The United States women’s national team staved off elimination and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada thanks to a 3-0 win over China on Tuesday afternoon. Lindsey Horan scored the first two goals and Rose Lavelle got the third.
Going into the game, the situation looked perilous for the American defending champions. After two shaky outings against Germany (2-0 loss) and Brazil (a late 1-0 victory), respectively, a loss would have sent them home in what would have been the worst-ever USA performance at this tournament. Even a tie might not have been enough.
But the USA finally delivered a complete performance befitting their talent and stature in the women’s youth game. They pressed high and hard, keeping their lines tight and the passing lanes clogged. And their ball movement and initiative was vastly improved. Horan, dropped into the midfield from her regular job as striker to help make the play in the hole, played speculative through balls between the Chinese defenders, unsettling the opponents.
Quick movement, sharp runs off snappy transitions and predatory prodding passes on the ground put China on the back foot early. Whereas the Americans spent their first two games almost entirely on their heels, it was not until half an hour into the game that China put together an extended offensive this time around. But they were behind by then.
The Americans hit the woodwork for the first of three times in the fourth minute. Lavelle threw in, Horan headed on and Mallory Pugh then sent a looping header caroming off the far post.
They hit the post again in the 16th minute. On another lovely attacking play, several Americans crashed the box. But before anybody could tap in a rebound in front of an open net, a defender slid the ball off her own frame and out in agonizingly slow fashion.
But then, the USA was finally rewarded. Horan, the team’s only professional and obvious standout, won the ball off a defender in China’s box and volleyed a rocket of a shot off the underside of the bar, which bounced behind the line and back out. It was rightly given.
In the 30th minute, it was the woodwork again. A Katie Naughton header came off the bar and she then saw her own rebound header tipped over the bar by China’s goalkeeper.
The Americans withstood some pressure but broke China’s resistance with a second tally in the 38th minute. A corner was knocked down by a defender and fell to Horan by the penalty spot. She swept it home through the crowd in the box for her third goal of the tournament — and just the USA’s third goal overall.
In the second half, the game slowed somewhat as the outcome already seemed set. The USA got a third in the 49th minute as Lavelle dispatched Horan on the right. She ran at the penalty area before cutting the ball back for the streaking Lavelle, who finished cleanly from inside the box.
The sides exchanged a few more chances late on and Margaret Purce and Horan should probably have converted one of two of them. But the final score had already been registered.
After a fraught group stage, the Americans now advance to the quarterfinals, where they will likely face another tournament favorite in North Korea in Toronto on Saturday. From there on, the tournament will only get tougher. But at least the Americans have rediscovered their form.