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The United States Women’s National Team won 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup against Colombia thanks to goals from Lindsey Horan, Jenna Nigswonger and Jadyn Shaw.

With both teams trying to make their mark early on, the USWNT was able to overcome both the Colombian attacks, which relied solely on Linda Caicedo, and the yellow card controversy due to physical challenges. The result was further evidence that Naomi Grace and Shaw are the USWNT’s starters.

Early punishment sets the tone.

In the 11th minute, Colombia center back Jorelyn Caraballi was checked on the shoulder by Alex Morgan, who was awarded a penalty for the United States and Caraballi was shown a yellow card. The bad spice was just the beginning. If nothing else, it was a reminder that Morgan has her body on the line for this team for a long time.

In the box, Morgan took the ball and for two long minutes he resisted all efforts to delay Colombia’s free-kicks, before Trinity Rodman and Sam Coffey finally headed home.

The USWNT has fallen a familiar hand to this. As Horan received the ball from Morgan, there was one last attempt to draw attention to a small puck from Colombia (which did not result in a card). Horan converted a clean penalty kick to give the USW a 1-0 lead in a big moment from the team captain on Sunday night in Los Angeles. It’s also served as a bit of a buffer to what’s to come in the next phase of the match.

Mind games

The US responded after the penalty kick with its own unique mind games, counter-attacking high up the field and forcing turnovers around the box, perhaps trying to use the moment tactically and emotionally.

Morgan was yellow carded in the Colombia box in the 18th minute and Rodman followed up by saying she had some choice words after defending strongly in the 20th minute. Horan can be seen trying to impose herself among the quarreling players; In the past, she was a referee who had to keep everyone on an equal footing, issuing a total of four yellow cards and prone to getting lost or simply not seeing calls. Horan herself received a yellow in the 67th minute for shoving her foot down in the path of a player.

In fact, midfielder Emilie Sonnett was a strain that could have earned the yellows by flipping for Colombia. If ability to drive other teams is the only consideration, Sonnett will be the undisputed starter.

Jenna Nigswonger’s goal in the 22nd minute settled things down, but it remained a hotly contested and physical game. It was a tough test, showing that the team not only has the technical ability to not only irritate their opponents but to punish any slippage of concentration in an instant. Shaw’s intelligent and poised response to the third goal, in particular, was an excellent example of the kind of gritty mentality that will help propel this team forward.

When asked what she thought was different about the team, U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naher explained the mental aspect: “I think it was the strength we started from the first minute to the 90th minute,” she said.

Nighswonger goal, press and reward

Since the Tokyo Olympics, many have been waiting for the next generation of young players to have a chance to establish themselves in the USWNT picture. That process may not have been long enough to help the team’s World Cup chances last summer, but Sunday’s lineup gave these rising talents a test in the tournament’s playoffs.

In the first half, Shaw was dangerous in front of the defense and used a good shot in the first 20 minutes. On the right wing, Rodman realized his role and made his presence known to Colombia. But it was Morgan’s cross that set up another senior keeper, Nigswonger, for her second international goal.

Last year was a banner year for Nigswonger, winning NWSL Rookie of the Year as part of Gotham’s run to the NWSL title. She gave her fans two highlights, including her first international goal with a free-kick against the Dominican Republic at the group stage. Sunday gave her a chance to score in the match, when she made a good cross into the box and hit Morgan on the forehead before curling a long shot into the net.

The youth and determination of the USWNT helped Colombia not regain ground as they relied on chippy defense. Rather than bothering the United States, the constant attempts at mind games seemed to ignite a more productive spark in the team’s younger players. That was especially important in disrupting Colombia’s build-up at the back, forcing successful touches from opponents and stifling passes that lead to promising turnovers.

During Vlatko Andonovski’s tenure, it was the type of car that seemed to be missing from this team so often over the last two years.

Shaw lights up again.

Heading into this summer’s Olympics, one of the big early decisions that future USA coach Emma Hayes will have to make is the trip to Paris for her promising offensive linemen. Some seem locked in, others depend on form and health: the seemingly rejuvenated Morgan and the returning Mallory Swanson. Gotham’s duo of Lynne Williams and Midge Purse will have a lot to say about their case.

Don’t forget to count the San Diego Wave Show among the contenders. In fact, she may be closer to joining the “proven” crowd than some guesswork.

In the year Shaw, the winner of the 2022 US Soccer Young Women’s Player Award, was nothing short of electric against San Diego. Having just turned 19 in November, Sunday was a left winger at every level. Her pressure helped to calm the Colombian defense and her work with Morgan and Rodman was rewarded with a good finish late in the first half.

Especially helpful for her Olympic cause is her versatile ability to play both wing and central attacking midfielder roles. Depending on the health of Katarina Macario and Rose Lavelle as the summer approaches, that latter aspect could come in handy, especially after a poor shift by Corbin Albert on Sunday. Every fan will have their own preference hierarchy, but Shaw’s game makes her a huge underdog if she misses out on the entire Olympic team.

Naher’s momentum swing

In her 100th U.S. cap, Naher made two huge saves that helped keep the team’s clean sheet against Colombia, but more importantly, she helped calm the rest of her team and create an emotional spark.

While the first (above) was an impressive reminder of Naher’s abilities, the second saw Ilana Izquierda shoot into the far corner of the goal and make a diving save.

We’ve seen both Naher and Casey Murphy so far this USWNT tournament, but on Sunday night, Naher reminded everyone of her shot-stopping abilities. She had other moments of attack, willing to play outside the box to shut down single runners from Colombia. As the team moves into Wednesday’s semifinal against Canada, it could be difficult to return to any planned rotation at the goaltending position to see Naher’s performance through the remainder of the Gold Cup.

(Photo: Brad Smith/Getty Images for USSF)