As if the competition wasn't stiff enough, Team USA will be down two key players going into the quarterfinals against China on Friday in the Women’s World Cup.
In a 2-0 win over Colombia Monday to start the knockout round, Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe of the US both committed fouls, each earning their second yellow card of the tournament, which mandates automatic suspensions for the team's next game.
Ms. Holiday’s foul came first, in the seventeenth minute. Her attack on Colombia's Yoreli Rincon drew the card from the referee after Ms. Rincon fell to the ground. Holiday hardly flinched when the call was made, though she knew it meant she would be out for the next game if the team advanced.
"I didn't think about it the rest of the game," Holiday told ESPN after the game. "It was unfortunate that it happened, and I think it was a weak yellow card, in my opinion. But I think we have a great team, [and] we have a lot of people that can step up."
Holiday played out the next 73 minutes with intense focus, eventually creating a play early in the second half off an aggressive steal that led to forward Alex Morgan getting fouled by Colombian goalie Catalina Perez, who received a red card from the referee and was ejected from the match.
Though Abby Wambach failed to capitalize on the penalty kick, Colombia had to play down one player for the remainder of the game because of the red card, which completely shifted the dynamic of play in Team USA’s favor.
In the first half, Ms. Rapinoe drew five fouls. But when she ran into Colombia forward Orianica Velasquez in the second half, she received her second yellow card and her fate was sealed for the next game.
Rapinoe, just like Holiday, stayed focused even after the foul was called.
"I knew [it meant missing the next game], of course," Rapinoe told ESPN. "You can't change too much how you play. Maybe I could have been a little bit more cautious, but I didn't think the fouls were that bad. Yeah, it's unfortunate both Holiday and I [are] out for the next game. But we've got good players coming off the bench, so I don't feel too bad about it."
Both women proved to be leaders in Monday’s match; only underscoring how much they will be missed in the upcoming game against China.
Holiday created both chances for her teammate Morgan to score – which she did, once – and emerged against Colombia as a defensive force that helped keep the ball out of the US half of the field at key moments.
Rapinoe’s goal-making ability will be missed on a squad that has had trouble converting strong attacks into points. She scored two of the four goals that Team USA tallied during the group stage of the tournament.
"I thought Lauren was fantastic," teammate Tobin Heath said in an interview with ESPN. "I think she's an unsung hero on our team. Her work ethic and just her ability and her vision on the field is tremendous. I don't think she gets enough credit for what she does for this team and her leadership qualities ... And obviously, Pinoe has been one of our stars this tournament so far in her ability to create and be dangerous."
Though the US women defeated Colombia, a team that beat France in group play, who the US may face as the tournament progresses, without Holiday and Rapinoe against China, their fate is far from clear.
According to ESPN, Morgan Brian and Christen Press will likely replace Holiday and Rapinoe at midfield. The deep bench that Team USA has touted all tournament will be tested Friday.