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Hope Solo, USWNT win their Olympics group despite disappointing draw with Colombia

Errors from the longtime US #1 meant only a tie for the US despite goals from Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh

Despite a lackluster defensive performance and a draw against a Colombia side they were favored to beat, the United States finished first place in Group G and will advance to the quarterfinals. Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh scored for the USWNT, but two errors from Hope Solo lead to two free kick goals from Catalina Usme.

As expected, head coach Jill Ellis rested several USWNT starters such as Alex Morgan and Meghan Klingenberg due to the tournament’s short turn-around between games and intense travel.The Washington Spirit duo of Dunn and Ali Krieger were deployed on the right wing.

Megan Rapinoe started for the United States, her first minutes since tearing her ACL last December. She quickly made impact, delivering a dangerous cross to Carli Lloyd in the 3rd minute before Lloyd’s shot clanged off the crossbar (though an offside flag would have canceled out a goal had Lloyd scored).

The USWNT pressed hard at first and had countless opportunities up front, pinning Colombia into their own half. Yet in the 26th minute, Hope Solo conceded the United States’ first goal of the tournament on what should have been an easy save. Usme stepped for the free kick just outside the box, Colombia’s first chance of the match. Usme’s shot went around the US wall and bounced towards Solo, who stooped to make an easy save. However, the shot skipped through her fingers and rolled between her feet for a shocking goal. The defense shouldn’t have conceded a free kick in such a dangerous spot, and they should have been better organized, but most of all it was a poor mistake from Solo.

The USWNT responded, though, and the active Dunn equalized in the 41st minute. Lloyd hit a well struck ball from about 15 yards out that bounced off goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda’s hands before hitting the crossbar. Dunn was in position and hit the ball with the side of her right foot and into the goal despite a crowd of Colombian defenders on the line.

Dunn delivered again in the 59th minute, as her cross set up Pugh’s go-ahead goal. Dunn - on the left flank this time - sent a low, driven cross across the box to Pugh. Despite a near mix-up with Christen Press, Pugh made her way to the center, escaping several Colombian defenders and put her shot past Sepulveda.

Three minutes later, Pugh a second goal on a pass from Press, but was called offside after getting ahead of the ball.

After Pugh’s go-ahead goal, the USWNT started to sit back on their lead and didn’t push for a third goal. This helped Colombia, a side not as fit as the United States, stay in the game for ninety minutes.

The warning signs were there. Usme nearly scored again in the 78th minute but her free kick from distance hit the crossbar. As the game dwindled to a close, the United States looked like it was going to be able to ride out their bad performance. However, just as the clock struck 90:00, Usme scored a second goal. Colombia earned a free kick on the right flank and Usme delivered a curving left-footed free kick that went past Solo.

Poor goalkeeping was a major factor in both goals the USWNT conceded and Solo’s decline in NWSL performance showed up with the national team. The USWNT (and Solo as well) have had the occasional bad outing, and this was one of them. The game alone isn’t cause for major concern but the perennial problems do need to be addressed. Set-piece defending is certainly one of them. It’s worth noting that last summer, the United States had a shockingly poor game against this same Colombian team, yet went on to win the World Cup. That trophy didn’t come without making some tactical changes and addressing weaknesses though.

Nonetheless, the United States move on to the quarterfinal in Brasilia where the Americans will face Sweden. Last summer the two teams tied in the group stage of the World Cup, but in these Olympics the Swedes have looked particularly poor, especially in a 5-1 loss to Brazil. The game will take place this Friday at noon eastern.