Following a dominant showing in the group matches, the Round of 16 would see the USA advance as they won 2-1 against Spain. Ahead of the match it seemed like the identities of the teams would be a big factor as perhaps Spain would put on a beautiful display of possession soccer and the US would counter with their own ideas about keeping the ball, but that narrative went out the door almost immediately.
Rather than play their brand of possession soccer, if they could even do such a thing against the US, Spain played fearlessly and physically - they pressed at key times, they kicked Alex Morgan, they fouled, and clogged the midfield. But Spain also no doubt knew that they would get killed by the US if they opened the game up. Rather than that, they picked their moments to work possession and try to create chances against the Americans, focusing on exploiting space the US left open when they went forward.
The US would have a tough time breaking through the compact Spanish side. No doubt, the physicality from the team in red was a factor in how the game played out, but Spain did an effective job denying the US shooting opportunities in the final third. Still, the Iberians had a difficult time beating the Americans tactically. Their brutish play defensively was difficult for the US to overcome as Spain seemed to calculate that they could play a physical game, perhaps exploit the US on the wings defensively - especially going after Crystal Dunn - and it might be enough to steal a win or at least get to a penalty shootout. That wouldn’t be as the US forced Spain to make two fouls in the box and a pair of penalties from Megan Rapinoe carried the day.
The Sun Also Rises - but in France and without the misogyny
Spain came out ready to play from the get go sending a shot toward Alyssa Naeher that was blocked by Becky Sauerbrunn 45 seconds in. While that was an ambitious effort, the story of the game would be physicality. Early on Alex Morgan was sent to the ground twice before the first five minutes, a trend that would carry on throughout the match.
For their part, the Americans had also shown up for a fight, but a bit of skill from Tobin Heath would catch up to Spain’s physicality. In the 5th minute Abby Dahlkemper sent a long ball diagonally that found Heath making a run behind the Spain backline. She gathered the pass, strode into the box and was promptly tripped. Megan Rapinoe stepped up, took the penalty and put the Americans up 1-0.
The lead wouldn’t hold for long as a defensive gaffe gave Jenni Hermoso a chance to level the match - her beautiful effort did just that. Alyssa Naeher should know not to pass to the player being marked this tightly, especially with other options, but Sauerbrunn should know she’s going to get pressured here and it cost the US the lead.
Let’s wind the goal back though, because - just wow.
Clearly the US was giving as well as they were getting as in the 32nd minute Vicky Losada had to be subbed after sustaining a black eye after a collision with Sam Mewis’ foot.
The sub brought Nahikari Garcia into the match at about the half-hour mark. At the same time Morgan received treatment and the players all enjoyed a cool drink of water on a sweltering day in Reims.
The next 15 minutes would feature a yellow shown to Rapinoe for hands to the face, Alex Morgan getting kicked anytime she was near the ball by the closest player wearing a red shirt, and the sides went into the half even at one. The story of the first half would be about physicality, a couple of bad mistakes that led to goals, the US being unable to do much in the final third and not doing enough to work the ball down the wings, and Spain hanging tough defensively while not quite hitting on the counter, but trying to make the most of their possession and give Lucia Garcia chances on the right.
The second half began with fouls. Maria “prison rules” Leon pushed down Julie Ertz in the box, Alex Morgan was fouled on the ball and off the ball while Kelley O’Hara was subject to a studs up foul by Irene Paredes as the ref had apparently put her cards with her glasses before taking the pitch this evening.
Another look at the PK shout on the foul on Ertz.
The US would work a nice sequence and create a chance for Rose Lavelle but her shot would go over the bar at about the hour mark. Spain would answer back nearly finding the net in the 63rd. Working on the right, Lucia Garcia and Patricia Guijarro put together a nice interchange and Guijarro sent a shot that went agonizingly wide for the team in red. This really showed what Spain was doing well in possession all game - especially when they had more players on the right and could exploit the unbalanced US defense to create shots.
The deciding goal would come about 10 minutes later - well about 15 minutes later. Apparently this is a penalty... Not sure if the ref saw the Vulcan neck pinch applied here, but this is at the very least uncharacteristic of what had been allowed throughout the match.
Then there was some delaying by Spain.
The keeper asked about the rule for standing on the line.
The Spain defenders moved the ball off the spot while Alex Morgan waited, no doubt instinctively kicking something upon seeing Morgan anywhere near them.
The ref dealt with that and got everyone set for the shot.
Then suddenly the ref decided to listen to the VAR official.
Then she decided to review the penalty.
Then she decided it was a penalty after review.
Then Rapinoe took the penalty and it was 2-1.
The entire process took five minutes.
After watching her team struggle to do much to break down Spain, seeing Alex Morgan perhaps feeling the effects of being kicked all day, and in need of help solidifying the defense - especially on the left - for much of the game, Jill Ellis decided she didn’t need to make a change until the 85th minute. By then the US had retreated into a more defensive shape and easily dealt with the Span attempts to equalize.
After seven minutes of injury time the ref blew the whistle and the USA emerged with a 2-1 win in a nervy, at times, but still solid win for the Stars and Stripes.
Bring. On. France.