The 1-0 victory over North Korea that pushed the USA women into the quarterfinals as Group G winner made up in importance what it lacked in style. Here are a few observations of the team’s historic visit to Old Trafford decided by an Abby Wambach goal.
MAGICIAN MORGAN, WARRIOR WAMBACH. A simple goal set up by Alex Morgan’s classy trap and slick pass wasn’t much reward for Wambach, who hit the post with a toe-poke and battled through numerous crunching challenges to win headers and link with teammates.
Wambach scored for the third straight game in this tournament thanks to the diligence of Morgan, who collected a chip from Lauren Cheney with an impeccable trap and nicked a ball through two defenders that Wambach tapped into the net for her 141st international goal. Morgan also struck a shot against the base of the post in a game the Americans dominated in shots, 16-3, yet failed to build on their goal scored in the 25th minute.
Had the USA scored a second goal it’s likely Coach Pia Sundhage would have substituted Wambach, as she did after the USA scored a third goal in the 77th minute against Colombia. While the North Koreans didn’t commit a lot of fouls (12), they took their shots at Wambach and several other USA players. Choe Mi Gyong was sent off with her second caution in four minutes when she piled into Cheney from behind, and Wambach got up grimacing from a few collisions.
SHAKY GROUND.Though they didn’t generate many shots during a lively spell in the second half, the North Koreans forced the Americans to scramble and backpedal on several occasions. Cheney and Carli Lloyd struggled to regain control of midfield as North Korea overloaded the flanks behind wide mids Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly.
The ballwinning prowess of Shannon Boxx, who sat out a second straight game with a strained hamstring, was missed. Fortunately for the Americans, outside backs Amy LePeilbet and Kelly O’Hara didn’t dive into risky tackles and give away free kicks. They held their positions and either won the ball with double-teams or pressured their opponents into wayward passes or crosses.
FLANK FUTILITY. Dominance of the wings helped the USA overpower France and Colombia in its first two group games but aside from the surging runs of O’Reilly, the Americans weren’t nearly as incisive against North Korea.
Megan Rapinoe, the main attacking catalyst in the first two games, seldom troubled the North Koreans. Halftime sub Heath veered inside often from the left flank but labored to link up with Morgan and Wambach despite seeing a fair share of possession.
Going forward into the knockout stages, Sundhage will have to decide whether to again pair Boxx (if healthy) and Lloyd in the middle and rely on flank play to generate chances, or to perhaps direct her players to get more balls to Cheney and use her playmaking skills.