The U.S. WNT was just moments from claiming a come from behind win over Colombia Tuesday night in Manaus, Brazil and completing group play with a perfect record when goalkeeper Hope Solo was beaten for the second time in the game by a Catalina Usme free kick forcing the defending Olympic and World Cup Champions to settle for a 2-2 tie.
Neither goal should have beaten the longtime U.S. number one, with the Usme’s first free kick squirting through Solo’s legs to give Colombia a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute while the equalizer snuck under the crossbar after Solo had failed to punch clear.
Nonetheless, the result was enough for the U.S. to clinch the top spot in Group G, setting up a quarterfinal encounter on Friday against Sweden, who finished third in Group E.
It was only three days ago that Solo’s heroics spurred the U.S. WNT to a 1-0 win over France, reminding us all just how good the often controversial custodian can be.
With a quarterfinal berth assured and the games coming fast and furious U.S. coach Jill Ellis made several changes to her lineup, most notably starting Megan Rapinoe after her long injury absence.
Rapinoe was pulled in the 33rd minute by design, with 18-year-old sensation Mallory Pugh taking over. Rapinoe showed some of the skills that prompted Ellis to bring Rapinoe and her “it factor” to Brazil despite her uncertain fitness.
The coach’s gamble didn’t look prudent when Rapinoe committed the foul that led to Esme’s first goal, that free kick that slipped between Solo’s legs in the 26th minute.
The Americans eventually settled into the game, taking control late in the first stanza and equalizing when Crystal Dunn pounced on Carli Lloyd’s rebounded shot in the 41st minute.
Headed into the locker room on level terms after 45 minutes the Americans seemed likely to take control in the second half and it was easy to see the three-time defending Olympic Champions running out easy winners.
As the second half unfolded the teams were on script, with only Colombia keeper Sandra Sepulveda standing in the way of a tidy resolution with a number of fine saves.
Order was restored on the hour mark, or so it seemed, when Pugh scored to become the youngest American woman to score an Olympic goal. Pugh took her chance cooly, dribbling across the face of Sepulveda’s goal before firing the U.S. into the lead.
It was a lead that figured to last but Colombia mounted a late charge earning a stoppage-time free kick near the corner flag to Solo’s left. From that tight angle, Esme shot directly for goal, beating Solo when the keeper could not connect as she attempted a punch save.
It was a bad night for the keeper often considered to be the world’s best but if it was just one game the Americans could rest easy. Coupled however with the troubles the U.S defense experienced in defending set pieces near its own goal against France and it is clear that Jill Ellis has a problem to solve.
The rest of Tuesday’s scores saw South Africa hold high-flying host nation Brazil to a 0-0 draw, the same score as the China vs. Sweden match. Canada closed out an impressive Group stage by defeating Germany to finish as the lone 3-0-0 team in the first round.
Australia crushed Zimbabwe 6-1 to advance to the knockout round as one of two third place teams, the other being Sweden. And disappointing or not that 2-2 tie with Colombia was enough to send the Americans into a quarterfinal showdown with Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage, despite France’s 3-0 win over New Zealand.
The Quarterfinals: August 12
U.S.A. vs Sweden
Brazil vs Australia
Canada vs. France
China vs. Germany
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 2 2
COL 1 1 2
COL – Catalina Usme 26th minute
USA – Crystal Dunn (Carli Lloyd) 41
USA – Mallory Pugh (Crystal Dunn) 59
COL – Cataline Usme 90
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 11-Ali Krieger, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 6-Whitney Engen, 5-Kelley O’Hara; 14-Morgan Brian (3-Allie Long, 65), 9-Lindsey Horan,10-Carli Lloyd (capt.) (13-Alex Morgan, 46); 15-Megan Rapinoe (2-Mallory Pugh, 33), 12-Christen Press, 16-Crystal Dunn
Subs not used: 7-Meghan Klingenberg, 8-Julie Johnston, 17-Tobin Heath, 18-Alyssa Naeher
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
COL : 18-Sandra Sepulveda; 6-Liana Salazar, 9-Orianica Velasquez (5-Isabella Echeverri, 46), 13-Angela Clavijo, 14-Nataly Arias, 17-Carolina Arias; 3-Natalia Gaitan (capt.), 15-Tatiana Ariza (7-Ingrid Vidal, 80), 10-Leicy Santos, 11-Catalina Usme; 16-Lady Andrade (4-Diana Ospina, 62)
Subs not used: 1-Catalina Perez, 2-Carolina Arbelaez, 8-Mildrey Pineda, 12-Nicole Regnier
Head Coach: Fabian Taborda
Stats Summary: USA / COL
Shots: 16 / 3
Shots on Goal: 8 / 3
Saves: 1 / 6
Corner Kicks: 10 / 0
Fouls: 15 / 11
Offside: 3 / 0
COL – Liana Salazar (caution) 72nd minute
USA – Ali Krieger (caution) 86
COL – Natalia Gaitán (caution) 88