The USWNT has made the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup, barely. While they were heavily favored against Colombia, they came out timidly, clearly thrown off by the South American side’s comfort on the ball, willingness to attack, and general spunk in the face of a juggernaut of women’s soccer, the United States went into halftime tied 0-0.
However, the United States was bailed out in the 47th minute, when backup Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez received a red card for a challenge on Alex Morgan, sending Abby Wambach to the penalty spot and the Colombians down to 10 players with their third goalie coming into the game. Despite the fact that Wambach shanked her penalty chance, the United States scored two goals, one from Morgan in the run of play and the other from Carli Lloyd on the penalty spot, to secure a very shaky 2-0 victory. If the United States has any chance of beating China they will have to be much better than their play against Colombia in the round of 16.
The teams square off on Friday at 7:30 p.m. EST on FOX Sports.
Player to Watch for USA: Tobin Heath
Following their accumulated yellow cards of the course of the tournament, both Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday will be suspended for the match against China. While Holiday is certainly a blow to the USWNT midfield, Rapinoe has been by far the United States’ best offensive weapon, utilizing her speed and creativity on the wing to create goal scoring chances. In Rapinoe’s absence, Tobin Heath must step up for the United States and produce the quality we have seen from her in the past. Heath has had a quiet World Cup thus far, but certainly has the ability to create chances on the wing for her teammates. China is the least physical team in the quarterfinals, and will likely give Heath plenty of space to operate.
Player to Watch for China: Wang Shanshan
In one of the most interesting developments of the 2015 World Cup, Wang Shanshan has developed into a potent goalscorer for the Chinese team. Billed as a central defender before the tournament started, Steel Roses’ coach Hao Wei deployed Shanshan as a center forward to extraordinary results. She scored the tying goal for China in their 2-2 draw against New Zealand that saw them advance from the group stage, and scored the lone goal in the 1-0 matchup with Cameroon in the round of 16. If the Chinese have any chance of overcoming the 65/1 odds Vegas gave them of winning the World Cup, the lowest of any remaining team, they will need Shanshan to continue her goal scoring pattern. The task will be extremely difficult as the United States has established itself as one of the best defensive teams in the tournament, shutting out teams for over 300 consecutive minutes.
Prediction: USA wins 1-0
Don’t expect a lot of goals in this one. Without Megan Rapinoe, the USWNT’s premier offensive force, the United States will likely play a possession based, defensive game, with the goal of frustrating the Chinese into silly fouls, thus earning set pieces. None of the U.S. strikers have been particularly effective this World Cup, and if the United States has any hope of reaching the semifinal, it will need to lean on the strength of its team: the back line.
Luckily for U.S. fans, China is by far the weakest of the quarterfinal teams, and the loss of both Rapinoe and Holiday should not end the dream of winning the World Cup for the USWNT. Expect a tight contest, but one where the United States emerges victorious.