A soft penalty and questionable selection: the US got lucky against Spain

Hope Solo
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

The United States got lucky against Spain. They didn’t score from open play and their second penalty was very soft – if it was a penalty at all. I watched the replay in the broadcasting booth over and over again, and none of us could see if Rose Lavelle was touched or not.

Spain’s quality should not have been a surprise. If you’d been properly prepared and watched their recent games – and then re-watched their games – you would know that this team was going to cause the US trouble, and could beat them.

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Spain have a quality team, and Jorge Vilda is an excellent coach. He has demanded the team have fantastic fitness levels and even though they play possession-oriented soccer they know when to go direct. They were organized on set pieces which is often the US’s strength. Their youth teams have an impressive recent record: they were runners-up in the last Under-20 Women’s World Cup and won the 2018 Under-17 Women’s World Cup. The development of Spanish women’s soccer has accelerated so much in the past four years. It shows what the outcomes can be if you invest in women’s football. It is amazing to see and I think they can win the World Cup in 2023.

Already playing against a great team, you never want to see a goalkeeper make the type of error that Alyssa Naeher made in the build up to Spain’s goal. So many goalkeepers have the right attributes to make game-winning saves but the position is also much more about decision-making. That ability is what sets great goalkeepers apart and it requires a whole different level of goalkeeping. What makes the position so tough is being able to read the game and make the right decisions under pressure. Alyssa has power and ability in the air but her decision-making needs to improve. The challenge for her is that decision-making often comes from experience and the ability to read the game. People often overlook how long it can take to get confident in your decision-making or to even change that aspect of one’s game.

Megan Rapinoe did very well to convert her penalties under pressure but I didn’t understand why Alex Morgan was about to take the second penalty and then walked away from it after the VAR delay. That showed she was off her game. Spain put her on the floor a few times early in the match and she didn’t overcome that. For her to be considered one of the best forwards she needs to step up and put that penalty away when she had the opportunity. Alex needs to score when it matters.

What will add to Friday’s quarter-final is that no one knows what to expect – from France or the US. The USA can’t prepare anything radical for France in just three days so on Friday they will give us what they’ve got. Without a doubt, Lindsey Horan needs to return to midfield. She can control the tempo of the game and helps keep possession. It seems Jill Ellis left Lindsey out against Spain to protect her from getting another yellow card and missing the quarter-final, but to me that was a little arrogant. Putting Lindsey on in the 89th minute seemed a little bizarre: she is either being protected or she isn’t.

The US defense is going to be what it is, so against France, Tobin Heath and Lavelle will need to add to their list of great games. Rapinoe will have to be at her best and I want to see Christen Press and Carli Lloyd come on earlier if they don’t start. There is so much depth on that team that should be used – and not in the final minutes of the game.

It’s to the US’s advantage that France are coming off an emotional and exhausting game against Brazil. I’m not sure France were the better team in that game and I’m not sure they have another victory in them, even though I chose France as my favorite to win the tournament. It is so hard to overcome the emotions from games like the one they played against Brazil so I hope they haven’t given us all they have. As the host nation, they have the weight of their country on their shoulders. We don’t yet know if that expectation is going to be an extra player for France – or the US.

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