Thoughts from USA-Costa Rica
U.S. had to fight for semifinal win after rolling through group play
Carli Lloyd has become an explosive scorer for the Americans
The U.S. has strong depth that will help it at the Olympics
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Three thoughts after the U.S.'s 3-0 victory against Costa Rica on Friday clinched a berth for the U.S. in the 2012 Olympics:
• It wasn't easy, but the U.S. is heading to London. After blowing away its opponents by a 31-0 margin in the group stage, the U.S. found itself in a dogfight in this winner-take-all game for an Olympic berth, leading only 1-0 at halftime and thankful that Fabiola Sánchez's 30-yard blast had hit the crossbar. But the U.S. kept pushing forward in the second half, and Carli Lloyd's 72nd-minute strike gave the Yanks the breathing room they needed. The U.S. had some issues, from an up-and-down performance by the back line to a lack of a dangerous left-sided attack, but style points don't matter on a night like this. The U.S. is on its way to London to try and win a third straight Olympic gold medal. The tournament includes the United Kingdom, Japan, North Korea, Cameroon, South Africa, France, Sweden, Brazil and Colombia. (The other two spots will go to Oceania and the winner of Canada-Mexico.)
• Lloyd is scoring some important goals. The aggressive midfielder from New Jersey has scored six goals in this tournament, the same number she had in all of 2011. Lloyd has a potent shot and is a threat on free kicks, but in the past she has often settled for hopeful (and often errant) shots from distance in the run of play. These days she's scoring mostly from inside the box, sometimes on set plays and sometimes (as on Friday) after scrambles in front of the goal. When Lloyd is off her game it's easy to tell, but when she's on she can be a dominant player. Can she keep it up as the U.S. prepares for the Olympics? A rematch against World Cup champion Japan awaits next month at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
• The U.S. has impressive depth. How many teams in the world have the kind of talent the U.S. had on the bench to start the game on Friday? Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux would start for just about any other team. The competition for playing time will be intense over the next few months, and that should only help the Americans in what could be a wide-open tournament without teams like Germany or Australia. Playing tough competition will help, too. The U.S. didn't get that in the first two games of this tournament, outscoring foes 27-0, but Costa Rica was a stiffer-than-expected challenge and the final on Sunday should be as well.