The United States faced their most unexpected test of the tournament in their final group play match against Colombia. Things looked to sour early when Catalina Usme put the Colombians ahead 1-0 on a goal in the 26’ that slipped through Hope Solo’s legs. Crystal Dunn equalized the score 15 minutes later, slotting home the rebound on Carli Lloyd’s rocket of a shot.
In the second half, Mallory Pugh scored her first Olympic goal in the 59’ after Dunn sent in a low cross and Pugh dribbled in the box and cut inside onto her left foot to make the score 2-1. In the 90’, Usme served an absolute dagger of a free kick into the box and scored her second set piece goal of the night to make the score 2-2. A silly foul by Kelley O’Hara led to the equalizing free kick.
Jill Ellis made four changes from the team that played against France: Ali Krieger for Meghan Klingenberg, Lindsey Horan for Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe for Tobin Heath, and Christen Press for Alex Morgan.
Megan Rapinoe started but she’s not really back yet
249 days after tearing her ACL on a shoddy practice field in Hawaii, Megan Rapinoe made her return to the United States starting lineup. The results were, to put it lightly, not exactly pretty. Early on in the match she played in a few threatening crosses but her set piece delivery was not what we’ve come to expect from such a world class player. Things went from average but not damaging to absolute disaster in the 25’ when an awful two-footed tackle outside the United States 18-yard-box gave up a dangerous free kick. The resultant Catalina Usme free kick was converted into a goal on an unfortunate and wildly uncharacteristic nutmeg howler by Hope Solo.
When Rapinoe was subbed out for Mallory Pugh in the 33’ as planned it was with the United States down a goal to Colombia. Perhaps nobody in the stadium breathed more of a sigh of relief when Crystal Dunn leveled the score in the 41’. While there is no doubt at full match fitness Rapinoe is a game changer, you have to question her selection to the final roster after such a rusty, clearly not fit performance. She looked like she hadn’t played in 249 days and that’s not where you want players headed into the knockout stages of the Olympics.
Poor finishing causes headaches
It’s the same song, just a different day. The United States had their chances at all stages of the game but failed to capitalize on them. To be fair, Sandra Sepulveda had an absolutely electric match while Hope Solo had one of the worst matches we’ve seen from her on an international stage in a long time. Still, when you’re the number one team in the world you’re expected to finish your chances at a higher rate than the United States did. Early in the match, the United States showed promising off the ball movement and knocked the ball around the Colombians. This heavy pressure led to three attacking corner kicks in the first 15 minutes of the match.
But the United States failed to bury Colombia early and that came back to bite them in the end. It wasn’t just missed early chances. At one point, the United States had a three versus one situation charging into the 18-yard-box of Colombia but clinical finisher Christen Press chose then, of all times, to pass to Pugh who was clearly in advance of the ball and in an offside position. At that point the score could have been 3-1; instead the United States draws 2-2 and while they still win the group it’s not exactly a party atmosphere.
Set pieces remain a baffling weakness
This is not the United States that we’re used to seeing on set pieces. We learned that against France, and Colombia put an exclamation point on that sentiment. Gone are the days where players like Abby Wambach dominated on attacking set pieces and similarly cleared the ball out more often than not on defensive set pieces. Yes, Hope Solo had a bad night at the office. And yes, Catalina Usme should be given her due diligence - those were two delightful balls played into the box. But the fact of the matter is that the United States has been, could be, and absolutely should be better.
Heading into the knockout stages is the wrong time to put up a flashing neon sign to the remaining teams in the tournament that the United States have a glaring, exploitable weakness. No doubt the Colombian team scouted this weakness from the France game and the United States quarterfinal opponent, Sweden, will scout this from the Colombia match. The danger of this weakness is compounded by the fact that weaker teams often look to capitalize off of set pieces against the United States because they’re not likely to dominate possession or the run of play. Ellis and her staff only have a few days between this match and the quarterfinal to scour film and figure out what exactly is going wrong on attacking and defending set pieces. A failure to do so could prove catastrophic.