MICHAEL ADUBATO - Tuesday, June 25, 2019
United States vs Spain
World Cup - Monday June 24, 2019
The US Women's National Team progressed to the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup against a resilient Spanish team thanks to a couple of goals from Megan Rapinoe.
Having breezed through the group games, winning all three while scoring 18 goals along the way and giving up none, they had their hands full against captain Irene Paredes and her Spanish ladies.
During this tournament and going into this game, the USA have been undefeated, having scored 18 goals and conceding none. As a matter of fact, in their last seven games they had yet to let a ball into the back of their net while finding the opponents 29 times. This should have been a sign of things to come in the Spanish game and those that will follow. Spain, on the other hand have scored four and given up one in their three group games of the World Cup. They however added one more before being sent home after this action packed contest in the Champagne Region of France where the American girls never really reached the heights of "Champagne football" but did enough to secure the victory.
Things started well for head coach Jill Ellis' team, although the Spaniards came out of the starting blocks with gusto and had a very early chance, an early penalty got the scoring underway.
Tobin Heath picked up the ball on the right wing and danced her way into the box and around Spanish defender Maria Leon. The lady who plays her club ball with Barcelona could only stop the (New) Jersey girl by tripping her up, thus forcing the referee to point to the spot.
Rapinoe did the honors, placed the ball on the spot and sent the Spanish shot-stopper, Sandra Panos the wrong way to give the USA the lead after just seven minutes. The lead was short lived however because shabby defending gifted the ball to Garcia, who picked out Jennifer Hermoso, who spotted Alyssa Naeher off her line and hit it high and into the back of the net for the equalizer.
Rapinoe was active up the wing for spells of the game but by her own admission felt that this was not one of her better performances. She did have sight on goal again in the 13th minute when she came in front her left wing position and tried to sneak the ball under Panos, but the keeper knocked it away for a corner instead.
Alex perhaps should have done better a few minutes later when Crystal Dunn sent a cross into the box but this time, it was not to be. Julie Ertz also got a shot off but it ended up in the cheap seats. With some half decent American attacks, the Spanish defenders were putting in a solid performance.
This was soon followed by a long ball over the top that must have had Lucia Garcia licking her lips in anticipation of a one-on-one situation with the keeper, but Naeher anticipated the danger and came across her 18 yard line and headed the ball out of harms way. She impressed minutes later yet again when Garcia played the ball forward to Alexia Putellas. The Penn State alumni snuffed out the danger one more time.
Ten minutes before the half, Captain Rapinoe played a one-two with Samantha Mewis but the ensuing shot went wide of the near post. Mewis then got a shot of her own from outside the area but she too couldn't find the target. The captain was then booked after tussling with Marta Corredera, who she got the better of yet the former Arsenal lady fell to the ground and the lady was California was shown a yellow card to go with her goal.
Crystal Dunn was quite a handful at times coming forward from her defensive position, especially when a ball that was hit long had Corredera blocking it, attempting to usher it out for a goal kick. Dunn had other ideas however and rounded the #7 and attempted to put a cross into the box only to see it blocked.
the Spaniards did have some first half chances of their own and were on the attack when the ref put the whistle to her lips and blew for the intermission.
The Europeans came out in the second half with what seemed to be a new game plan - try to bully the Americans and knock them off their game. Five minutes into the game Heath was fouled hard, then Alex Morgan, followed a couple minutes by Heath yet again having to pick herself up after another foul. The referee was happy to call the fouls but must have left her cards in the locker room at half time because she never pulled one out. And Spain was happy to deliver the pain.
An hour in and Dunn was in the attacking third again, this time beating a pair of defenders and setting up Rose Lavelle for a shot that was half decent but sailed over the cross bar. Down the other end Patri Guijarro received the ball just inside the box on the right and crossed it in front of the American goal yet none of her team mates were on hand to tap it in.
Mewis at one end and then Garcia at the other had shouts at goal but neither threatened to do any damage to the scoreboard.
The fouls continued from the Spaniards and one became very costly because in the 71st minute, Lavelle was brought down in the box by the outstretched leg of midfielder Virginia Torrecilla. The referee did not hesitate to point to the spot. The ball was placed on the spot and three of the Spanish ladies stood around it, not allowing the penalty to be taken, reminiscent of children on the playground who don't get their own way. The Hungarian referee was obviously intimidated enough by the trio and instead of booking them for insolence, granted their wish of having a look at the VAR. After having a look, she again pointed to the spot and Rapinoe again did the honors. With 14 minutes of regular time on the clock, the USA regained their lead.
The game continued at a brisk pace as Spain fought back to look for another equalizer but they were unable to find a way through and will instead have to find the airport to get themselves back home to Espana, having fallen at the first hurdle of the knock-out stages.
Abby Dahlkemper spoke to the press after the victory and shared her thoughts on the game.
"It was a really good game and we were tested by Spain, who are a very good team, the former UCLA Bruin said. "I think that was a gritty performance by us and, win by any means possible and that's what we did today."
Asked if she felt that this was the team's first real challenge in the tournament, the defender said, "I think every team that we faced has presented different challenges, they're all good teams but yeah, I think Spain brought us new challenges. They're a great team but we got the task done. They're really great with the ball. It was important for us to lock down their transition and condense the space so that they didn't have much of the field to play with. At times we did that well but at times we could have done better."
With the win, the Americans will have to return to Paris, where they beat Chile 3-0 in the group stages. This time however they'll have to face the hosts and one of the tournaments best players in Amandine Henry, who captains her French team. Come Friday, either the USA or the French will advance to the semi-finals.