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MONTREAL – Captain Carli, Captain America.
Carli Lloyd did it again, burying a penalty kick, hurling a Jersey-branded cussword into the bedlam and then setting up Kelley O'Hara for the clinching goal as the United States beat favored Germany 2-0 to advance to the Women's World Cup final on Sunday in Vancouver.
Lloyd's first highlight came only a few moments after Germany's lowlight, as Celia Sasic completely missed the net on her own penalty kick. That was the difference in the match, as the American defense locked it down for yet another shutout. Hope Solo and Co. have still only allowed one goal in the entire tournament.
"It's a spectacular stat, to be honest," head coach Jill Ellis said of the shutout streak, now at a remarkable 513 minutes.
The U.S. came out with a surprise, as coach Jill Ellis ditched her much-maligned 4-4-2 formation and went with a 4-2-3-1 plan featuring Alex Morgan as the lone striker. It worked marvelously, as Morgan had several good chances throughout the night. The most important came when she was fouled entering the penalty area as it led to Lloyd's game-winning goal.
Germany coach Silvia Nied said Morgan was tripped up "clearly outside of the goal area," but there were a flurry of American scoring chances throughout the night. Also, her team couldn't capitalize on the one it had.
"We did a good job getting behind their back line," Morgan said. "We could have exploited them a lot more."
Even one of the German players admitted the U.S. took the play to them from the beginning. "They were very aggressive," forward Anja Mittag said. "They were good at holding the ball."
That has been the key to the last two games. The center of the field, a place of muck and mire for the USA during group play, is now a staging area. Morgan Brian, who sustained a head injury in the middle of the match and returned alarmingly quickly from it, has served as the perfect gatekeeper against far more experienced players. She was the youngest American on the field on Tuesday, born in 1993, and still she seemed very comfortable with a position that is still somewhat new to her.
"I told her a year ago she would be starting in the World Cup," said fellow midfielder Lauren Holiday, who returned from a one-game suspension along with Megan Rapinoe. "Defensively, she has controlled the center of the field. She's owned it."
And that has sprung Lloyd loose. The morphed midfield has changed the entire dynamic of the team, as Lloyd has created each of the last three U.S. goals. The O'Hara tally, which started with a Meghan Klingenberg pass and set up by Lloyd's cross, was the kind of pretty play the Americans couldn't buy earlier in the tournament.
Lloyd is only the third U.S. national team player to score in three straight World Cup matches. Ellis and her coaching staff had been trying to figure out how to get her started, but now either Japan or England must figure out how to stop her.
The Americans fly west on Wednesday with full momentum and a chance to redeem themselves for the 2011 World Cup final loss to Japan. Abby Wambach, once again a substitute on Tuesday, said the team would be discussing the missed opportunities of the past.
"Could you have done just a little more?" she asked in the press area after the match, all but rehearsing the speech she would give in her World Cup swan song.
The U.S. is already doing a lot more than it did only a week ago. A group that wobbled early on is now playing with fury on both offense and defense. After the final whistle, Ellis pumped her fist and displayed a proud grin as her team celebrated.
Captain Carli and the Americans are only one match away from a world championship.
"We didn't come here to make the final," Lloyd said. "We came here to win it."