hard and held the ball up well enough, she struggled with her touch and seemed out of sync with her teammates.
F Alex Morgan, 5: The timing off her runs seemed a tad off, as she found herself offside more than once. She broke free for a couple of shots that were blocked but was largely held in check.
Christen Press, 6: She settled into the right side of midfield and looked lively in her 29 minutes. She had one mazy run that ended with her shooting wide.
Heather, O'Reilly, 5: She didn't make much of an impact after coming on for Morgan.
Abby Wambach, NR: She came on late for Rodriguez.