The United States more or less met expectations in the group stage, winning while not necessarily thrilling fans, but starting with today's Women's World Cup knockout round match against Colombia those performances have to get better. Las Cafeteras are in all likelihood going to be the weakest team the USWNT faces in this tournament, but that doesn't mean they're a bad side. After all, we're talking about a group that beat France - like the US, one of the real favorites to win this tournament - 2-0 in the group stage.
There's also more than a little edge to this game thanks to Colombia's recent comments to the press as well as a past incident that ended with American captain Abby Wambach playing with a shiner. However, the best way forward for the US is to simply make this game about which team is better at soccer, and not which team can win the mind games or master the dark arts. The less fraught and emotional this game is, the more likely we see the expected USWNT win.
Key player: Lauren Holiday
My heart goes out to Holiday, a wonderfully gifted playmaker asked to stay deep as a defensive midfielder surrounded by other attack-first players. This is not the way to get the best out of her, but Jill Ellis is committed both to the idea that natural defensive midfielders are always pure destroyers with no ability or ideas with the ball, and to the idea that this nonsense midfield is the best possible midfield for the USWNT.
Ranting aside, Holiday can still play a big role today. Colombia is likely going to sit deep and bunker in this game, and efficient, quick ball circulation is a great way to draw defenders forward and open up spaces elsewhere. Holiday might not get any looks to get an assist today, but she could end up as the reason there are gaps for others to get those assists. Look for Holiday to see a ton of the ball, but not necessarily keep it for more than one or two touches. She could end up piling up stats like touches and attempted passes today, and the healthier the tempo she sets the better the US will perform.
Key question: Can the US repeat their last two major tournament outings against Las Cafeteras?
Colombia is awfully bullish about themselves given that they lost 3-0 to the Americans in the last World Cup as well as the 2012 Olympics (you may remember the latter game as the one in which Lady Andrade punched Abby Wambach in the face). It could just be an attempt to psych themselves up for a game in which they are overwhelming underdogs. Colombia may have a formation that suits their personnel, but they don't have anywhere near the US's gifts for goalscoring, defending, and athleticism. Even if the teams traded goalkeepers - Colombia will be without suspended starter Sandra Sepulveda and could use their third of the tournament according to ESPNFC's Jeff Carlisle - this would be a mismatch.
Or perhaps "should" is more accurate. The Colombians have nothing to lose here, while the USWNT is under their customary "win the tournament or it's a disaster" pressure. If they get caught up in these attempted mind games going on through the press, or if they start retaliating over things like that aforementioned punch, they could easily make things needlessly complicated. For the US, the best thing today will be to stay calm, stay organized, and play the soccer they're capable of playing (which, even with bad tactics, can win this tournament).
Match date/time: Monday 6/22, 6:00pm Eastern (5:00pm local)
Venue: Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton)
TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), NBC Universo (Spanish)
Online: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English, requires subscription), NBC Universo Now (Spanish), NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra (Spanish)
Check back in two hours for our gamethread.