U.S. marches past China into World Cup semis

U.S. Women’s soccer fans savored a sweet 1-0 victory Friday reminiscent to the indelible 1999 World Cup final against China.

The two countries faced each other for the first time since that momentous 120-minute match sixteen years ago where the U.S. pulled out ahead of the Chinese in a 5-4 penalty kick in the finals, becoming the first nation to win the Women’s World Cup on its home soil.

Friday’s game went 26 minutes shorter than the teams’ 1999 matchup, with considerably less intensity and drama as the U.S. dominated the field in all aspects, maintaining ball control 56 percent of the game and denying the Chinese any opportunity on their end of the field.

The quarterfinal match proved impeccable timing for a turnaround for the lackluster American offense even without star players Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday who were suspended for Friday’s match.

As favorite pick Abby Wambach started the game on the sideline, forward Amy Rodriguez made her first start for the U.S. and created many opportunities for the team to get on the board early.

Within minutes of kickoff, Rodriguez fed off a defense-splitting pass that was set perfectly in place in front of Chinese goalkeeper Wang Fei. Though the ball needed a simple one-touch finish, Rodriguez sent the ball extremely wide and dashed the hopes of an early lead. Rodriguez would go on to create more opportunities for the American offense in a spitfire way the team was lacking.

In her first World Cup, midfielder Morgan Brian offered needed support to the unstable midfield. Brian showcased the ease of a veteran player despite her being the youngest on the squad at 22. Her movements with the ball were fluid and her defensive pressure helped keep the Chinese at bay.

Veteran midfielder Carli Lloyd in her 200th cap sealed the fate of the Chinese when she beat defender Rong Zhao in the air off a spectacular deep ball from defender Julie Johnston in the 51st minute.

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The American backline continues its quintessential run and has yet to allow a goal in 423 minutes — a new FIFA Women’s World Cup record.

Michael Caley of SB Nation Soccer, created the rough xG sum for Friday’s game that reflects the strong American defense. The xG sum estimates the chances that teams have of scoring based on shot location, shot type, assist type and other factors on the field. According to the xG sum he created, China barely mustered a threat against U.S. and goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Johnston had a strong presence in the offense Friday and also stood as the brick wall the Chinese offense couldn’t break down. She has done well throughout the tournament at anticipating and reading the game and the ball’s movement, and is no doubt the future of this U.S. squad’s defense.

The one-goal victory does not reflect the way the team played Friday, and fans finally saw a glimpse of the World Cup team they were promised. Rough patches included turnovers from Lloyd and missed scoring opportunities throughout the roster. But adding Rodriguez, Brian, and midfielder Kelley O’Hara showed depth that the team has been lacking.

Head coach Jill Ellis and her team now face Germany Tuesday, who beat France Friday afternoon, in a battle to reach the final Sunday, July 5.