On Saturday morning, the USWNT took another step towards its goal of Olympic Gold, soundly beating Colombia in the second game of group stage play and guaranteeing itself a berth in the Olympic quarterfinals.
Here are five thoughts from the game.
Tobin Heath has surpassed Heather O’Reilly
Shortly before the World Cup began, in a send-off match against Canada, Pia Sundhage fielded a lineup that she declared was her “best XI”.
Many fans, however, raised their eyebrows at the fact that Heather O’Reilly was not in that lineup, but that Tobin Heath was preferred instead.
This choice was especially surprising considering O’Reilly’s gritty, hustle-based playing style has been key to the U.S.’ success for the last decade.
However, Saturday morning’s game showed why Sundhage has made the right decision. Resting Heath after a strong effort in the opening game against France, Sundhage replaced Heath in the starting lineup with O’Reilly.
And while no one could ever question O’Reilly’s hustle and fight, she was responsible for a high number of lost possessions and her service in the final third was lacking throughout the Colombia match.
In the 67th minute, Heath replaced O’Reilly, and in less than ten minutes provided the bit of skill the U.S. needed, putting Abby Wambach in behind the Colombia defense with a neat through ball.
Wambach tucked the ball away to put the U.S. up 2-0 and put the game out of reach.
The fact is, in today’s game, where the U.S. can no longer win games simply because of its advantages in athleticism and fitness, the type of skill and possession Heath can provide trumps O’Reilly’s speed and work-rate.
Megan Rapinoe had another superb game
Continuing her run of fine form, Megan Rapinoe scored the opening goal of the game, which proved to be the game-winner, with a fantastic drive from outside the box.
The goal also provided a heart-warming feel good moment for USWNT fans as Rapinoe, shortly after scoring the goal, ran to the sideline and pulled a Happy Birthday message out of her sock to injured teammate Ali Krieger.
Later in the game, Rapinoe put Carli Lloyd in behind the Colombian defense on a great through ball which Lloyd put away to seal the game at 3-0.
Alex Morgan continues to show her game is about more than just pace
Rapinoe’s opening goal came off a fantastic assist from Alex Morgan, who pulled the ball out of tight space, picked her head up, and found Rapinoe open on the weak side of the field.
Morgan also had two other fantastic plays during the game that didn’t show up on the scoresheet where she held the ball in traffic to allow her midfielders to overlap her before putting them in behind the Colombia defense.
Morgan could have easily ended up with three assists on the day.
When is FIFA going to get a clue about replay?
In the first half while running down the field, Abby Wambach was assaulted by a Colombian defender.
Whether you want to call it gamesmanship, or justify it with another platitude, the fact is that such hooliganism has no place in football.
With the use of replay, it would have taken the fourth official less than 15 seconds to review the play and recommend to the center official that the Colombian defender be sent off, which she certainly deserved.
The U.S. is going to get exposed if it plays Heather Mitts against a top opponent
For over the past year, USWNT defender Heather Mitts has shown that she is no longer a world-class defender. That trend continued again on Saturday morning, as Mitts was responsible for several of Colombia’s best chances.
Mitts has a tendency to come too narrow, and on occasion even overlap her center defenders, leaving a huge gap on the right side of the field.
Although the Colombians didn’t have enough vision and/or skill to repeatedly expose the imbalance in the U.S.’ defensive shape caused by Mitts’ suspect positioning, teams like Brazil, Japan and Sweden will.
John D. Halloran