For three weeks the U.S. has been looking to put its stamp on this Women’s World Cup. Tuesday it fell to Carli Lloyd to make that happen.
Lloyd didn’t miss the chance, scoring one goal on a penalty kick and setting up the other in a 2-0 semifinal victory over top-ranked Germany that sends the Americans to a World Cup final for a record fourth time.
Lloyd didn’t lead the Americans to a victory as much as she refused to let them lose.
“I’m here to win this thing,” Lloyd said. “Not to be a participant who played in a World Cup.”
Both goals came in the second half, the first on Lloyd’s second penalty kick of the tournament and the other by substitute Kelley O’Hara off a perfect centering pass from Lloyd, who has suddenly grabbed this tournament by the neck and won’t let go.
It was the third consecutive game in which the U.S. captain has scored — and two of those goals have been game winners.
“I’ve been training my butt off for the last 12 years,” said Lloyd, who also scored the deciding goal in each of the last two Olympic finals. “These are the moments that I live for. This is kind of where I roll my sleeves up and say to myself it’s time to step up.”
She had a lot of help from a U.S. attack that has looked lethargic and uncertain for much of the World Cup. On Tuesday, however, the Americans came alive, running the Germans ragged.
And they were even better on defense, where they held the World Cup’s highest-scoring team to one shot on goal while extending their scoreless streak to 513 minutes.
“We knew we had this in us,” Coach Jill Ellis said. “This team had a lot of confidence. We had every belief that we could win this game. And that’s part of the spirit of the American player.”
That spirit might have received a boost from an unexpected source.
Questionable officiating has plagued this tournament and Tuesday’s game was no different, turning on two fouls that led to penalty shots — the first against U.S. defender Julie Johnston in the 59th minute and the other against Germany’s Annike Krahn eight minutes later.
In the first instance Johnston earned a yellow card for fouling Alexandra Popp in the penalty area, a caution that proved to be fortunate for the U.S. for two reasons. First because Johnston, who was beaten badly on the play, could have been handed a red card and been ejected for impeding an obvious scoring opportunity.
And second because Germany’s Celia Sasic, who leads the tournament with six goals, missed the kick, shooting wide to the left.
That was the closest thing Germany had to a shot on U.S. keeper Hope Solo in the game’s final 80 minutes.
In the case of Krahn, she was flagged for bringing down Alex Morgan inside the box, though replays appeared to show the foul happened just outside the area.
Whether the mistake was on Krahn or Romanian official Teodora Albon made little difference to Lloyd, who took advantage by slotting the shot home.
“I just need to deliver. In any way possible,” Lloyd said. “Tonight was stepping up with the PK.”
German Coach Silvia Neid, whose team appeared to benefit from some helpful officiating in its quarterfinal victory over France, saw things differently Tuesday.
“It was clearly outside the goal area,” she said, through an interpreter, of the foul on Krahn. “I’m very, very sad that the penalty call decided the match. But I cannot change it.”
O’Hara, who entered the game for Tobin Heath in the 75th minute, iced it in the 84th minute with a one-timer off a nifty pass from Lloyd in the box.
In Sunday’s final the U.S. will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between England and defending champion Japan, which beat the Americans in the 2011 final. And though both Ellis and Lloyd would love to avenge that result, both said they really don’t care whom they play.
“We’ll take either,” Ellis said. “We’re in a World Cup final. One opponent stands in our way and it doesn’t matter.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11