No one ever said it was going to be easy for the United States Women’s National Team to follow their 2015 World Cup title with a 2016 Olympic gold medal. Tuesday night offered more proof that the Olympics will be far from effortless for Hope Solo and her teammates.
The USWNT entered the Olympic tournament with a target on their backs, and after two straight shutouts to open group play, they looked to close the group with another decisive win to send them into the tournament portion of the Olympics. However, the defending World Cup champions were challenged vehemently by an inspired Colombian squad, playing their final match of these Olympic Games, at Amazonia Arena in Manaus, Brazil. The teams fought to a 2-2 draw that left the U.S. somewhat stunned, but still allowed them to exit the group stage as the top seed out of Group G.
After a tough night to close out the group stage and an unexpected result, instead of looking back, Hope and Co. are looking forward with their eyes completely focused on what lies ahead in the knockout round.
“I have learned to have a short-term memory,” Hope said, “so I’m just going to put this game behind me and move on. Because I think there’s going to be some great football in the coming games, and I’m going to have to come up big and keep our team in it.”
One positive to come out of Tuesday’s game was the effectiveness of the USWNT youth movement. Young strikers Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh each notched their first Olympic tallies to offset two goals by Colombia, helping the USWNT emerge with one point—enough to edge France for the top spot in Group G.
While the young USA players got their kicks in, so too did Colombia, and both their scores came off free kicks. In fact, it was the Colombian women that got on the board first, in the 26th minute. A foul presented Colombia with a free kick opportunity just outside the box and South American forward Catalina Usme deftly curled her left-footed shot around defenders toward goal, where it stayed low to the ground and scooted between Hope’s legs on its way to the back of the net.
“That was a goal I wish I could take back,” Hope said. “It’s part of the position, and I don’t wish it on anybody. Being a goalkeeper is extremely difficult mentally. But I’ve been around long enough to know that these things do happen. They’ve happened to me before. You just hope they happen few and far between.”
With that goal, the Americans found themselves playing from behind for the first time during the Olympics — but that feeling didn’t last long.
Dunn leveled the match late in the half with an exciting tally in the 41st minute. The goal was set up by American captain Carli Lloyd, who beat her defenders before sending forth a strike that bounced off Colombian goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda. The shot ricocheted off the top of the crossbar, and Dunn was there to collect the rebound, skidding it back home with one solid strike.
Dunn was involved in the go-ahead goal early in the second half. The 24-year-old forward ran down the left side before bending a low-cross pass to Pugh on the right. The 18-year-old took control, dribbling the ball back toward the center. With yellow shirts swarming in on her, Pugh found an opening amongst six defenders and struck the ball into the net to put Team USA on top, 2-1 in the 59th minute.
With that goal, Pugh became the youngest American goal scorer ever in Olympic soccer.
The Americans held the lead through the remainder of the half until the waning seconds of regulation time. It was then that Usme notched her second tally of the day, with a spectacular kick from the right corner that had just enough curve on it to sneak into the top left corner of the goal, well out of Hope’s reach, and equalize the match in the 90th minute.
The teams played stoppage time without incident to end in a draw. Afterward Hope noted that though the match didn’t go the way the USWNT wanted or expected it to, they still got what they needed out of the match and they relish the opportunity to adjust course and move on into the tournament.
“I’m going to choose to have a short-term memory, and put this one behind us, put it behind me personally and just move forward,” Hope said after the game. “We got our point. We won our group. We have to focus on the next game in the quarterfinals. Ultimately, today isn’t the one that matters—what matters is that we’re standing on top of the podium come the final.”
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 10, 2016
With the tie, Team USA is now 5-0-1 versus Colombia all-time and 16-0-2 overall in 2016.
With seven points to lead the group, Team USA advances to the knockout stage, where they’ll face Sweden on Friday in the Quarterfinals.
The Americans continue their quest for their fourth straight gold against the sixth-ranked team in the world. So far in the Olympics, the Swedes have beaten South Africa 1-0, fallen to Brazil 5-1 and played to a draw with China 0-0, making them the third seed of Group E.
Kick-off at Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia is set for Noon ET. The match can be viewed on NBCSN and NBC Universo and streamed on NBCOlympics.com.