For the U.S. Women’s National Team, the reality of its round of 16 fixture against Colombia on Monday is clear: win or suffer the consequences.
Despite their mixed performances in the group stage, the Americans will enter the match as the favorites to advance to the quarterfinals. The United States’ impressive track record, which includes three semifinal and three final finishes, at the World Cup indicates that it is likely to get past Colombia. The Americans, however, will need to approach the match with a bigger sense of urgency than they have shown so far. If they fail to do so, Colombia may pull off the upset of the tournament.
The Colombians will head into the match as the underdogs, largely because of their disappointing third-place finish in Group F, while the Americans topped Group D, otherwise known as the group of death. Las Cafeteras’ World Cup qualification record indicates that they are a better team than they have thus far shown in the tournament, and they may show this against the Americans.
In its World Cup qualification campaign, Colombia went undefeated in the 2014 Copa America Femenina en route to finishing as runner-up to Brazil in the final group stage. The Colombians scored a total of 12 goals and conceded only two goals in the entire tournament. In the process, playmaker Yoreli Rincon emerged as her team’s top goal scorer with three goals.
Las Cafeteras will seek to redeem themselves by defeating the Americans, who bested the Colombians to push them to the bottom of their group at the 2011 World Cup. More importantly, the 21-year-old Rincon and midfield general Diana Ospina will hope to continue improving upon Colombia’s 2011 run. Las Cafeteras have already done better than they did at the 2011 World Cup by finally winning a match. Sending the United States home would likely be enough to say that Colombia has finally arrived on the international stage of soccer.
Team USA, however, has the firepower and defense to book the Colombians a ticket home, provided that the Americans finish their chances and ensure that they resolve any possible defensive lapses or counterattacks.
U.S. head coach Jill Ellis will once again be able to start forwards Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach up top, if she so chooses. Morgan and Wambach are a strong striking combination that can help give the Americans an early lead, as Morgan’s speed and ability to make good runs complement Wambach’s killer instinct to find the back of the net.
On the other hand, the American defensive line has steadily improved since its first group stage match and has conceded only one goal in the tournament so far. Defenders Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg have played in every match at the 2015 World Cup so far, and Ellis can rely on them to help secure the defensive line.
The opportunity provided by the group stage of the World Cup to recover from one or two bad results is gone. The stakes are so high that the Americans can’t afford to have defensive lapses or squander goal-scoring opportunities. Otherwise, they’ll suffer the consequences and be sent home, pondering what could have been had they cleared the ball from danger or capitalized on the opposing goalkeeper’s mistake.
Manny Flores is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].