The road to gold continues for the U.S. Women’s National Team, as they defeated Colombia 3-0 today, securing their spot in the Olympic quarterfinals with 6 points in Group E.
Megan Rapinoe shined once again with a goal and an assist, Abby Wambach tallied her 140th career goal, remaining in second place all-time behind Mia Hamm, and Carli Lloyd added the third and final blow, her second of the tournament.
It wasn’t as much of a cakewalk as the final score appears, however, at least for the first two-thirds of the match. Colombia, making their first appearance in the Olympic Games, were still carrying resentment from their 3-0 loss to the U.S. in the group stage of the 2011 Women’s World Cup and wanted revenge.
As the U.S. dominated the run of play, the game began to get physical and chippy and the referee didn’t seem to want to get involved. Things boiled over shortly before the end of the first half, when Colombia’s Lady Andrade took Wambach down with a punch to the face just outside Colombia’s penalty area. As Wambach lay on the pitch holding her hands over her face, the ref let the game play on and issued no penalty, apparently having not seen the incident. Wambach eventually got up, with bruising clearly under her right eye. Later, Andrade said it was an accident, but nobody who saw the replay will believe that.
Rapinoe opened the scoring in the 33rd minute with a curling strike from just beyond the top of the penalty box that sailed over the outstretched arm of 5ʻ6″ Colombian goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda and into the back of the net. Usually Rapinoe is on the back end of the U.S.’s scoring chances, having assisted goals to Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach in the U.S.’s match Wednesday against France, but Rapinoe is just as comfortable setting things up as she is finishing. This time it was Alex Morgan who provided the assist, scrambling to grab a turnover along the right flank and dishing it inside to Rapinoe, who took two touches before she rocketed the ball over the penalty area and into goal.
Rapinoe, known for her wacky goal celebrations, pulled a note out from one of her socks and held it up: a happy birthday message to defender Ali Krieger, who tore her ACL in the first match of Olympic qualifying in January. Awww, we miss you too, Kriegs!
Though the U.S. was in control for most of the match, they couldn’t seem to put away another goal to put some room between themselves and the Colombians, who have yet to score in an international tournament. But you can never count out the grit of Abby Wambach, even with a blackened eye. Wambach finally put one home in the 74th minute, receiving the ball from Tobin Heath, muscling her way through two defenders into the six-yard box and sending the ball in with a sliding shot toward the far post.
Rapinoe seemed as if she might rack up yet another goal, with a couple of near-misses earlier in the match, but she went back to her bread and butter in the 77th minute, serving it up to Carli Lloyd, who scored the cherry in the 77th minute for her second goal of the tournament.
Even after the match, and despite the win for the U.S., tension spilled over beyond the field. Hope Solo, never one to keep her thoughts to herself, took to Twitter, blasting NBC analyst and former U.S. National Team star Brandi Chastain, for her critical commentary of the U.S. defense and goalkeeping, including telling her to “get more educated… the game has changed from a decade ago.”
Brandi did comment that, due to multiple starting lineup tweaks by Pia Sundhage in the midfield and back line, the defenders don’t have enough rhythm to know who to count on. Sundhage has moved players around quite a bit, today starting Heather Mitts on the right in place of Amy LePeilbet, and Heather O’Reilly on the right wing, moving Rapinoe over to the left. Sure, they have stalwart veterans like Rampone and Shannon Boxx to anchor the backbone of the defense and midfield, but with Shannon Boxx currently day-to-day with a hamstring injury, and Krieger, one of the world’s best defenders, not on the roster after ACL surgery, Sundhage has had to be creative and keep fresh legs during the short turnaround between games during the Olympics.
The U.S. Women’s National Team is surely not perfect, but they find a way to win no matter who is on the field, and so far they’ve scored most goals so far in the tournament (7), allowing none in 165 minutes. Not too shabby.
With six points in their opening two matches, U.S. clinched their place in the knockout stage for next Friday’s quarterfinal, alongside Brazil and Great Britain, who also advanced, each leading their groups with 2 wins. Before that, though, the U.S. will face a familiar foe, North Korea, in the final match of the group stage on Tuesday.