Following the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 2-0 win over Germany on Tuesday night, we at The18 examined the top 5 storylines emerging from this semifinal victory:
1. Change in Formation
U.S. manager Jill Ellis (who went to my high school, Go Rams!), abandoned her preferred 4-4-2 formation for a 4-2-3-1 for this critical semifinal match against Germany. With Alex Morgan the sole player up front, the U.S. lined up Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath out wide, with Lauren Holiday, Morgan Brian and Carli Lloyd mining the middle of the formation.
This gamble in change of formation worked masterfully, as the United States controlled the midfield for the entire match and the Germans were unsuccessful at transitioning from defense to attack when they gained possession. Lloyd was masterful in the No. 10 role, scoring the go-ahead penalty as well as providing the assist for the insurance goal. The Germans were actively pressing the U.S. from the start of the match, even slide tackling the U.S. defenders around their own goal. Though they outshot the U.S. 15-12, they only put one shot on goal, which U.S. keeper Hope Solo was easily able to put over the crossbar. The inability of the Germans to turn that pressure into shots on goal was devastating to their chances in this match.
Ellis was heavily criticized for not making more changes during the run-up and group stages of this competition, but after this new formation stifled the Germans, no one can say she lacks for tactical acumen. Clearly that Robinson High School education has paid off.
2. Concussion Protocols
There was a scary moment in the 29th minute when U.S. midfielder Morgan Brian collided head-to-head with Germany’s Alexandra Popp following a cross into the box. The two players were down on the pitch for an extended period of time, during which the U.S. players gathered around Brian, while the Germans let the medical staff tend to Popp and went to the sideline for additional hydration and coaching (those heartless Germans!). Both players returned to the match shortly after the shocking collision, which once again will raise questions about the concussion protocols that were followed, whether the players were truly able to pass them or not, as Popp’s head continued to bleed throughout the match. The team physicians have claimed that neither player showed symptoms of a concussion, but given the stakes and the inherent desire of the players to keep playing, it fuels the fire of those that argue an independent medical professional should be on the scene to make the decision.
3. The Penalty That Was
In the 59th minute, U.S. defender Julie Johnston, who has been perhaps the U.S.’s best player throughout this tournament, finally made a critical mistake on the biggest stage, pulling Popp down from behind in the penalty box, drawing a penalty and a yellow card. Given Popp would have been through on goal and had a clear goal-scoring opportunity, Johnston was lucky she didn’t see red. As Johnston was reduced to tears and forced to watch, thankfully for her and the U.S., Germany’s Celia Sasic pulled her shot wide to the left, missing the goal entirely. Solo guessed wrong, so if Sasic had put the shot on target, it would have been an easy goal. Instead, the match remained 0-0, Johnston stayed on the pitch, and the U.S. dodged a major bullet.
4. The Penalty That Wasn’t
Well, that was fortunate. After Sasic pulled her penalty wide, Alex Morgan drew a penalty of her own less than ten minutes later. Carli Lloyd stepped to the spot and calmly slotted the ball home past German keeper Nadine Angerer, who had been spectacular to that point in the match. All of that is great for the Americans; however, the foul on Morgan was clearly outside the box and should have been a free kick, not a penalty. Substitute Kelly O’Hara added an insurance goal in the 84th minute following a Lloyd run to the touchline and the Germans were officially beaten.
5. On To The World Cup Final
The U.S. will learn the identity of its opponent on Wednesday evening: either a rematch with the 2011 winner Japan or an upstart England squad. The U.S. should be a decided favorite against either squad, but their disappointment from losing to Japan in the 2011 final should be enough to keep their focus and persuade them that their job is not yet done. The U.S. is oh-so-close to capturing its first World Cup since 1999 and getting the monkey off their back that they have not lived up to the expectations set by the “99ers.”
The World Cup Final between the U.S. and Japan/England will be on Sunday, July 5th at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Follow Mike Smith on Twitter @thefootiegent