USA vs. COLOMBIA
Women's Olympic Soccer, Rio 2016 – Group G
Arena Amazonia – Manaus, Brazil
August 9, 2016 – 6 pm ET
TV: NBCSN, NBC Universo, NBC Olympic Soccer Channel
The US women's national team will look to build momentum and lay the groundwork for a run through the knockout stages when they wrap up Olympic group play vs. Colombia in the remote Amazon metropolis of Manaus on Tuesday evening.
With their place in the quarterfinals already assured, the USWNT can be expected to rotate their lineup to safeguard players with mileage or injury concerns. But there's little likelihood of a significant drop in intensity for the deepest team in women's soccer. Conversely, winless Colombia need a victory – as well as a friendly result in the France-New Zealand match – to preserve their long-shot hopes of advancement.
Doing enough to win...for now
The US were workmanlike and sturdy in wins over New Zealand and France, but spectacular only in brief flashes. They controlled proceedings in their opener vs. the Kiwis without looking particularly explosive. France had American backs to the walls for much of Saturday's clash in Belo Horizonte, only to let them off the hook with poor finishing.
That's somewhat disappointing, given their stated aims of playing not only efficient but also attractive, proactive soccer at this tournament.
“For the most part, I don't think we were disciplined enough to try and commit to what we're trying to do, which is to play,” said US coach Jill Ellis of her team's rough first half in the 1-0 win over France. “We've just got to encourage them. We've still got a young team, we're still trying to move the ball and it's just empowering them with the confidence that they're able to do it.
“Win, lose or draw, we knew this game was going to be valuable in the takeaways. These are the games where we find out so much. And they are three very different teams in the opening round. But France is a tremendous team, so I think for us, in terms of how we're trying to play, it was the best test in the pressure cooker we could've had to date.”
This team's first mission is to win gold for the fifth time; aesthetic concerns come second. But Ellis knows that more complete opponents – perhaps even a rematch vs. France – likely awaits in the semifinal or final stages.
Cafeteras need a jolt
Colombia are one of the more intriguing national teams in women's soccer today, bursting with individual skill and flair, yet short on discipline and organization. They reached the knockout stages of the Women's World Cup last summer for the first time, keyed by an upset win over France. Yet their players have been frustrated by lack of support from their federation and nearly went on strike in the run-up to friendlies vs. the USWNT earlier this year.
Nicknamed Las Chicas Superpoderosas, or “Powerpuff Girls,” Colombia really needed to beat New Zealand on Saturday, but fell 1-0 and are now well behind the 8-ball. In order to have a chance to advance as one of the top third-placed teams, they need to beat the US and hope France batter the Kiwis badly enough to balance out Colombia's rough goal differential, which currently sits at -5.
In other words, they need a miracle.
Solo in the Amazon
Goalkeeper Hope Solo was the difference in Saturday's match, denying the French time and time again even as the Brazilian fans in attendance continue to boo her lustily for her outspoken remarks about the dangers posed by the Zika virus.
“That's why she's here, because she can be a game-changer at times,” said Ellis.
Added her teammate Tobin Heath: “Tonight she was superb, because she was under a lot of pressure and she made some big-time saves. But we've come to expect that from Hope. She's always big-time in those big moments.”
Tuesday's game is a doubleheader with the Group E match between Brazil and South Africa, prompting tickets to sell out days ago. So the boobirds and jeering “Zika” chants will probably be louder than ever at the venue that hosted the US men's team's World Cup clash with Portugal two years ago.
Count on the world's best 'keeper to be amused and inspired, not annoyed.
“If [the fans] are having fun, great. I like a loud stadium. But it really doesn't mean anything to me,” Solo told the Associated Press.
“I'm just being myself, playing soccer,” she said. “They can love me or hate me, I'm just going to continue doing the same things.”