After looking incredibly sluggish through the first four matches of this year’s World Cup, manager Jill Ellis finally made a change to her starting 11 that wasn’t forced because of suspensions.
Ellis chose to start Amy Rodriguez, a newcomer to the Women’s World Cup, in place of iconic star Abby Wambach Friday evening against China. And boy did that move pay off for the Americans.
The U.S. still only managed one goal through 90 minutes — which came off of a header by Carly Lloyd — but this felt different. This time the U.S. was up on the wheel, so to speak, pressing the Chinese and getting chance after chance. In fact, Rodiguez got her first chance right off the bat, getting in behind the defense less than a minute in, but miss hit her shot.
Still, even with that one goal, the U.S. seems to be finally finding its stride on the offensive end. And the Americans are going to need every bit of that confidence going into a massive showdown against two-time champion Germany Tuesday.
It’s no secret that the Germans are a massive threat to score everytime they get the ball to their feet. Through five matches in this tournament, Germany has put the ball in the back of the net 20 times and three matches havve seen the Germans score four or more times. Of course two of those matches came against World Cup newbies Thailand and Ivory Coast, but the threat remains the same. Germany also scored four against a Sweden side that held the U.S. to exactly zero goals in the group stage.
With that offensive threat, the U.S. is going to have to score goals and likely a bunch of goals. This match likely won’t end with the winner scoring just one goal, and that has been a problem for an American team that has scored more than once only one time this tournament.
At the same time, that offense will be going up against an okay-ish German defense. Against France Friday, Germany nearly gave up a goal in the first minute, but were saved when the ball went just wide. But in the group stage, the Germans gave up a late free kick and a beatury of a goal off of that set piece to settle for a draw against Norway. The German defense will likely be a lot more stingy than the Chinese defense, but there are some holes in that back line that can be exploited.
The other caveat to all of this is that the U.S. has the best defense of any of the remaining four teams. After conceding a goal early on agaisnt Australia, the Americans have yet to allow opponents to get the ball in the back of the net and in many cases, keeper Hope Solo hasn’t even been tested.
But Tuesday’s semifinal matchup against Germany will be the toughest, and likely best match of the tournament. And after a much improved offensive performance against China, it’s clear that the U.S. has a fighting chance to get back to the World Cup final.