Tonight, Alex Morgan put the team on her back. For the first time this tournament, the United States forward went the full 90 minutes. And even though Morgan is still recovering from a bruised knee bone, early in the second half, she was able to rush ahead and turn an open chance at goal into a penalty kick, leading to a red card ejection for the Colombian keeper.
In that moment, the game went from a 0-0 draw to a probable U.S. victory.
However, in a classic "ball don't lie" moment, Abby Wambach missed the resulting penalty. Despite that, Morgan wasn't to be deterred. In the 54th minute, Morgan, sensing the keeper's nerves, passed up open players Julie Johnston, Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe, and instead sent a speculative shot near post that snuck in off the keeper's outstretched hand.
Later, a second penalty -- drawn by Megan Rapinoe and converted by Carli Lloyd -- put the game away for the U.S., sealing their spot in the quarterfinals.
Colombia Did Us Some Favors
The USWNT did not play exceedingly well by any stretch of the imagination. They once again looked stagnant and devoid of ideas. In a game that was hyped by the Colombians as a David vs. Goliath match-up, the South American side cracked.
While Colombia spent the build-up to the match mentally pumping themselves up in the press, their fundamental mistakes gave the United States the win.
In the end, the Colombians were broken by two bad plays from their goalkeepers -- who through unfortunate circumstances were their second and third backup, after their first-choice keeper was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
After all their imaginary talk of disrespect from the United States women's team, after all their guarantees of victory, it was three self-inflicted wounds that did them in: a bad foul; a shot that should've been saved; and another bad foul.
In the end, Colombia blinked and the United States took advantage.
The United States does more of the same
Aside from switching Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe's assignment on the left and right, Jill Ellis once again lined up her team in the same 4-4-2 as the Nigeria game. Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd both went forward. To compensate, Klingenberg didn't make her usual marauding runs up the left; instead, she tucked inside, playing nearly in front of the two centerbacks in order to shield them.
Ellis' similar tactics yielded similar results: The team looked stagnant in passing, and its spacing was once again unbalanced. However, with Morgan closer to full fitness, the U.S. thankfully had more of a presence on the wings now that she's drifting out wide, as the midfielders drifted in.
Ultimately, this victory is due to defensive work. The U.S. has gone three games without giving up a goal and has only given up one goal all tournament. The offense may be the flashy side of this squad, but the defense is why they continue advancing.
As long as the defense remains solid, the offense doesn't need to be dominating for all 90 minutes. It only needs to put that clutch goal away when it has the chance.
We'll finally see some changes
The fanbase has bellowed for adjustments these last three games, and it looks like those changes are finally going to come. When the U.S. lines up against China on Friday, they'll be without Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe -- however, not by Jill Ellis' plans, but instead due to yellow card accumulation.
While FIFA's rule is harsh that two yellows at this point in the tournament leads to a suspension, it might be refreshing to see the changes that folks are clamoring for in the central midfield.
Morgan Brian seems to be the logical choice to replace Holiday. Brian came in today and turned a 4-4-2 into a 4-3-3. She would be playing next to Carli Lloyd with whom she played next to in the NWSL for the Houston Dash.
It will be interesting to see how Ellis replaces Megan Rapinoe, who has been the U.S.'s most creative player. I hope that the U.S. lines up in more of a 4-3-3 and keeps the same back four, with Brian, Lloyd, and Heath lining up in the midfield. The front three ideally would be some combination of Morgan, Leroux, and O'Reilly. However, I suspect that Ellis is going to keep the 4-4-2 and simply bring on Press for Rapinoe and Brian for Holiday.