The US women's national team continued their pattern of choppy, disjointed play and briefly gave their underdog opponents hopes of a monumental upset. But in the end their superior talent won out in a 2-0 Women's World Cup Round of 16 win over Colombia at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton Monday evening.
The US were outpassed, out-finessed and out-hustled by their South American challengers in a first half that ended scoreless, and later missed a penalty kick. But a red card to Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez early in the second half transformed the game and gave the Yanks an advantage they did not waste as Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd found the net down the stretch.
Colombian star Lady Andrade showed off her fancy footwork inside the US penalty box in the 8th minute, teasing two US defenders with the ball before splitting them and hitting the turf in search of a penalty call, but French referee Stephanie Frappart waved play on.
Much of the pregame chatter had focused on Colombia's goalkeeping situation, with young backup Perez stepping in for suspended starter Sandra Sepulveda. But the University of Miami sophomore showed she was up for the big occasion with some clutch early saves, most notably on an Abby Wambach blast in the 14th minute.
Aside from those chances, the US were looking short on ideas and inspiration, with Colombia gaining in confidence as the match remained scoreless heading into halftime. USWNT fans were further dismayed at the fact that first-half yellow cards to influential veterans Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday meant they would be suspended in the next match, were the US to advance.
But just when the favorites looked genuinely vulnerable, a single play changed the entire match in a flash.
Minutes after the second half began, Holiday fought through Colombian pressure deep in her own end of the field and found Rapinoe with a pass up the left sideline.
Snaring the ball with an acrobatic first touch, Rapinoe turned upfield and saw Morgan racing towards a huge expanse of open turf behind the Colombia defense, who were caught upfield. Rapinoe hit Morgan's run, prompting Perez to race off her line and dive at Morgan's feet at the edge of the box, clipping her shin and sending her flying.
Frappart blew her whistle, pointed to the penalty spot and arrived on the scene brandishing a straight red card for Perez, putting Colombia behind the 8 ball as they had to sub in third-string 'keeper Stefany Castano for forward Ingrid Vidal and finish the game shorthanded.
Wambach stepped up to take the penalty kick. But stunningly, the all-time leading goalscorer in world soccer history missed the target, firing high and wide of the top left corner – with her left foot – to leave the 0-0 scoreline intact in the 50th minute.
Colombia's fading hopes were crushed soon enough, though. Just three minutes later, Morgan caught Castano out of position with a low shot to the near post that the young goalkeeper got a hand to, but could not keep out of the net.
The North Americans finally had the lead, easing their tensions considerably. And they had an opportunity to breathe easy some 10 minutes later when Rapinoe took a telling angled pass from Meghan Klingenberg inside the Colombia box and cut past Angela Clavijo, forcing the defender to knock her to the turf and concede yet another PK.
This time Carli Lloyd stepped up to the spot, and buried her finish past Castano for a 2-0 lead that the USWNT protected comfortably down the stretch.
With the win, the US advance to a quarterfinal meeting with China in Ottawa on Friday, while Colombia go home, eliminated but proud of their best-ever performance in a major tournament.