Five straight shutouts later, and Team USA is headed for the World Cup Final in Vancouver on Sunday.
The US beat Germany in the semifinal Tuesday to become the first country to reach four Women's World Cup finals, and has a shot at being the first to win three titles.
“This was our best game so far,” striker Alex Morgan said after Tuesday’s match. “We’ve been playing better and better each game. I think people were pretty critical of us early on, but today proved just how good we can be.”
Changes to the tactical formation by Coach Jill Ellis and leadership on both ends of the field resulted in the team’s best performance yet in the tournament.
Coach Ellis was convinced to change the lineup after Carli Lloyd was relieved of defending duties and scored the game-winner against China last Friday. Ellis freed her up to focus entirely on offense against Germany, and Ms. Lloyd answered the call, putting a penalty kick away in the 69th minute, and providing the assist to Kelley O’Hara for the team’s second goal in the 84th minute.
"These are the moments I live for," Lloyd told ESPN, "when I roll up my sleeves up and say to myself, 'I need to step up.' "
Alongside Lloyd in midfield were Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian. Ms. Brian hung back, focusing on holding the line and creating offensive chances for Ms. Holiday, Lloyd, and solo striker Alex Morgan.
Brian is accustomed to defense, so playing a more central role in the midfield this tournament has been a test. But Ellis said the youngest player on the field has delivered. “It’s not a natural role for her, but she makes it look natural,” the coach said after the game.
Defense players, led by keeper Hope Solo, have racked up an eye-popping 513 shutout minutes, according to Sports Illustrated. Their track record held against Germany, despite a penalty kick in the second half; Celia Sasic shot wide and missed.
The team will either face England or Japan on Sunday, depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s semifinal. England has been a breakout team and the talk of Vancouver this tournament. Wednesday night will be their first appearance ever in semifinal play. With Japan, the US has a shot at revenge: Japan beat the US in penalty kicks in the World Cup final in 2011.
Regardless of who they face Sunday, the players appear to be living up to their team motto, "Peak at the right time."
"It's a dream come true," Lloyd said after the match. "This is what we trained for, the blood, sweat, tears, everything. I know this is a great win, but my eyes are on the final."