The scoreline says it was a narrow win, but the performance on the field was something fans of the United States have been looking for since before the tournament started.
First, the bad:
Carli Lloyd, what what what are you doing? - Despite her fantastic goal in the 51', Lloyd has otherwise been a mystery wrapped in an enigma trapped inside a puzzle box during this tournament. She's theoretically acting as an attacking midfielder, controlling the pace from the mid. She's done no such thing while in Canada and has become prone to turnovers. Against China she sometimes seemed bewildered, unaware that a Chinese player was running on to her position and was about to push her off the ball, or unable to complete a pass under pressure. There were flashes of the player she can be; see, for example, nodding down a perfect ball to Alex Morgan at the end of the first half. But you have to think that if Lloyd is truly 100%, the United States would have been that much more impressive in the attack.
Tobin Heath, she of 1000 touches on the ball - Heath got shifted over to the left today to compensate for the absence of Megan Rapinoe, but wasn't quite the same creative force as the USWNT's resident trickster. Today Heath took about seven or eight touches on the ball when two or three would have sufficed, and several times missed out on tantalizing runs by Alex Morgan or Amy Rodriguez.
Abby Wambach, party pooper - Sometimes you're in a club and the DJ is spinning well and the rhythm is good. Then they hit a song that just kills all the momentum, leaving you on the dance floor swaying uncertainly, looking around you to see if anyone else is still into it. In this game, Abby Wambach was that song.
But then there's the good, and there's a lot of it:
The defense, continuing to handle their business - Becky Sauerbrunn is the smartest center back in the game at the moment and Julie Johnston steps to anyone and everyone while also posing a goalscoring threat on set pieces. Klingenberg not only covers her end but also has steadily improved in her combinations moving the ball up the right. Krieger is as stalwart as ever. Honestly they should just sandblast Mount Rushmore down to a blank canvas and redo it with this back line.
#USWNT backline of Klingenberg, Sauerbrunn, Johnston and Krieger (w/Solo in goal) now has a 0.18 goals against average in 11 starts together— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) June 27, 2015
Attackers not named Abby Wambach - Amy Rodriguez might have flubbed a prime chance on goal with her first touch, but she definitely wasn't ineffective out there. Her constant running around the attacking third created all sorts of opportunities and opened up spaces, giving Alex Morgan and Kelley O'Hara some room to maneuver. Alex Morgan kept getting caught offside early in the game, but then she adjusted, and was also able to create some danger despite China closing in around like white blood cells attacking an infection. Christen Press did very well around the 18 in holding the ball while waiting for help or creating opportunities, especially once Heather O'Reilly subbed in, which allowed Press to move up top. O'Reilly herself had limited time on the field, but looked dangerous once she warmed up. Kelley O'Hara was magnificent, moving the ball, making runs, sending in service, and showing off what she can do when unchained from the bench and allowed to run around the midfield with vim and vigor—until she took a big hit to the face and ended up with a bloody nose.
(The Bent Musket does not advocate the doxxing of anyone.)
Morgan Brian, the midfielder we needed - Though essentially a square peg being hammered into a round defensive-mid-shaped hole, Brian performed admirably. She broke up plays and distributed the ball with her head up. She helped keep the middle as calm as possible and battled hard for fifty/fifty balls. It would be nice to see what she could pushed forward into her more natural role as an attacking mid—possibly pairing with Lloyd, or possibly even replacing her, depending on the formation.
There was a lot to like about this game. The team looked very different to its group- and round-of-16 self, in the best way possible. Had Heather O'Reilly been subbed in with a little more time to run and get into the rhythm, there was a very good chance she would have been able to create something for either Press or Wambach. Kelley O'Hara played like her future depended on it. China was limited in their attacks on the American goal, giving Hope Solo not a lot to do. The American attack seemed revitalized, especially in the first half.
Before this game, many critics were groaning at the prospect of facing either France or Germany in semis. After this game it's still a hard ask, but doesn't seem so terrifying anymore. This team looks like the kind of team that not only can win the whole tournament, but deserves to win as well.