USA, Morgan break through vs. Colombia, reach World Cup quarters

The USA defense remained strong, and Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd scored to lift the Americans to a 2-0 win over Colombia and a place in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals.
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EDMONTON, Alberta — The U.S. finally broke through early in the second half against a spirited Colombia team and advanced to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals with a 2–0 victory here on Monday night. The U.S. will meet China in a World Cup for the first time since their epic World Cup final won by the U.S. in 1999.

After Abby Wambach had missed a penalty with her new left-footed spot kick following a red card to Colombian keeper Catalina Pérez early in the second half, Alex Morgan scored her first goal for the U.S. since March 6 against Switzerland, a span of 10 games. Morgan’s goal came with her less trusty right foot and was aided by a misplay by Colombia’s replacement goalkeeper, Stefany Castaño.

Carli Lloyd slotted home a penalty for the U.S.’s second goal after a nifty combo between Meghan Klingenberg and Megan Rapinoe, after which Rapinoe was taken down in the box.

Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:

Depth matters in this tournament

The play that changed the game came in the 47th minute, when Pérez (the University of Miami keeper who’d been huge in the first half) took down Morgan just as Morgan was entering the penalty box. Wambach missed the penalty, but Colombia’s keeper depth was already being tested with the yellow-card suspension of first-stringer Sandra Sepúlveda, and Castaño looked out of her depth.

The U.S. attack still struggled in this game, with the central midfield of Lauren Holiday and Lloyd unable to produce much as the offense relied on Rapinoe and Klingenberg making forays upfield. But even the U.S.’s midfield depth will now be tested as …

Rapinoe, Holiday can't play vs. China

Both Rapinoe and Holiday earned their second yellow cards of the tournament on Monday and will be suspended for the quarterfinals against China. Neither yellow was that hard of a foul, but referee Stéphanie Frappart of France deemed them severe enough to pull the card out.

On the one hand, it’s probably better for Rapinoe and Holiday to serve the suspension against a beatable China team than against France or Germany in a potential semifinal matchup. But it’ll still be a challenge for coach Jill Ellis. I suspect Christen Press will start in place of Rapinoe, with Morgan Brian getting the nod to replace Holiday.

But Ellis could always throw a wildcard in there.

The U.S. back line remained immense

Yes, the U.S. attack continues to sputter, but the back line anchored by center backs Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn has been the best of the tournament so far (and stands at 333 goal-free minutes and counting).

USWNT defensively stout but lacking in midfield, attack in World Cup

Colombia produced fewer chances than the U.S.’s previous opponents, but the confidence shown by the U.S. defense isn’t a small thing. What’s more, left back Klingenberg rarely put a foot or pass wrong in this game, continuing her impressive tournament. Right back Ali Krieger stood out a bit less, but she certainly hasn’t been taking anything away from the table. As for goalkeeper Hope Solo, she hasn’t been challenged much since coming up big in the first game against Australia.

Nor does it hurt that FIFA gave the U.S. a gift of a knockout-round draw as long as it finished first in its group. The U.S. and Canada are the only seeded teams that don’t have to play another seeded team until the semis, and with the U.S.’s absences against China in the next round, the Americans won’t complain.