Set to appear in their fourth Women’s World Cup final, the United States has enjoyed some incredible performances up and down the roster. Coach Jill Ellis’ side punched their way into the championship after a tight and gritty 2-0 victory over tournament-favorites Germany in the semifinals Tuesday in Montreal, specifically overcoming some poor fouls at critical junctures.
"I thought it was an unbelievable duel between two tremendous teams," Ellis told reporters after the match. "We're delighted to be moving on. ... Really, really pleased and proud of the players. I thought they stepped up and they did a fantastic job tonight."
This world-class squad hasn’t exactly overwhelmed opponents with its attack, netting nine total goals through six matches, but rather silenced some athletic and talented offenses with stalwart defensive efforts. Nowhere was this fact more evident than the victory over a German squad that netted 20 goals over its five previous matches to lead the entire tournament.
Ellis and her squad have said all the proper things throughout this gauntlet, crediting the team effort and unity for their success. But five players in particular have stood out the most throughout this year’s tournament to put the U.S. in line for its first title in 16 years and third overall.
Hope Solo, GK
Though the 33-year-old entered the tournament amidst controversy and has only spoken to the media once, Solo’s put together one of her best performances on any level. She’s totaled 12 saves over six matches, and has let up one goal, an equalizer to Australia in the opener that was eventually erased by another player on this list. But since then Solo’s gone more than 513 minutes without surrendering a goal.
She even illustrated her leadership late against the Germans when she comforted Julie Johnston for her unwise foul in the 59th minute that could’ve completely altered the match. Johnston giftwrapped Germany a penalty kick after she allowed Alexandra Popp to get behind her and then pulled Popp down to make up for the poor play. Germany’s Celia Sasic would miss the penalty just wide left, and Solo calmed the crying Johnston down saying: “We got it. We’re still in it!”
Carli Lloyd, MF
A third of the U.S.’s goals have come from the foot of Lloyd, padding her international total to 66 goals over 201 appearances in her illustrious career, and she’s in line to secure the tournament’s Golden Ball trophy even if the U.S. fall in the final.
Lloyd’s shown her mettle at all the key moments for the U.S. She netted the winning goal against China in the quarterfinals, a squeaker of a 1-0 victory, converted the penalty against Germany in the 69th minute to put the U.S. up and then diced through Germany’s talented backline to set up Kelly O’Hara’s goal in the 84th.
There’s little doubt that whoever the U.S. faces in the final, stopping Lloyd will be first on their gameplan.
Megan Rapinoe, MF
Rapinoe is second on the team with two goals, both of which came against Australia to silence any chance of an upset, and though she hasn’t scored since she remains a threat to every opponent. It's more likely the U.S. attack would have been more potent had Rapinoe not been suspended for the quarterfinals against China.
She’s one of the most emotional players on the field, neck-and-neck with Abby Wambach, and like Wambach Rapinoe’s fuel comes from the disappointing loss to Japan in the 2011 finals. It’s a desire that will play a role whether its England or Japan that advances to face the U.S.
Julie Johnston, D, and Becky Sauerbrunn, D
Considering the litany of defenders that have helped Solo out so much throughout this tournament, it’s very difficult to say just these two deserve the most praise. Fellow defenders Meghan Klingenberg and Ali Krieger also deserve heaps of credit, but Sauerbrann, 30, has stood out as she took on more of a leadership role after appearing in only one match in 2011. And it seems like she’s grooming the 23-year-old Johnston for that same role. Johnston, possessing blistering speed capable of chasing down a forward if they manage to get behind her, can be forgiven for her gaffe against the Germans.