USWNT beats Colombia 3-0 to advance to Gold Cup semifinals

The US Women's National Team survived a tough test against Colombia in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup on Sunday, winning 3-0 thanks to goals from Lindsey Horan, Jenna Nighswonger and Jaedyn Shaw.

While both teams tried to make their mark early on, the USWNT was able to deal with both Colombia's attacks, which relied mostly on Linda Caicedo, and a series of yellow cards from physical challenges. It was further proof that Naomi Kirma and Shaw are must-have USWNT starters.

An early penalty sets the tone

In the 11th minute, Colombia center back Zorelyn Caraballi shouldered Alex Morgan, resulting in a penalty kick for the United States and a yellow card for Caraballi. Foul Masala is just the beginning. If nothing else, it was a reminder that Morgan has had his body for this team for a long time.

In the box, Morgan claimed the ball and for two minutes, Trinity Rodman and Sam Coffey clashed with headers to try and delay Colombia's penalty kick.

The USWNT prefers a regular handover for this. As Horan received the ball from Morgan, there was one last attempt at a small PK distraction from Colombia (which didn't get a card). A big moment from the team's captain to set the tone for Sunday night in Los Angeles, Horan cleanly converted the penalty to give the USWNT a 1-0 lead. It was also a bit of a distraction from what was going to happen in the next phase of the match.

Mind games

After the penalty mess, the U.S. responded with its own particular brand of mind games, pressing hard down the field and forcing turnovers around the box, perhaps trying to capitalize on the moment tactically and emotionally.

Morgan received a yellow card in the 18th minute for some posturing in Colombia's box, and Rodman followed suit in the 20th minute. Horan can be seen trying to impose himself among the fighting soldiers; With four cumulative yellow cards already and one referee missing or refusing to heed the calls, it was her duty to keep everyone level. Horan received a yellow in the 67th minute for lifting his leg into the path of a player who pushed him down.

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Honestly, it's a tension that could see midfielder Emilie Sonnet earn a yellow and flip into Colombia. If the only consideration is his ability to troll other teams, Sonnett will be an unquestioned starter.

Jenna Nicewonker's goal in the 22nd minute calmed things down, but it was a highly contested and physical game. It was a strong test of the team's ability to keep up against an opposition that not only spurred them on, but had the technical ability to instantly punish any slippage in focus. Shaw's skilful, determinedly honest response to the third goal in particular is a great example of the ruthless mentality that helps drive this team forward.

U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naher mentioned the mental aspect when asked what she thought stood out for the team: “I think it was the intensity we started with from minute one to minute 90,” she said.

Nicewonker target, click reward

Since the Tokyo Olympics, many have been waiting for the next wave of young players to have a chance to establish themselves in the USDNT picture. That process may not have happened soon enough to help the team's chances at last summer's World Cup, but Sunday's line-up gave these rising talents a test in a competitive knockout match.

Throughout the first half, Shaw was dangerous in his front-line defending and in the opening 20 minutes did well to curl a shot that flew narrowly over the crossbar. On the right wing, Rodman recognized the stakes in the game and made his presence known to Colombia. However, it was an experienced flick-on pass from Morgan that gifted another great chance to Nicewonger, his second senior international goal.

Last year was a banner year for Nighswonger, winning NWSL Rookie of the Year as part of Gotham's run to the NWSL title. He has already provided some highlights for his follow-up, including his first international goal with a penalty against the Dominican Republic in the group stage. Giving her a chance to score during Sunday's game, she slid onto Morgan's header and crashed perfectly into the box to slot a shot into the net from the far post.

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USDNT's youth and tenacity helped keep Colombia from getting back on its feet as it relied on its chippy defending. Instead of calming the U.S., the constant attempts at mind games illuminated a more productive spark in the team's younger players. This was crucial in Colombia's build-up out of the backs, with the opposition's sloppy touches and quick passes leading to promising turnovers.

It's a drive that hasn't often been seen in this team over the last two years of Vladko Antonovski's tenure.

Shaw shines again

One of the biggest early decisions future U.S. coach Emma Hayes will have to make at this summer's Olympics is which players from a promising offensive line will make the trip to Paris. Some seem locked in, while others depend on form and health: the seemingly revitalized Morgan and the returning Mallory Swanson. The Gotham duo of Lynn Williams and Midge Burse also have a lot to say in their case for inclusion.

Don't forget to count the San Diego Wave's Shaw among the contenders. In fact, she may be closer to joining the “sure thing” crowd than some estimate.

The winner of US Soccer's Young Player of the Year award in 2022, Shaw was no less electric with San Diego. Having turned 19 in November, he has been an ever-present in all phases as the starting left-back on Sundays. His pressing was instrumental in unsettling the Colombian defence, while his movement in sync with Morgan and Rodman ended up in a good position towards the end of the first half.

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Particularly helpful for her Olympic campaign is her versatility, capable of lining up on a wing and in a central attacking midfield role. That latter aspect will come in handy as the summer approaches, especially after Corbyn Albert's lackluster shift on Sunday, depending on the health of Caterina Macario and Rose Lavelle. Every fan will have their preference level, but the completeness of Shaw's game will make him a huge snub if he misses the Olympic team.

Nahar's Velocity Oscillation

In his 100th U.S. appearance, he helped preserve the team's clean sheet against Colombia, but more importantly, helped stabilize other players in his squad and swing the emotional momentum.

The first (above) was already reminiscent of Neher's skills, with Ilana Izquierda's second shot requiring a diving save to cover the far corner of the goal.

We've seen both Naeher and Casey Murphy so far this tournament for the USWNT, but on Sunday night, Naeher reminded everyone of her shot-stopping abilities. She was also willing to play outside the box to stop the singles runners from Colombia. As the team moves into the semifinals against Canada on Wednesday, it may be difficult to go back to any planned rotation at the goalkeeper position, so that Neher's momentum can be sustained for the remainder of the Gold Cup.

(Photo: Brad Smith/Getty Images for USSF))

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