The United States is on its way to the Women’s World Cup semifinals. Not only that, but the team put in its best 90 minutes of the tournament in its 1-0 quarterfinal win against China. At no point did the team look troubled, and its midfield play was better than it has been in months. The win was fairly comfortable.
Now the U.S. is set to play Germany, the top-ranked team in the world. The Americans can certainly win that match, and they’ll feel especially good after the way they played against China. But they’re not favorites against the Germans. They’re not even close. They’ll be heavy underdogs with a lot of room for improvement. And unfortunately, they only have four days to do it.
Germany has been the tournament’s best team since game one, when it beat Cote d’Ivoire 10-1. It went undefeated in the group stage and thrashed world number five Sweden 4-1 in the round of 16. That’s the same Sweden the U.S. played to a 0-0 draw.
It’s not just that Germany is the no. 1 ranked team in the world. It’s that it’s looked every bit the part, putting together arguably the best two or three performances of any team in the tournament. The only team that put together a match that looked anywhere near as good as Germany’s best was France, and that came in their elimination to the Germans in the quarterfinals.
The Germans are stacked from front to back, with stars at nearly every position and everyone playing to their reputations. Célia Šašic is the tournament’s top scorer with six goals, and second place on that list? That’d be her teammate, Anja Mittag, with five goals. All the while, the U.S. has managed just seven goals the entire tournament.
The U.S. undoubtedly looked better against China than it has at any other point this month. Morgan Brian filled in for the suspended Lauren Holiday expertly, playing deep in the midfield and allowing Carli Lloyd to get forward. Kelley O’Hara was a surprise inclusion in the starting lineup, but she looked good on the right as the U.S. possessed the ball and dictated tempo like the dominant team we’ve come to expect. At no point did it look like there was any doubt the U.S. would win.
But the Americans weren’t great. Any praise for the way that the U.S. played can only be lavished in comparison to the uninspiring American performances that preceded it. For all of the possession that the U.S. had, was China goalkeeper Wang Fei under siege? Not in the slightest. The U.S. attack too often relied on wayward crosses that were easily cleared or missed the box altogether. Even when an American got on the end of a ball, the shot went hopelessly wide or was easily scooped up by Wang. The U.S. may not have ever been in danger of losing, but China was never in danger of being blown out either.
And lest we forget, this was China. The U.S. went up against the worst team left in the World Cup and one of the youngest teams in the competition. China exits the World Cup with just two wins from five matches, both of which were by 1-0 scorelines, and it didn’t control possession, tempo or play in most of the matches. The U.S. may have been in the quarterfinals where “nothing is easy,” as the saying goes, but this was as easy as it could have been.
Brian was good. So was O’Hara. The defense was as stout as ever, while the midfield moved the ball better than ever before. But it was China, and still the U.S. never threatened to blow the match wide open. This wasn’t a performance that the Americans should be looking to repeat because they won’t play China again. They won’t have it this easy again. There’s only so much that they can take from this.
The U.S. is getting better, but they were starting from a long way back, and this was the no. 16 team in the world. Next up is Germany. It’s the best of the best, and that best has looked miles better than anything the Americans have put forward.