Megan Rapinoe converted two penalty kicks to put the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) past Spain, 2-1, on Monday in the World Cup Round of 16. The win was an ugly one for the U.S., but it was enough to advance the reigning champions to the quarterfinals, where they’ll face off against tournament host, France.
As it has done every match so far this World Cup, the USWNT once again took an early lead, scoring the opening goal in the 7th minute. The U.S. were awarded a penalty kick after Tobin Heath was tripped up inside the box by Maria “Mapi” Leon, who was late to the challenge. Rapinoe stepped up to take the spot kick, and she sent her low shot past goalkeeper Sandra Panos and into the goal’s bottom left corner to put the U.S. on the board first.
But it didn’t take long for Spain to answer, capitalizing on a rare mistake from the U.S. in the backfield. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher attempted to reset play, but she opted to play the ball to a heavily-marked Becky Sauerbrunn. Rather than get rid of the ball as quickly as possible to one of three open defenders, Sauerbrunn took an extra touch, allowing forward Lucia Garcia to pick her pocket of the ball. Garcia quickly played the ball forward to Jenni Hermoso, who blasted a shot past Naeher for the equalizer. The goal was the first goal given up by the U.S. this World Cup.
The game-winning goal came in the 76th minute after the U.S. were awarded a second penalty after Spain’s Virginia Torrecilla tripped up Rose Lavelle inside the box. The call looked soft and three Spain players stood around where the ball sat on the penalty spot, delaying game progress long enough for Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to review the play. After consultiY the monitor, the official decided the call stood, and Rapinoe replaced Alex Morgan, who initially lined up to take the penalty, behind the ball.
After some additional gamesmanship from Spain, in which they objected to Rapinoe’s placement of the ball on the spot, resulting in the official asking her to reposition it, Rapinoe replicated her first-half penalty shot to put the U.S. back in the lead, where they would stay for the remainder of the match.
Although a win’s a win, the U.S. are lucky there’s no style points in World Cup play. Despite her two penalties, Rapinoe had her second bad match in a row, failing to finish any goal-scoring opportunities from the run of play. She and Crystal Dunn were unable to find their on-field chemistry, resulting in a weak left side that Spain repeatedly try to take advantage of throughout the match.
Alex Morgan was also completely ineffective for the U.S., playing far from the form that fans have come to expect of her in 2019. Morgan has taken a number of beatings throughout this tournament, and she exited the Sweden match early after a number of tough challenges and one particularly hard fall to the ground. Although head coach insisted that Morgan was “fine” ahead of Monday’s match, she never seemed to find her touch or her rhythm. Of course, that was even harder to do with how much Spain seemed to be targeting Morgan, who looked worse for wear by the time she saw the bench not long before the final whistle.
Despite the poor showing from two of the USWNT’s front three, Ellis refused to make any subs until the 86th minute when Carli Lloyd finally replaced Morgan. Lindsey Horan then came on for Lavelle in the 88th minute, while Christen Press was the final substitution, entering in Rapinoe’s stead deep into stoppage time. Those substitutions came too late in the match to inject any new life or pace into the contest or to provide any rest to Morgan or Rapinoe, two of the U.S.’s key starters.
Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher also had the worst performance of the tournament so far, making a number of questionable decisions in the opening half alone. Because of these mistakes, the U.S. gave up a goal in the 10th minute, their first goal conceded in 649 minutes played this World Cup. Naeher than made a nearly as costly decision in the 30th minute when she had to fight a forward for possession before successfully getting the ball to Dunn. Although she looked more composed in the second half, she still has a long way to go to get to the level the USWNT has grown accustomed to with Hope Solo or even Briana Scurry between the posts.
On the other hand, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, who started on opposite sides of the midfield, were bright spots for the U.S. against Spain. The pair broke down Spain’s defense with a number of dangerous passes and crosses, but they were unable to connect any members of the U.S. front line for a legitimate chance on goal. Both also had some dangerous scoring opportunities of their own, although neither was able to work their way onto the scoresheet.
The USWNT will now face a team that many have picked as a favorite to win the 2019 World Cup, host France. That quarterfinal match will take place on Friday, June 28 at 3 p.m. ET.
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