Hours before the United States played Germany in the semifinals of the women’s World Cup on Tuesday, LA Times sportswriter Kevin Baxter, who has been in Canada covering the tournament, was asked to predict the winner of a match between the top two teams in the world.
“I said, ‘You know, I don’t see any way that the U.S. is going to beat this German team. I think it’ll be close. I think it’ll be 1-0, maybe 2-1,” Baxter recalled on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “So let me predict that the U.S. is going to win this game 2-0, and they’re going to win on a penalty shot by Carli Lloyd and on another shot later by Kelley O’Hara. So at least one of these radio shows, I’m going to get this right.”
All kidding aside, the Americans entered as underdogs but dominated much of the possession and attack against Germany, especially after the first 10 minutes.
“I think the Germans appeared to be totally surprised by the Americans’ speed,” Baxter said. “I’ve covered this team for several years now and have seen them play dozens of games. I personally have never seen Alex Morgan run that well. She looks phenomenal.”
Germany, which had the best offense throughout the tournament, looked flummoxed for much of the match. The Germans had scored 20 goals through five games and averaged 10 shots on goal. Against the U.S., however, they got just one shot on goal – in the eighth minute.
“The Germans just had no answer,” Baxter said. “They looked plodding. They just looked very slow compared to the Americans. They couldn’t break down the American defense. It was just a superb effort by the U.S.”
It was also one we hadn’t seen yet from the Americans in this tournament. The U.S. had lackluster 1-0 wins over Nigeria and China and struggled through a scoreless draw with Sweden.
On Tuesday, though, the Americans looked like many expected them to look all along: like one of the best teams in the world.
“It didn’t look like the U.S. had it in them,” Baxter said. “Well, they sure did today. It was a complete performance all the way around.”
The game turned early in the second half when Celia Sasic’s penalty kick went wide left, missing the net completely. Nine minutes later, Lloyd scored on a PK of her own and assisted on a goal by O’Hara in the 85th minute to seal the deal.
Abby Wambach came on as a late sub for the Americans, who are back in the final for the second straight World Cup.
“I think it was clear what (Jill Ellis) was thinking (against Germany),” Baxter said. “They wanted the speed. They wanted the mobility. Abby is the highest-scoring player in international soccer history – male or female – with 183 goals, but she’s looking every bit her 35 years in this tournament. She’s slow. She can’t get up and down the field. Even in her prime, she wasn’t a fast player, but she can’t get up and down the field the way Jill wants them to now.”
Ellis also tweaked the midfield a bit, which proved to be the difference.
“She had some midfielders pushing forward like Carli Lloyd, and she had others like Morgan Brian staying back to play on defense,” Baxter explained. “It was sort of a little bit of a modified diamond in the midfield, and it worked. The U.S. was able to go from the midfield and push forward on offense on the attack with Carli Lloyd and they were able to drop back with Morgan Brian on defense. I think a lot of people – at least observers from outside the locker room – had wondered what Jill Ellis was doing in this tournament and why the U.S. was not coming together. She said all along, ‘I don’t want to peak too soon,’ and they peaked at the right time today.”
The Americans will face either Japan or England in the final this Sunday. The U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final in 2011 but would gladly welcome a rematch, especially after pulling off the upset against Germany.
“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” Baxter said. “My predictions earlier aside, I still think this was a huge upset. The U.S. has a great team. It’s not a surprising upset, but Germany was favored 2:1 in the betting houses in England, so a lot of other people thought the Germans were going to win, too. Just a great effort all the way around by the Americans.”