Commentary

U.S. women's report card

The Americans are on their way to the quarterfinals

Updated: July 28, 2012, 4:08 PM ET
By Jeff Carlisle | ESPN.com

Abby WambachGraham Stuart/AFP/Getty ImagesWith three goals, including one from Abby Wambach, Team USA shut out Colombia and cruised into the Olympic quarterfinals.

Abby Wambach knows how to take a punch. She knows how to deliver the killer blow, as well, as her second-half goal allowed the U.S. women's national team to clinch a 3-0 victory over Colombia in its second group-stage match of the Olympics.

Megan Rapinoe gave the U.S. a first-half lead and Carli Lloyd added another tally to complete the scoring over a game Colombia side. In fact, Las Cafeteras were too feisty at times, as midfielder Lady Andrade smacked Wambach in the face in a first-half incident that deserved a red card yet went unnoticed by the referee.

But Wambach and the rest of U.S. squad remained unflustered and stuck to their task. And, although the attack wasn't quite as dynamic as it was against France, it proved sufficient to claim all three points and clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. Rapinoe, in particular, continued to put her stamp on the tournament, adding an assist on Lloyd's goal.

U.S. manager Pia Sundhage made three changes to her lineup from the team that beat France 4-2. Lloyd, fresh off her stellar play as a substitute in that match, replaced injured Shannon Boxx in the center of midfield. The right flank saw a pair of changes, as well, with Heather Mitts and Heather O'Reilly playing in place of Amy LePeilbet and Tobin Heath and Rapinoe moving to the left wing.

Colombia manager Ricardo Rozo also made three alterations, with Tatiana Ariza, Nataly Arias and Ingrid Vidal all on the field from the start.

The U.S. started out dominating position and finding plenty of space on the flanks, but a combination of wayward crosses and solid defending kept the reigning Olympic champions at bay. Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda did her bit, as well, tipping a drive from Wambach over the bar in the 12th minute.

Las Cafeteras eventually settled into the match and did have their moments in attack, creating a few half-chances. Orianica Velasquez and Vidal began causing problems for the U.S. defense by dropping back and combining in the space between the back line and midfield. One such exchange created an opening for Carmen Rodallega, but the Colombia attacker shanked her shot wide with O'Reilly applying some late pressure.

The U.S. nearly broke on top in the 28th minute when Sepulveda came out for Christie Rampone's free kick and failed to make much contact, only to be bailed out by Natalia Gaitan's clearance. The U.S. didn't have to wait much longer to break on top, however. Good hustle by Alex Morgan enabled her to win the ball in the attacking third, and her square pass to Rapinoe allowed the U.S. midfielder to settle the ball and hit an arcing shot over Sepulveda for the game's first goal.

The U.S. twice nearly grabbed a second before halftime. Cheney's 43rd-minute header from a Kelley O'Hara cross was well saved by Sepulveda, and Gaitan was called on again to clear Rapinoe's stoppage time effort off the line.

The second half saw the U.S. tighten its grip on the game, dominating possession even as the second goal proved elusive. Colombia continued to battle hard, but any hopes of a miracle were put to rest in the 74th minute. Wambach pounced on a loose ball in midfield and played a quick combination with Heath to get a clear look at goal, and her low shot settled into the far corner for a 2-0 lead.

With the pressure released, the U.S. pressed for another goal. Wambach barely missed adding to her tally when she rattled the bar, then Lloyd padded the U.S. lead in the 77th minute. A patient buildup ended with Rapinoe's through ball picking out Lloyd's late run, and she easily beat Sepulveda in the Colombia goal.

All in all, it was a case of job done for the U.S., and the team will head into its final group match against North Korea with the luxury of using its depth even more. In particular, Sundhage needs to find a way to give Lloyd a breather. The U.S. midfielder was effective once again, but, with Boxx's status still unclear because of her hamstring injury, Lloyd likely will have to log heavy minutes as the tournament progresses. Now is the time to ease her workload.

Defensively, the U.S. delivered a better performance than it did against France, but Colombia troubled the back line enough, especially in transition, to give Sundhage some items to ponder.

As for the attack, the U.S. continues to pump in the goals, even on a day when the passing in the attacking third wasn't at its best. That bodes well for a side that proved it can dish out punishment on the scoreboard, even as Wambach was forced to take some on the pitch.

Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best)

G Hope Solo, 6.5 -- Kept her concentration when Colombia tried to test her from distance and was otherwise untroubled.

D Kelley O'Hara, 6 -- A more consistent effort in all facets from the Stanford product, and she did well in the attacking half. Had a nice cross to Cheney for a header that forced a sharp save from Sepulveda.

D Rachel Buehler, 6 -- Solid for the most part, although there were moments when she dropped off too deep.

D Christie Rampone, 6 -- A better performance from the U.S. captain in that she was better with her decision-making. Like Buehler, needed to communicate a bit better with the midfield as opposition forwards dropped into midfield.

D Heather Mitts, 5 -- Looked to be the weakest link in the back, going to ground on one challenge when she didn't need to. Like the rest of the U.S. defense, wasn't bothered too much in the second half.

M Megan Rapinoe, 7 -- Shook free on the left flank, but also found time to get in the box and took her goal well. Only minor criticism was her tendency toward flair when simplicity was needed, but she took the lesson to heart as her simple pass set up Lloyd's goal.

M Carli Lloyd, 6.5 -- A more understated performance as she struggled to keep track of the Colombia attackers. But overall kept the U.S. attack ticking over and took her goal well.

M Lauren Cheney, 6 -- Was better with her touches than against France and nearly bagged a goal in the first half. Still seems as if she is lacking a bit of sharpness.

M Heather O'Reilly, 5 -- Almost caught napping defensively on Rodallega's first-half chance. Had plenty of opportunities to deliver good crosses, but too often they failed to find the target.

F Abby Wambach, 6.5 -- Took a nasty punch from Andrade but kept at it, and scored a deserved goal. She didn't seem to always be in sync with Morgan, but it proved to be more than enough on the day.

F Alex Morgan, 5.5 -- Was rewarded for her defensive effort on Rapinoe's goal, helping to win the ball with her tackling. Struggled a bit with the timing of her runs, however, and overall her link play could have been sharper.

Subs:

M Tobin Heath, 6.5 -- Came on and provided a well-weighted pass to set up Wambach's goal. Her spot in the starting lineup seems secure.

F Sydney Leroux, 6 -- Came on and brought tons of energy in a bid to get her first Olympic goal.

M Amy Rodriguez, NR -- Late appearance for Rodriguez in place of Rapinoe.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet.