Now it starts to gets real for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2015 World Cup in Canada as they have reached the round-of-16 (aka single elimination). The team faces Colombia Monday night (8, Fox Sports 1). The winner advances to take on either China or Cameroon on June 30 while the loser goes home.
There is no way to tip toe around the fact that a loss to Colombia would be a colossal failure for the United States. The U.S. (2-0-1) won Group D which was unquestionably the deepest while Colombia (1-1-1) squeaked in thanks to a third-place finish in Group F. Team USA is a heavy favorite.
Even though they beat Nigeria 1-0 to wrap up group play on Tuesday, questions still linger about the Americans’ uneven offensive attack.
“I’m happy with the way that we played with and without the ball,” said U.S. head coach Jill Ellis. “We can attack with confidence if we have a good backline. It’s a shame that we only scored one goal but we’ve very happy to finish at the top of a difficult group.”
Something that American fans can feel confident about is the U.S. defense and goalkeeper Hope Solo, which have allowed just one goal (in the first match vs. Australia) in over 270 minutes of action. Defender Julie Johnston was one of the more unknown players on the 23-woman roster coming into the World Cup but she has become one of their breakout stars, covering tons of area all over the field including a beautiful recovery run to quell a Nigerian breakaway attempt.
Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan were finally reunited in the starting lineup against Nigeria and Wambach delivered the game-winning goal: a brilliant volley off a Megan Rapinoe corner kick in the dying seconds of the first half. It was Wambach’s 14th goal all-time in the World Cup (tied for 2nd) and that could go a long way to getting her form back after she went scoreless vs. Australia and Sweden.
Midfielder Tobin Heath also earned her first start as Ellis went with a more offensive starting 11. Morgan played for 66 minutes (by far her longest stint of the first three matches) and she noted this weekend that she could go for longer against Colombia.
For what it’s worth, Colombia came to Canada as the 28th ranked team by FIFA. They opened with a 1-1 draw against Mexico (a CONCACAF rival that the U.S. absolutely owns), they scored a 2-0 upset win over France (the most stunning result in group play) and fell 2-1 to England. As those results show, they certainly have the talent to make this competitive but if the U.S. shows up, this shouldn’t be too tall of a task to get to the quarterfinals.