The U.S. Women’s National Team had their first real test of this World Cup, and they passed the test, but it was a nervy occasion.
They beat Spain 2-1 on Monday, on two Megan Rapinoe penalties, to advance to the quarterfinals of this World Cup.
They will be facing off against tournament host France, who similarly struggled against Brazil in their Round of 16 game.
The U.S. lineup was the same as it was against Sweden, except curiously Lindsey Horan dropped to the bench, with Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis making up the midfield. Horan was on a yellow card, so it seemed like a decision to keep Horan from a potential suspension in the Quarterfinals.
Spain were able to maintain a level of possession that none of the USA’s opponents till now had been able to generate.
Still, it was the U.S. who took an early lead, Tobin Heath cutting into the box from the right and tripped by a Spanish player.
Rapinoe stepped up to the spot and buried the penalty in the first half to take a lead.
Spain have struggled to generate chances in this tournament, and it seemed like an early goal could really put them on their heels.
Instead, Spain scored just minutes after the U.S., capitalizing on a U.S. mistake at the back.
U.S. goalie Alyssa Naeher played a short pass out to Becky Sauerbrunn, who was dispossesed and the ball came right to Jenni Hermoso, one of Spain’s most dangerous attackers.
Hermoso made no mistakes, and fired the ball into the top corner for the equalizer for Spain.
Coming into the tournament, one of the question marks of this U.S. team was Naeher, who has not inspired the same confidence as past U.S. keepers.
Though you could say Naeher holds blame for passing to Sauerbrunn when she was not open, Sauerbrunn also could have done much better with the ball she received.
The rest of the first half had few chances. Spain played very physically with the U.S., and while they were not able to get many chances themselves, they limited the U.S. opportunities on goal.
One of the few bright spots was Lavelle. When she got on the ball, Lavelle was frequently able to drive through the midfield and unlock the Spanish defense, setting up chances for the forwards, Rapinoe in particular.
The second half continued in much the same way, with the physical play continuing and neither team able to generate many chances.
With the wealth of attacking options the U.S. has on the bench, it felt like a change should have been made early in the second half, as none of the front three were having a particularly good game.
In the end though, the U.S. was able to retake the lead late on. Lavelle carried the ball across the box, and she was kicked by a Spanish defender to draw a penalty.
This was a less obvious one than the Heath penalty, and it in fact went to VAR, but the call was upheld, and that seemed like the correct decision.
Rapinoe stepped up again, and she scored again, drilling the ball right in the bottom corner despite the Spanish goalkeeper guessing the right way.
In the end the US survived, but this was far from a convincing performance. Now they move on to take on France, the matchup we’ve all been waiting for.
It would not surprise anyone if the winner of that game went on to win the whole thing, and it will be quite a show on Friday in Paris.
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