Yanks Stumble But Still Finish Atop Group in Rio
August 10, 2016
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team wrapped up Olympic group play on Tuesday night, drawing 2-2 against Colombia in Manaus.
The Americans began pressing straight from the opening whistle, but couldn’t manage to finish any of their early chances. Then, in the 25th minute, the Colombians found the opening goal against the run of play when Catalina Usme’s set piece managed to squeak into the American goal through Hope Solo’s legs.
Good Rob Green impression from Hope Solo pic.twitter.com/eaVkw9oiNz— Manvir Bains (@MannyBLFC) August 9, 2016
Undeterred, the U.S. worked their way back into the game and recovered from Solo’s howler just before the half when Crystal Dunn tallied off a loose ball in the box and the two teams went into the locker room tied 1-1.
After the break, the Americans continued to attack and took the lead when Mallory Pugh picked up another loose ball in front of goal and fired home in the 59th minute. For the next half hour, it appeared the U.S. would ride Pugh’s goal out for the win, but Usme struck on another set piece in the final seconds to earn a draw for her side.
Despite giving up the late lead, the U.S. still finished atop Group G with seven points.
Here are three thoughts on the win.
MEGAN RAPINOE PROVED DOUBTERS WRONG
One bright spot from the Americans’ performance on Tuesday was the play of Megan Rapinoe. After tearing her ACL back in December, few thought the midfielder would make it back for this summer’s Olympics.
However, not only did Rapinoe recover from the injury in time, she managed to earn a spot on the ultra-competitive 18-player U.S. roster.
When U.S. head coach Jill Ellis selected Rapinoe, it raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, the winger hadn’t played a single competitive minute for club or country since her injury and even though the U.S. training staff gave Rapinoe’s knee a full clearance, she missed the final two Olympic send-off matches with quad and calf injuries. Many wondered why the coach would bring Rapinoe instead of a fully fit player, like veteran Heather O’Reilly.
Even when the team arrived in Brazil, Rapinoe still hadn’t achieved 100% fitness and didn’t play a single minute in the U.S.’ first two matches. However, she started the match against Colombia on Tuesday and—despite only playing 30 minutes—justified Ellis’ decision with her play.
Love seeing Rapinoe whipping crosses in. Remarkable comeback. #USAvCOL— Julie Foudy (@JulieFoudy) August 9, 2016
Early in the contest, Rapinoe provided excellent service from the flank, involved herself in several strong combinations, and displayed an excellent touch on the ball. Despite committing the foul that led to Colombia’s first goal, her overall performance proved she is ready and able to contribute to the squad as they head into the knockout round.
WHERE IS MORGAN BRIAN BEST?
In the U.S.’ last match, against France, Morgan Brian struggled to impact the game in her usual manner. Arguably the team’s most technical player, Brian’s influence over the past year—starting in the knockout round of last summer’s World Cup—has transformed the U.S. squad.
The question for Ellis moving forward is where can she get the most value from her midfielder. Against New Zealand and France, Brian played in the No. 8 role with Allie Long holding. Long did well to make a late run at the Olympic roster and, other than a shaky first 45 minutes against New Zealand, has played well in this tournament.
However, against Colombia, Brian dropped into the No. 6 role for Long and Ellis gave Lindsey Horan the start as the team’s No. 8. With Brian running the show from the deeper midfield position, the U.S. attack looked much more fluid than it had against New Zealand or France.
Not sure how long she''ll play tonight but you can tell how much more comfortable Brian (and as result, US MF) are with Moe deeper.— Neil W. Blackmon (@nwblackmon) August 9, 2016
Headed into the knockout round, Ellis will have a tough decision to make on how to organize her midfield. If she wants Brian in the No. 8 role, Long will keep her job as the holding midfielder. However, if Ellis wants Brian in the No. 6, Long will find herself on the bench and Horan will occupy the box-to-box role.
HOPE SOLO FROM HERO TO GOAT
On Saturday against France, Solo repeatedly saved the U.S. in a monster performance, leading the team to a 1-0 win. On Tuesday against Colombia, Solo struggled mightily.
Incredible to contrast Solo's performance Saturday with tonight. Two horrible goals conceded tonight on free kicks. #USWNT— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) August 9, 2016
In addition to her first half howler, Solo should have done better on Colombia’s second goal. In the 90th minute, Colombia earned a free kick deep in the American end and near the touchline. From a difficult angle, Usme drilled her free kick over Solo and into the net.
Although the Colombian hit the ball well and hard on the effort, a goalkeeper of Solo’s experience and athleticism should have tipped the effort over the crossbar.
Apparently misjudging the flight of the ball and mistiming her jump, Solo allowed Colombia to steal a draw away from the U.S.
Also, more like "No-hope Solo." pic.twitter.com/91EJzSE9XX— Pablo G (@PabloGRadio) August 9, 2016
With the tie, the U.S. is now 16-0-2 in 2016. Its quarterfinal match will be played in Brasilia on Friday.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.