The United States hasn’t done anything to give us reason to doubt them as a favorite to win the World Cup, but today’s Round of 16 game should pose more difficulty than the group stage did. The USWNT, who haven’t conceded a goal in seven straight games, has beaten Spain in 2019, winning 1-0 in Alicante back in January, but they came away expressing their admiration for the Spanish approach and skill level. When this squad says another team is good...well, they would know, right?
A Spanish victory would be a massive, massive upset, but they’ve also created plenty of chances so far. If they simply have an above-average day in the final third, the USWNT will have a real challenge on their hands.
Full time update: The USWNT advanced, but you could hardly call their 2-1 win over Spain impressive. Rose Lavelle won a 76th minute penalty after being (somewhat lightly) kicked in the shin, and after a VAR check failed to overturn the initial call, Megan Rapinoe deposited her second penalty of the game past Sandra Paños.
Nonetheless, Spain exposed several American weak points in a way that the group stage games did not, and on another day this game may well have gone to extra time. Instead, the U.S. survived, and will face hosts (and fellow favorites) France in a titanic quarterfinal clash this Friday, June 28, in Paris.
Halftime update: It’s 1-1 after an intriguing first half. Jill Ellis rather controversially left Lindsey Horan on the bench, but in the early moments it didn’t matter. Megan Rapinoe buried a 7th minute penalty after Tobin Heath was taken down in the box.
However, Spain produced an immediate reply. Alyssa Naeher put Becky Sauerbrunn under immense pressure with a poorly-chosen 9th minute pass, and once Spain got a foot in, Jenni Hermoso placed a shot over Naeher to level the scores. Spain was forced into a 32nd minute substitution, as Vicky Losada was injured in a collision with Sam Mewis, while Rapinoe was the only player booked.
Key player: Julie Ertz
Ertz didn’t play the Group F finale against Sweden in order to rest up after suffering a hip contusion earlier in the tournament. Assuming she’s as ready to go as US Soccer says she is, Ertz will probably need to rein in her normal roving instincts. Spain’s entire tactical approach is built around possession, stringing passes together to create their scoring chances, protect their defense, and dictate the pace of the game.
They do this because it’s what they’re best at, and it’s potentially not the best news for the USWNT. Ertz is at her best free to destroy, but Spain wants opposing midfielders to chase the ball down. They’re talented enough to keep it moving, and the object is to eventually get someone to over-commit, opening up space to take advantage of. Finding the balance between being as disruptive and difficult to play against as she normally is while not being pulled out of position is going to be a major challenge, but if Ertz pulls it off, Spain probably won’t be able to create much of anything.
Location: Stade Auguste-Delaune (Reims)
Kickoff time: 12:00pm Eastern
Projected USWNT starting 11: (433) - Alyssa Naeher; Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn; Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan; Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe
Bench: Ashlyn Harris, Adrianna Franch, Ali Krieger, Emily Sonnett, Tierna Davidson, Allie Long, Morgan Brian, Samantha Mewis, Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh, Jess McDonald, Christen Press
If everyone is fit, this is probably the team (give or take the question of Lavelle or Mewis in the midfield). However, there are question marks in multiple cases. The biggest among them is Morgan, who tweaked her knee against Sweden and came off at halftime. If Jill Ellis has to replace her, her choice will probably be Lloyd, but it really should be McDonald...or Press, for that matter. But this is a projected real-life lineup, and it does seem pretty likely that Ellis sees Lloyd as next in line.
There is also the possibility that Ertz is still hurt. In that case, Mewis will step right in, with Horan playing the no. 6. It’s definitely not the best use of Horan, but she has the tactical discipline and soccer IQ to do just about anything well.
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What are you drinking?: At noon on a Monday? Probably iced coffee, but maybe some plain old water.
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