Lloyd steps up, Johnston continues to shine as USWNT ousts China in WWC

Carli Lloyd came through with the winner, and Julie Johnston stood out again for the USA, which is onto the Women's World Cup semifinals after defeating China 1-0 in Ottawa.
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OTTAWA, Ontario — The U.S. advanced to the Women’s World Cup semifinals with a 1-0 victory against China on Friday, with Carli Lloyd scoring early in the second half in her 200th national team appearance. The U.S. will meet Germany on Tuesday in Montreal after the Germans eliminated France in a penalty shootout on Friday.

The U.S. has never failed to reach the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup in the seven editions of the tournament.

This was a different U.S. team in many ways than we’ve seen in the World Cup. Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe were out on yellow-card suspensions and replaced by Morgan Brian and Kelley O’Hara, respectively, while Amy Rodriguez got her first start of the tournament in place of Abby Wambach.

Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:

The U.S. was much more dynamic

Returning to the roots of what made the U.S. team great in the 1990s, coach Jill Ellis deployed a high-pressing defensive strategy that won balls in China’s own end and created dangerous transition opportunities close to China’s goal. That’s the kind of thing you can do if Wambach doesn’t start, and it reflected an overall increase in dynamism by the U.S. on and off the ball.

Watch: Carli Lloyd scores game-winner in USWNT's 1–0 win over China

With Holiday out, Carli Lloyd was moved higher in the central midfield in a diamond formation with Brian playing at the base. Brian was effective in her positioning and decisions (she has a terrific soccer IQ), and Lloyd was more dangerous than she had been in any game in this tournament. She’s known as Big Game Carli for a reason, too, and her header early in the second half (off a Julie Johnston ball, more on her below) gave the U.S. the lead it deserved.

Ellis gets criticized frequently for her tactics, but they were spot-on in this game.

The Johnston Story keeps going

The U.S.’s best player in this World Cup did it again at both ends of the field on Friday. Johnston’s distribution is what you want in a center back, and she’s capable of finding attackers in the box as well. Her assist to Lloyd showed a player who’s brimming with confidence these days, and J.J. rarely put a foot wrong all night.

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She’s also the kind of partner you’d want in a street fight. When Johnston collided with Chinese forward Lou Jiahui in the first half, it was Lou who had to come out of the game looking like she’d crashed into a freight train, while Johnston shook it off and kept on doing Julie Johnston things. Yes, this is the same Johnston who was the backup to the backup at center back for the U.S. as recently as February before injuries gave her her breakthrough chance at the Algarve Cup.

In large part to Johnston–with plenty of credit reserved for back line teammates Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg and goalkeeper Hope Solo–the USA's shutout streak stands at 423 minutes.

What should Ellis do for the Germany lineup?

The degree of difficulty will go up exponentially for the U.S. when the opponent is Germany on Tuesday, and that will require some deep thinking from Ellis about her lineup options.

Watch: Nadine Angerer makes PK save, sends Germany to WWC semis

Given how much France troubled Germany with its speed and movement, it’s certainly possible that Wambach would not start against the Germans either. Rapinoe seems a lock to return to the starting lineup, and you’d think Holiday would be too, but Brian was very good against China (an admittedly easier foe). And while Germany escaped from an epic quarterfinal against France, the Germans showed they’re hardly invincible and were even dominated by the French at times.

While none of these U.S. games has been easy, there should be a bit more confidence in the U.S. camp heading into Tuesday’s historic matchup.

GALLERY: Fans at the Women's World Cup