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3 things to watch for when the USWNT take on Colombia

The U.S. women have another game to sort out their midfield before things get really tricky.

The USWNT take on Colombia in the World Cup Round of 16 on Monday, and they should win the match. Colombia proved themselves to be a threat to anyone when they upset France earlier in the tournament, but on the evidence of their matches against England and Mexico, they're worse than all of the Americans' group stage opponents.

But as talented as the U.S. are relative to Colombia, there are ways that they can be exploited, as we saw in the group stage. Colombia aren't great, but they're good enough to steal a one-goal win and push the match to extra time if the USWNT play poorly enough and they get a few lucky bounces.

All of these points have something to do with Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, the United States' central midfield pairing. They're a couple of very talented and very experienced players capable of being not just net positives, but stars for the USWNT. To this point, they have been below average in just about every way that one can evaluate central midfielders. They can get better, and they need to get better. Here are three important things to watch out for.

Are the U.S. trying to take advantage of Colombia's goalkeeper situation?

20-year-old Catalina Pérez is expected to start in goal for Colombia on Monday, according to Jeff Carlisle. She'll be the third goalkeeper that they've used in the tournament. Stefany Castaño started against Mexico, but was benched for poor play. The team's most veteran keeper, Sandra Sepúlveda, played well in Colombia's last two games, but picked up yellow cards in both of them, so she's suspended.

It might make sense for the U.S. to try a few more long shots than they usually do in the early going against Pérez. Even if she is good enough to play at this level, she'll probably be a bit rusty -- and if she entered the tournament as Colombia's third keeper, there's every chance that she's not good enough to play at this level.

Lloyd and Holiday are great goal-scorers for central midfielders, but they haven't been shooting much in this tournament. Ellis should probably let them take a few rips at goal early on.

How and where is Yoreli Rincón getting the ball?

Every dangerous attack that an opponent has created against the United States has come about in a similar way. The U.S. loses the ball, Lloyd and Holiday aren't in good position, then their opponent plays a pass to someone around the center circle, who is not pressured either when they receive the ball or when they look up to push forward. The player can then make a pass out wide to someone who's a step ahead of Ali Krieger or Meghan Klingenberg.

This wasn't really a problem against Sweden, who strangely decided to play their top advanced playmaker -- Caroline Seger -- in a more defensive role that prevented her from being a real danger to the United States. But Nigeria and Australia, who don't have anyone near Seger's quality, were able to exploit this matchup issue repeatedly.

Rincón isn't quite in the class of Seger or the other truly world class No. 10s in this tournament, but she's good enough to punish the U.S. midfield if they play poorly. Look at the space she runs (or doesn't run) into when the Americans lose the ball, and if she's available for an easy pass to start a counter.

Can the U.S. bridge the gap between midfield and attack?

To this point, Holiday and Lloyd have been pretty useless for the USWNT, and through no fault of their own. They're just not well-suited to being a two-woman central midfield pairing. Not only have they looked a bit afraid to get forward with the lack of a true defensive midfielder behind them, but they haven't broken up play or circulated possession well either. They're a work in progress that's made basically no strides forward in three games.

As dangerous as Rincón is, their defensive positioning in this game is a bit less important than their ability to find their strikers. That's going to need to come through some combination of carrying the ball forward, through balls that beat multiple defenders from deep-lying positions and someone dropping from their forward position, between the lines, to find the ball.

Colombia probably aren't good enough to prevent the U.S. from scoring even if their central midfielders and strikers continue to be strangers. But if there's no progress in that respect against Colombia, the USWNT are going to struggle against China, and get blown up by Germany or France.