Turns out, the American soccer coach Jill Ellis was exactly right. It did not matter what number was assigned to her formation; what counted was the way the players created their chances.
For the first time in this Women’s World Cup – their fifth match – the Americans showed imagination and teamwork.
Amy Rodriguez dribbled. Kelly O’Hara ran. Tobin Heath lashed left-footed free kicks. Morgan Brian distributed the ball. Where have these people been all our lives?
The result was a 1-0 victory over China Friday night in Ottawa, leading to a semifinal with Germany on Tuesday in Montreal.
I have to add that the energy and cohesion was not merely because Ellis had the wisdom to bench Abby Wambach, thereby allowing Carli Lloyd and everybody else to exploit the spaces and attack on their own.
As Laura Vecsey wrote on foxsports.com:
"’Freedom,’ is what Carli Lloyd said was the difference, though why that freedom to just play has been so hard to drum up remains a curious problem.”
That “freedom” was partially mandated by the absence of Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, both ineligible because of two previous yellow cards.
Rapinoe is probably my favorite player on this team – independent and athletic, fun to watch – although those young defenders have been a revelation. Still, in the stolid American attack Rapinoe had been taking on too much responsibility. With Rapinoe and Holiday sitting in the stands, their teammates busted out of that 4-4-2 stereotype.
They were not preoccupied with putting the ball near Wambach’s historic dome and they did not watch Rapinoe trying to do it by herself. They found space and they called upon their own talents. Freedom.
I’m not sure whom I would replace to get Rapinoe back in the starting lineup, but her gall and skill will be needed against Germany. The victory over China was a template for this U.S. team. The younger Americans have been let loose