For the fourth consecutive game, the United States women have failed to impress. And for the fourth consecutive game, they've avoided defeat. While their fans will continue hoping to see more attacking ideas from the USWNT, their 2-0 win over Colombia in the Round of 16 was certainly deserved.
Catalina Perez, in goal ahead of the suspended Sandra Sepúlveda for Colombia, was tested a couple of times early. Tobin Heath forced her into a good fourth-minute save, and Abby Wambach tested her again eight minutes later. In the 27th minute, she was called into action again, and tipped an Alex Morgan header over the bar.
While those were decent chances for the USWNT, their most significant plays of the first half were a pair of yellow cards. Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday both picked up their second bookings of the tournament, meaning they'll be suspended for the quarterfinal.
As solid as Perez was in the first half, she let her team down just two minutes into the second, making a play that all but doomed her team to defeat. She cleaned out Morgan on the edge of the box when she was about to go in on goal, and the referee rightfully showed her a red card for denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
However, the decision to give a penalty wasn't correct -- the contact occurred outside the box. So there was a bit of justice for Colombia when Wambach put her spot kick wide of new goalkeeper Stefany Castaño's right post.
But not long after that, it became clear that Castaño was relegated to third-string duty for a reason. She failed to handle a routine half-shot, half-cross that Morgan fired in from a narrow angle in the 53rd minute, parrying the ball into her own goal to gift the United States a lead.
Rapinoe helped to clinch the win for the Americans in the 65th minute, drawing a penalty for a foul by Angela Clavijo. This time, Carli Lloyd was the one to step up to the spot, and she buried a perfect penalty.
At that point, the U.S. started to make defensive subs, and they held on for a two-goal win. They'll now face China in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup, with a semifinal against Germany or France awaiting if they can get through that match.
United States: Solo, Klingenberg, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Krieger (Chalupny 81'), Rapinoe (Press 75'), Lloyd, Holiday, Heath, Wambach (Brian 69'), Morgan
Goals: Morgan (53'), Lloyd (penalty 66')
Colombia: Perez (red 47'), Velasquez, Clavijo, N. Arias, C. Arias, Gaitan, Ospina, Montoya (Santos 85'), Rincon (Usme 72'), Andrade, Vidal (Castaño 49')
1. The U.S. defenders are spectacular. The United States' midfield and forwards didn't play well at all in the first half, but the central defense pairing of Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn was outstanding again. Even as Colombia controlled possession and passed circles around the American midfield, they didn't get close to creating any good scoring chances. The USWNT's center backs were dominant.
2. Bad goalkeeping bailed out the Americans. Perez's decision to take a whack at Morgan's legs in the 47th minute was a ridiculous one, and it cost her team a chance to win the match. Even though Wambach missed the resulting penalty, Colombia had little chance to win the game with 10 women and their third-string goalkeeper between the sticks. Castaño's parry of Morgan's opener that redirected the ball into the net was so poor, it was almost an own goal.
Could the U.S. have figured out a way to pull this game out without that error? Probably, but we'll never know. They weren't looking good.
3. Suspensions a blessing in disguise? Holiday and Rapinoe are great players, but missing them for the quarterfinal against China might be beneficial for the Americans, in two different ways. In the case of Holiday, coach Jill Ellis might find out that Morgan Brian or Shannon Boxx is a better central midfield option going forward. And in the case of Rapinoe's absence, the U.S. will have to start attacking as a team instead of relying on one player to create everything.