United States 3, Colombia 0

Anyone can sign autographs or pose for photos. The U.S. women

found a better way to say ”thank you” to the American military

members who turned their World Cup match into a home game.

The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup

with a 3-0 rout of Colombia on Saturday, delighting a sellout crowd

made up almost entirely of American fans. The team lined up for a

military salute after Heather O’Reilly’s opening goal, and Megan

Rapinoe grabbed a TV mic and sang ”Born in the USA” after she

scored.

”The troops came out to practice the other day, which was a

fantastic environment,” said Carli Lloyd, who scored the third

goal. ”We thought it would be good to salute them. It was fun,

something different.”

The two-time World Cup champions now play Sweden, one of two

teams to beat them this year, on Wednesday in Wolfsburg to

determine the Group C winner. The Americans and Sweden both have

six points, but the U.S. leads the group on goal differential and

can claim the top spot with a victory or a tie.

Colombia is a team on the rise, finishing fourth at the Under-20

World Cup last year. But this is its first World Cup appearance,

and the youngsters were no match for the deeper, more experienced

Americans. The U.S. harassed goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda

relentlessly, forcing her to work more in this game than some

goalkeepers will work all tournament.

She didn’t get much help from her backline, which was shredded

by the speedy O’Reilly time and again.

”It’s a growing experience,” said defender Nataly Arias, who

was born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area. ”It was their

size, their speed. They’re all big, they’re all fast, they’re all

agile.”

And it could have been even worse for the Colombians. The

Americans missed at least a half-dozen other chances, and had a

whopping 27-12 advantage in shots. Abby Wambach missed so many

chances she had little choice but to laugh at her misfortunes by

the end of the game, and Rapinoe banged a shot off the

crossbar.

Colombia did get four shots on goal, with their best chance

coming in the 54th minute. Orianica Velasquez came in as a

substitute, immediately got possession and took a shot, but Hope

Solo punched it away.

”It’s a tough loss for us, obviously,” Arias said. ”At the

same time, I feel proud of what we did in this game.”

The Americans are feeling pretty good about themselves, too.

Though the U.S. is the top-ranked team in the world and the

defending Olympic champion, it was Germany, not the Americans

considered the favorite when the tournament began. They had dropped

three games in a five-month span after going more than two years

without a loss, and needed to win a two-game playoff with Italy

just to get to Germany.

But the U.S. rolled through its first two games, and its

confidence is growing with every win. Though Wambach has yet to

score and the Americans are struggling to finish shots, their five

goals have come from five different players.

”That’s a huge positive,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly made Colombia pay for its botched clearance of a goal

kick in the 12th minute, jumping on the ball after it bounced off

Liana Salazar. O’Reilly took a few steps and then blasted a

right-footed shot from 25 yards that Sepulveda had no chance to

stop. It was O’Reilly’s third World Cup goal, and 30th overall.

”Pia’s always saying, ‘If you have space in front of you, just

take it,”’ O’Reilly said. ”I took a couple of touches and just

let it fly.”

The crowd of 25,475 burst into cheers as the ball rolled around

the upper corner of the net, and the players lined up for their

salute. There is a U.S. Army base in nearby Mannheim, and about 350

service members and their families watched the team practice

Thursday.

”We were really moved and inspired by the support they gave

us,” O’Reilly said.

The Americans could have had another four or five goals just in

the first half alone. But, just as they have much of the year, they

struggled to finish. Wambach, one of the world’s best players in

the air, misdirected one header wide and sent another soaring over

the goal. Amy Rodriguez had a short chip shot blocked and skied a

rebound of a Wambach miss, and Sepulveda punched away a shot by

Lauren Cheney.

But the U.S. quickly put the game out of reach in the second

half, with Rapinoe scoring in the 50th minute and Lloyd in the

57th.

Rapinoe, who replaced Rodriguez at halftime, took a throw-in for

the U.S. that Cheney collected. She dished off to Rapinoe, who made

a thunderous shot from just inside the penalty box. As the crowd

roared, Rapinoe ran to the corner of the field, grabbed one of the

big, fuzzy TV mics and did her best Bruce Springsteen

imitation.

Lori Lindsey soon joined her, playing air guitar, and the game

took on a party atmosphere.

”It always helps to hear ‘USA’ chants and see so many flags,”

O’Reilly said. ”It builds us up even more.”

Follow Nancy Armour at http://twitter.com/nrarmour