June 26, 2015
By Michael Lewis
Lloyd's goal lifts USA into Women's World Cup semis
OTTAWA, Ontario -- It's funny how things go sometimes.
|Carli Lloyd played hero yet again in a knockout round game for the USA.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
On a night in which the United States was not at full strength in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup, the Americans not only find a way to win, but dominate their foes and play their best game of the competition.
They did so Friday night, combining a high-pressure defense and another game-winning goal from veteran midfielder Carli Lloyd into a 1-0 victory over China at Lansdowne Stadium.
The win propelled the Americans into a semifinal confrontation with top-ranked Germany in Montreal on Tuesday and eliminated the Chinese from the competition.
The USA is the only team to have reached the semifinals of all seven Women's World Cups.
"It's big," USA coach Jill Ellis said. "It's a big step in terms of the energy and confidence we had the way we moved the ball. It's a really good step heading into the semifinals to have this feeling."
Several players came up big for the Americans.
Hope Solo won her USA-record 134th game while recording her fourth clean sheet of the competition. In fact, Solo and the red, white and blue have allowed but one goal while stifling and limiting the opposition to only one goal and none in the last 423 minutes.
Solo enjoyed a relatively easy night. She did not have to make any difficult saves to deny China as several players stepped up to keep the USA's hopes of a third world championship alive.
There were many heroes, especially two three players who were called on to replace three regulars who were benched for different reasons. Midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday had to sit out the encounter with a yellow-card suspension. Kelley O'Hara of Sky Blue FC, who usually plays defense for he national side, was slotted in at right wing. Tobin Heath was moved to the left side to take over Rapinoe's role. And 22-year-old Morgan Brian, the youngest player on this veteran team, took over for Holiday at central midfield.
Abby Wambach did not start as Ellis elected to rest her 35-year-old body for future games and the strategy worked as Amy Rodriguez played 86th minutes of ball-hawking before the greatest goal-scorer on the planet (183 goals) came on for a cameo appearance.
This fresh blood allowed the USA to pressure the Chinese and it worked.
"The players that stepped out today, magnificent," Lloyd said. "The mentality of this team is to go at players to put them on their back heels and we did that tonight.
"You can tell the more pressure we put China under, the more they coughed the ball up. We just have to keep grinding away.
"We just kept our foot down on the pedal and that's what we needed."
And then there was Lloyd herself who might be the team’s ultimate grinder. She has a history of making an impact and then some when a tournament is on the line. Case in point: she tallied the winning goal in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold-medal matches. On Friday night, she performed her heroics in the quarterfinals, but no one was complaining, especially the Delran, N.J. native.
"These are the moments that I live for," said Lloyd, who captained the team with Wambach on the bench.
As it turned out, Lloyd was allowed to push forward because of Holiday's absence. They share the central midfielder responsibilities. Holiday usually in the attacker and Lloyd is the holding mid. But it seems when Lloyd is allowed to go on attack, good things happen for the USA.
"Morgan Brian, sitting more in that pocket enabled me to roam and find space and connect with the forwards," Lloyd said.
Lloyd's most important connection came in the 35th minute as she managed to get under a long pass from center back Julie Johnston. She beat China's Rong Zhao and headed the ball into the lower right corner for her 65th international goal in her 200th appearance.
Lloyd’s secret to her success? "Freedom, freedom to play, doing what I do best, going at players," she said.
She will have another opportunity to go at some player against Germany on Tuesday.