The USWNT beat Colombia 3-0 in a hard-fought match to advance to the Gold Cup semi-finals

The U.S. women's national team survived a tough test against Colombia in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup on Sunday, winning 3-0 on goals from Lindsay Horan, Jenna Nijsunger and Jayden Shaw.

While both teams tried to make their mark early, the USWNT was able to withstand Colombia's attacks, which often relied solely on Linda Caicedo, and an array of yellow cards for physical challenges. The result was also further proof that Naomi Girma and Shaw should be USWNT players.

An early penalty kick sets the tone

In the 11th minute, Colombian centre-back Jurilen Carabali shoulder-checked Alex Morgan, resulting in a penalty kick for the United States and a yellow card for Carabali. The error was just the beginning of the spices. If nothing else, it served as a reminder that Morgan has put her body on the line for this team for a long time.

In the box, Morgan took possession and, for two long minutes, held off most of Colombia's attempts to delay a penalty kick before Trinity Rodman and Sam Coffey also headed home the winner.

The USWNT preferred the usual handoff process for this. When Horan got the ball from Morgan, there was a last ditch effort by Colombia to distract the PK a bit (which didn't result in a card). Horan converted the penalty cleanly to give the USWNT a 1-0 lead, a big moment from the team captain to set the tone on Sunday night in Los Angeles. It is also provided to act as a bit of a buffer from what might happen during the next phase of the match.

Mind games

The United States responded to the shootout chaos with its own kind of mind games by intensely counter-pressing up the pitch and forcing the ball around the penalty area, perhaps trying to capitalize on the moment tactically and emotionally.

Morgan received a yellow card in the 18th minute due to some situations inside the Colombian penalty area, and Rodman followed suit in the 20th minute, where she received some choice words after defending strongly. Horan can be seen trying to impose herself among the warring players. With four yellow cards already accumulating and a referee who was prone to missing or simply refusing to notice the calls, she had to keep everyone off balance. Horan herself received a yellow card in the 67th minute for raising her leg into the path of a player who had just pushed her down.

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Frankly, this was the kind of tension that could have caused midfielder Emily Sonnett to earn Colombia a booking. If the ability to harass other teams was the only consideration, Sonnett would be an undisputed starter.

Jenna Nighswonger's goal in the 22nd minute calmed things down, but it remained a very physical and controversial match. It was a tough test of the team's ability to keep performing against an opponent who could not only provoke them, but had the technical ability to instantly punish any lapse in concentration. The smart, steady response from Shaw on the third goal in particular was a great example of the kind of relentless mentality that can help move this team forward.

American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher pointed to the mental aspect when asked what she thought set the team apart: โ€œI think just the intensity we had from the first minute, all the way to the 90th minute.โ€

Nighswonger target, tap and reward

Since the Tokyo Olympics, many have been waiting for the next wave of young players to get opportunities to prove themselves in the USWNT picture. It may not have happened soon enough to help the team's chances at the World Cup last summer, but Sunday's squad gave many of these emerging talents a test in the knockout stage of the tournament.

Throughout the first half, Shaw was dangerous through her front line and she fired a neat shot over the crossbar in the opening 20 minutes. On the right wing, Rodman recognized the importance of the match and made her presence known to Colombia. However, it was the veteran Morgan's pass that provided another standout player, Nijsรถnger, with her second international goal.

Last year was a banner year for Nighswonger, as he won NFL Rookie of the Year honors as part of Gotham's run to the NFL title. She has already provided some highlights to follow, including her first international goal from the penalty spot against the Dominican Republic in the group stage. On Sunday it gave her a chance to score during the run of play, as she perfectly cut into the box to slide onto Morgan's header and fire a shot from the far post into the net.

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The USWNT's youth and determination helped prevent Colombia from regaining a foothold as it relied on its scrappy defence. Rather than worrying the United States, the constant attempts to play mind games seemed to ignite a more productive spark in the team's younger players. This proved particularly important in stifling Colombia's defensive build-up from the back, forcing opponents into quick passes that led to promising turnovers.

It was the kind of drive that often seemed missing on this team during the final two years of Vlatko Andonovski's tenure.

What shines again?

With the Olympics approaching this summer, one of the biggest early decisions future USA coach Emma Hayes will have to make is which players from a promising group of forwards will make the trip to Paris. Some look locked in, while others rely on form and health: Morgan appears to be revitalized and Mallory Swanson is returning. The Gotham duo of Lynn Williams and Midge Pierce will have plenty to say on their issues of inclusion as well.

Don't forget to count Shaw from the San Diego Wave among the contenders. In fact, you may be closer to joining the “sure thing” crowd than some estimates suggest.

The 2022 US Soccer Young Player of the Year, Shaw has been nothing short of impressive for San Diego. Having just turned 19 in November, she was ever-present as a starting left winger on Sunday. Her pressing was effective in unsettling the Colombian defence, while her synchronized movements with Morgan and Rodman were rewarded with a well-placed shot on the stroke of half-time.

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Particularly helping her Olympic status is her versatility, able to play on either wing as well as in a central attacking midfield role. That last advantage could come in handy depending on the health of Catarina Macario and Rose Lavelle heading into the summer, especially after Corbin Albert's lackluster turnaround on Sunday. Every fan will have their own hierarchy of preferences, but the totality of Shaw's game would see her in serious disdain if she missed the Olympic team.

Nahar's momentum oscillated

In her 100th appearance for the United States, Naeher made two huge saves that helped keep the team's clean sheet against Colombia, but more importantly, helped calm the rest of her team down and provided emotional momentum.

While the first (above) was already an impressive reminder of Naher's abilities, the second from Ilana Izquierda's shot required a diving save to cover the far corner of the goal.

We've seen both Naeher and Casey Murphy so far this tournament for the USWNT, but Sunday night, Naeher reminded everyone of her shot-stopping abilities. She had other aggressive moments, and was willing to play out of the box to knock down singles from Columbia as well. With the team moving into the semi-finals against Canada on Wednesday, it may be difficult to return to any planned rotation at the goalkeeper position to maintain Naher's momentum through the rest of the Gold Cup matches.

(Photo: Brad Smith/Getty Images for USSF)

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