It took six games, but against Germany, the number one ranked team in the world, the USWNT finally showed how well they can play. They got a very big break from a blown call for their first goal, but the Americans played better throughout the match and deserved their victory.
From the beginning, Germany pressed the USWNT defenders very high up on the pitch, and created a couple of turnovers that led to decent goal scoring chances. But mostly the Americans dealt with the pressure just fine, and its bigger effect was creating a somewhat ragged, open game from end to end. As the half wore on, the USWNT seized control.
Ostensibly the USWNT came out in a 4-4-1-1, with Alex Morgan up top and Carli Lloyd as a withdrawn forward. But in practice, they took more of a 4-3-3 shape, with Lloyd and either Megan Rapinoe or Tobin Heath joining up top. As they broke through the German press, it often seemed like the U.S. had numerous players running at the Germans, who were on their back heels. The scoring opportunities were coming from through balls, not crosses, and the game was only even at the half because Alex Morgan muffed a couple of finishes.
The first 15 minutes of the second half were Germany’s best period in the game. Their attacking talent pressed forward, winning multiple corners and sending in a couple of dangerous crosses. But their best scoring opportunity came from good old fashioned hustle, after a horrendous U.S. mistake.
Defender Julie Johnston mistimed a ball bouncing on the Montreal turf, letting the charging Alexandra Popp in behind her. To prevent the wide open shot on goal, Johnston pulled Popp down, earning herself a yellow card (that really probably should have been a red for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity) and giving Germany a penalty kick. But Célia Šašić missed and the U.S. caught a break. They probably didn’t need it, but they got another one.
Just seven minutes later the roles were reversed, and it was Germany’s Annike Krahn earning a yellow card for pulling down America’s Alex Morgan. The difference was that Krahn got to Morgan just before she reached the box, but the referee made a bad call, giving the USWNT a penalty instead of a free kick on the edge of the box. Carli Lloyd, the best player on the night, didn’t miss:
For a few minutes it looked like the Germans might get an equalizer, but the introduction of Kelley O’Hara (for Tobin Heath) in the 75th minute gave the USWNT fresh legs, and almost immediately it took a last ditch slide tackle to deny her. Germany rolled the dice by bringing in Dzsenifer Marozsán in the 78th minute, but the fact that it took so long to play her said everything about her health. Marozsán is an absolute stud, a terrifying attacking midfielder, but she has been plagued by ankle troubles the entire World Cup, and was noticeably a step slow. With the rest of her teammates tiring around her, Germany really needed more energy.
Five minutes later, Lloyd and O’Hara linked up to seal the 2-0 victory:
After stretches of looking like the second best team in the games against Australia and China especially—and the semifinal was the fifth game of the tournament where the USWNT have been tied at the half—the Americans were clearly superior, and against the best team in the world to boot. Part of that was their vaunted fitness. As their opponents tire the USWNT don’t, and even if they do they have three or four fresh attacking players that are the envy of the rest of the world to bring in off of the bench. The German press nearly paid dividends in the first 10 minutes, but it also robbed them of stamina late.
For the second straight game Abby Wambach began on the bench, but for the first time the USWNT didn’t just try the same strategy, humping in cross after cross. Instead, they kept the ball on the carpet and attacked the German defense directly. While they didn’t deserve their penalty, it was created because Alex Morgan looked up, saw space in front of her, and made a marauding run at the goal. The second goal came from a good passing sequence, a nifty move, and a point blank shot.
The American backline is the best in the world, only conceding a single goal to Australia. Their weakness has been regressive offensive tactics. But if they have finally figured out how to get their ridiculously good individual offensive players into a system that actually works, they’re unstoppable.
In the final they’ll face the winner of tomorrow’s England-Japan match. Either way they will be the favorite—a much heavier favorite if it is England—to win their third World Cup.