After two initial wins in the Olympics, against New Zealand and France, the U.S. showed its first sign of weakness on Tuesday.
It was a match where one of the U.S. women’s national team’s steadiest veterans, Hope Solo, produced a howler of a missed save in the first half, then let in a second free kick in the 90th minute. The U.S., for a short while, was down 1-0 to Colombia, then let its own 2-1 lead slip away.
But for all the pre-Olympic hand-wringing about a much younger national team than the one that won last year’s World Cup, it was 18-year-old Mallory Pugh who pushed the U.S. into the Olympic quarterfinals. Pugh became the youngest goal-scorer ever for the women’s national team, her score in the 59th minute giving the U.S. enough to withstand a 90th minute Colombia goal. The two tied 2-2, but the U.S. still managed to win its group.
For about 20 minutes bridging the first and second halves, the U.S. found themselves stuck in a 1-1 tie with Colombia, a team they had beaten 7-0 in a friendly earlier this year.
Solo’s picture of calm had already suffered a crack in the 26th minute, when Catalina Usme’s shot squirted past Solo’s outstretched hands, under her chest, between her legs and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. It was an embarrassment rarely seen from Solo, known as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.
“Hope has kept us in so many games. It’s only fair that we return the favor,” FC Kansas City and national team captain Becky Sauerbrunn said in an email message from Brazil. “Mistakes from her are extremely rare, but mistakes do happen.”
Crystal Dunn’s equalizer 15 minutes later helped soothe the angst. Carli Lloyd, who scored in the U.S.’ first two Olympic matches, got a strong shot off in the 41st minute that ricocheted off the crossbar. From there, Dunn found herself in a footrace with Colombia goalkeeper Sadra Sepulveda. Dunn got there first and sent in a right-footed bullet for the 1-1 tie.
But it was Pugh who gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead, one that nearly made it to a final score. Her initial shot bounced off one of her own teammates, but Pugh managed to keep possession of the rebound despite a traffic jam in the box. She snaked her way past two defenders, turned her hips in and fired a shot through the melee, giving the U.S. a 2-1 cushion.
But Colombia, who had not scored a goal in the Olympics until Tuesday, got another from Usme in the 90th minute. From a free kick spot, Usme sent a rocket over Solo’s hand and the rest of the U.S.’ back line to spoil the Americans’ sweep of Group G.
“Usme’s goal was a phenomenal strike,” Sauerbrunn said. “I don’t think it was saveable. What we needed to do better was not give away fouls in dangerous areas. We knew they had special set-piece players, and both their goals came from set pieces where we committed fouls in bad areas.”
Ending Olympic group play at 2-0-1, the U.S. will move on to the quarterfinals, to be played Aug. 12.
“Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. But we got the job done,” Sauerbrunn said. “Our aim now is to close this chapter and move on to the quarterfinals. We’ll correct what we did poorly in this game and go into the next game better for what happened tonight.”