Jill Ellis made three lineup changes for Friday’s quarterfinal win against China, two out of necessity. The result: Still just a 1-0 win against a team that had little attacking punch, but the team looked better and felt better.
And it was the kind of performance U.S. fans had wanted to see. Amy Rodriguez was buzzing around making things difficult for China, Alex Morgan was a looming threat, and Carli Lloyd was unleashed. Not that the trio was perfect — A-Rod shanked a great chance like a beginning golfer, Morgan didn’t quite have the scoring touch, and Lloyd had a few giveaways. But this was not the lumbering attack we had seen in the past. Abby Wambach gave some inspiration from the bench and was ready to go if needed.
Then two players stepped up in surprising roles. The versatile Kelley O’Hara was a menace on the flanks, and young Morgan Brian looked like a composed veteran in a holding midfield role.
So now what? What happens when the USA takes a giant leap up in competition from a young, easily rattled Chinese team to a ruthlessly efficient German team that absorbed a couple of hours of French pressure and fought back to win?
Rodriguez: Did the German defense look a step slow against France? If so, they could be tailor-made for the speedy A-Rod. Then again, Sydney Leroux has some wheels, too.
Morgan: You just sense that it’s coming, don’t you? She made pivotal plays against Colombia and has the potential to create something magical.
Wambach: She may have another clutch goal left on her head or in her feet. She’d be perfect to bring in against a tired German defense in the second half.
Megan Rapinoe: Has to play. She’s the most creative winger the USA has.
Lloyd: Has to play in the same role she played last night. Don’t forget who scored the winning goals in the last two Olympics, and she scored again last night.
Brian: Clearly the best option at holding mid now. Lori Chalupny can play there at club level, but she hasn’t been tested there at international level in a long, long time.
Lauren Holiday: Unfortunate. She was miscast as a holding mid for months, and now it might be too late to get her back on the field in another role such as attacking mid or second forward. But we would’ve said the same about O’Hara before last night, right?
Tobin Heath: Just isn’t turning those nifty moves into anything concrete right now.
O’Hara: Maybe the best option on the right flank? Her pressure, passing and willingness to test China with an occasional medium-range bomb were outstanding last night.
Christen Press: Can she bring the same tempo-changing ability as A-Rod?
The defense isn’t in question — Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger have been so outstanding that we often forget Hope Solo is even playing.
So those five are sure starters, and I’d add Rapinoe, Lloyd and Brian to that list. Everything else is up for grabs.
Here’s one reasonable lineup that builds on last night’s success:
And here’s one that’s a little wilder:
But I’m not sure Ellis needs to do anything that drastic. She has already shown the flexibility for which I was pleading at SoccerWire. They did not play “Whack it to Wambach” for 90 minutes last night.
And as a result, I’ve gone from thinking Germany is a sure bet to thinking we may see an epic on Tuesday.