U.S. Coach Jill Ellis loves to boast about her team's depth. And in Friday's Women's World Cup quarterfinal with China, that depth probably will determine whether the Americans go on in the tournament or go home.
U.S. midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday will miss the match after each was handed a second yellow card in Monday's 2-0 win over Colombia. That will force the U.S. to call on its deep bench to replace them and could lead Ellis to ditch the 4-4-2 formation she's been wedded to, going with three midfielders and three forwards instead.
Holiday has played every minute of the World Cup in central midfield, though she hasn't been the offensive force the U.S. had expected. The most likely stand-in for her is Morgan Brian, who has started once and come off the bench twice in this tournament.
Replacing Rapinoe, the creative heart of the U.S. attack, will be more difficult. The U.S. has five goals from open play in the World Cup and Rapinoe scored two of them while assisting on another.
Ellis probably will fill her spot with Christen Press, who is more comfortable up front and could be tempted to push forward as a third attacker, leaving the U.S., in effect, with a 4-3-3 formation.
"We've got some decisions to make," Ellis said. "But we've invested in players significantly over the past six months. So I feel very confident in the players that we have to be able to come on and contribute."
But that's not the end of the lineup questions facing Ellis. The U.S. has a quick three-day turnaround between games and that may not be enough recovery time for Abby Wambach, who played 69 minutes on the punishing artificial turf Monday. Ellis could start either Sydney Leroux or Amy Rodriguez in her place, saving Wambach to be a late-game substitute.
Wambach and Rapinoe were both critical of French referee Stephanie Frappart over her decision to issue the two first-half cautions Monday.
"I don't know if they were yellows," Wambach said. "It seemed like she was purposefully giving those yellows to players that she knew were sitting on yellows. Who knows?"
Rapinoe said she thought her yellow, issued in the 41st minute, was for "an accumulation of calls" — all of which she considered questionable.
But while Frappart was giving the U.S. two yellows, she also gave them two penalty kicks — the first when Colombian keeper Catalina Perez tripped Alex Morgan two minutes into the second half, denying a goal-scoring opportunity and the other when defender Angela Clavijo knocked Rapinoe to the turf inside the penalty area.
Wambach, the most prolific goal-scorer in international soccer history, took the first penalty but missed the goal completely.
"I just shanked it," Wambach said. "I hit it well, just off the mark, and that's something that's on me."
Morgan is apparently fit after missing more than two months with a knee injury. She made her second consecutive start Monday and played the full 90 minutes, scoring her first goal of the tournament and possibly losing two others to Perez, the first on a splendid save in the first half and the other on the second-half tackle that got Perez sent off.
"I don't remember the last goal I've had with this team. And that's not a good sign," said Morgan, who scored against Switzerland in the Algarve Cup in March.