The United States is through to the semifinals of the London 2012 Olympics women's soccer tournament, thanks to an impressive 2-0 victory over New Zealand on Friday. Their finishing was not necessarily spectacular and they probably should have put the game away much earlier than they did, but Sydney Leroux's emphatic second-half goal was the perfect exclamation point on a solid performance.
After multiple great opportunities and missed shots in the early part of the match, the United States finally found their breakthrough in the 27th minute, as Alex Morgan combined with Abby Wambach once again. Morgan hasn't been as lethal in front of goal in the Olympics as she has been in the rest of 2012, but she's been fantastic at setting up her teammates. She tallied her team-leading fourth assist with a great curling ball to the back post, which Wambach tapped in.
Morgan had a couple of excellent missed opportunities in the second half before being substituted for Leroux. Shortly after the switch was made, in the 83rd minute, New Zealand almost got back into the match with a great surge forward into the box by Rosie White, but she went down under a challenge by two U.S. defenders. The referee waived play on when she very easily could have granted a penalty for New Zealand. While White felt she deserved a penalty -- and she had a strong case -- referee Jessica di Iorio called the match very consistently, waiving play on for almost every 50-50 shoulder challenge and strong tackle throughout.
The United States would lock up the victory four minutes later, with Leroux's fresh legs making the difference. On a long ball forward, she blew past her defender, then hit a composed finish through the legs of New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon from 12 yards out, doubling the United States' lead. They now await the winner of Friday's quarterfinal between Canada and Great Britain.
Much like their match against North Korea, the United States have been dominant against New Zealand and have created enough chances for a half dozen goals, but they only have one by halftime. Hope Solo and the USWNT central defenders have been made to deal with a number of tough long balls over the top, but they've cleaned up all of them expertly and hold a 1-0 lead at halftime.
The game's only goal came in the 27th minute, on a brilliant piece of play by Alex Morgan. She turned her defender inside-out on the left flank, then cut back onto her right foot to deliver a great ball that curled towards the back post. Abby Wambach made a perfect run, remaining onside by the slimmest of margins, then tapped in Morgan's pass to score for the fifth consecutive Olympics game.
It looks as if New Zealand's only chance to score is to catch the United States napping. They're not a very technically strong team, but they have fast forwards and play accurate long balls. Rachel Buehler and Christie Rampone have been a step ahead of New Zealand's attackers on every ball over the top, and they don't look like they're going to get beaten in this quarterfinal.