LONDON (AP) – After spending months planning for and looking ahead to facing France in the Olympic opener, the US women's national team was expected to feel a bit of a hangover against Colombia, a side nobody gave a chance of winning in their showdown on Saturday.
There was a bit of a slow start, but Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd made sure the lack of early goals quickly became an afterthought as they lead a strong finish in the USA's 3-0 romp over their South American counterparts.
Rapinoe followed up her masterful showing against France with another Player of the Match-worthy showing against a Colombian team that defended well early, but ultimately paid the price for having no offensive threat to speak of.
Rapinoe showed once again that she can be a factor on either flank, making the switch from right wing in the France win to left wing on Saturday. She spearheaded the attack yet again with her speed, constant movement and dangerous passes. She gave Colombia trouble all match long and it was no surprise that it was her right-footed blast in the 33rd minute that opened the scoring.
Wambach was expected to play a key role against a Colombia side that just didn't have the physical qualities to deal with such an imposing threat. The Colombians made matters worse for themselves when forward Lady Andrade struck Wambach in the face as the two crossed paths while making runs in the middle of the field.
The punch leveled Wambach temporarily, and left her eye swollen, but Wambach responded as you knew she would, by delivering the game-clinching goal with a perfect run and finish off a beautiful through-pass from Tobin Heath. The goal marked the sixth straight major tournament match she has scored in.
The highlight of the match, and the one you know brought the biggest smile to the face of US head coach Pia Sundhage was Carli Lloyd's 77th minute insurance goal. The Americans built out of the back, passed the ball around midfield, ran off each other, and culminated with Rapinoe picking out a precise Lloyd run before she slotted home her second goal in two matches.
Lloyd's second straight strong match removed any lingering questions about whether the veteran had lost a step or seen her game diminish. When Sundhage benched her in favor of younger options like Cheney and Tobin Heath, you couldn't help but wonder how the hero of the 2008 World Cup Final would respond.
Lloyd has replied with key goals in both matches, and a tireless work-rate in midfield that has helped the USA offset the loss of veteran defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx. Lloyd has been one of the US team's best players and Sundhage will be hard-pressed to take her out of the lineup if and when Boxx returns from her hamstring injury.
Sundhage's lineup changes on Saturday played out to some mixed results. Heather O'Reilly brought her usual energy on the right wing, but she failed to create clear-cut chances or beat Colombian defenders with any regularity. As if that didn't hurt her chances of breaking into the starting lineup when the knockout rounds begin enough, Tobin Heath came off the bench and promptly set up Wambach's goal with a perfect pass.
Sundhage turned to Heath because of her combination of speed and skill on the ball, and because it allowed her to deploy Rapinoe on the right. On Saturday, it became pretty clear that when the quarterfinals arrive, Heath and Rapinoe should be the wing tandem Sundhage sticks with.
Heather Mitts had her issues at times with Colombian attackers on the right flank, but she ultimately settled down and played out a steady match. It is tough to say for sure though whether that will be enough to keep Amy LePeilbet on the bench or not, because LePeilbet had a much tougher task in the opening match against France.
With Saturday's victory, the USA sits atop its group, and can clinch first place with a win or draw against North Korea. Sundhage will have to give serious consideration to resting players in that match in order to have fresh legs for the quarterfinals. As much a consideration as that is, Sundhage also knows that a slip-up in the final match could wind up leaving the USA second in the group, which might set up a quarterfinal date against world champion Japan.
After two impressive victories, it is tough to imagine that Sundhage and the USA fear anybody at the moment. With Rapinoe, Wambach and Lloyd playing the way they are, it is more likely that the rest of the field will be hoping it can avoid the Americans as long as they can.