The World Cup continues tonight for the U.S. women's soccer team. And it's a rematch 16 years in the making.
The United States is set to go up against China in a quarterfinals match in Ottawa, Canada. The last time these two met in the World Cup was in the 1999 finals. More than 90,000 people packed into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and watched the Americans win 5-4 in a dramatic penalty kick shootout.
This tournament, the U.S. has not looked as dominant as it did in 1999 — though the world's second-ranked team hasn't lost a game or even given up a goal since its opener against Australia. Still, that hasn't stopped the grumbling.
Earlier this week, The New York Times highlighted some of the friction. It quoted midfielder Carli Lloyd as saying, "We know that it's not our best; we know that we're capable of so much more. So just trying to find that and fine-tune it is what we're doing."
The headlines from this World Cup have not been pretty. Many are like this one from USA Today, which looks back fondly on the 1999 team.
Some of the criticism has focused on head coach Jill Ellis, who has tinkered with the starting lineup in each of the four U.S. games this tournament. The U.S. team's offense has not looked as potent, cohesive or innovative as it has in the past.
After Monday night's 2-0 victory over Colombia, Ellis was defensive. As quoted in the Times:
"This is the World Cup," Ellis said. "I'm really satisfied with advancing. Most goals in World Cup tournaments, a majority of them, come on set pieces; we've been brilliant. It's about finding a way. I thought we stroked the ball around pretty well at times. So, yeah, I'm pleased with where we are."
Ellis will have a new lineup again tonight as two of her starting midfielders have to sit out the game. Star Megan Rapinoe (who scored twice against Australia) and Lauren Holiday (who has played every minute this tournament) each received their second yellow cards of the tournament against Colombia. It's a significant loss for the U.S. and won't help its shaky offense.
Sixteenth-ranked China dropped the tournament opener to host Canada, 1-0. China then beat the Netherlands, tied New Zealand and defeated Cameroon to advance to the quarterfinals.
It's a game the U.S. is expected to win. But it might not be pretty.
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