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U.S. Women’s National Team snag 2-1 World Cup victory against Spain

Penalties make the difference in the Round of 16 win.

Spain v USA: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The United States Women’s National Team continued their push towards World Cup glory Monday afternoon when they took a 2-1 victory against Spain in the Round of 16. Two penalties converted by captain Megan Rapinoe pushed the Americans over their opponent who gave the reigning world champs the biggest challenge they’ve faced so far in the tournament.

Spain came out with a lot of intensity, throwing the U.S. off early. It didn’t take long, however, for the Americans to find their composure and begin to control the match.

The penalty came in the fifth minute when Tobin Heath was clipped by a defender as she drove into the penalty box from the right side. The referee took no hesitation in calling the penalty. Rapinoe took the shot low and left with pace while the Spanish keeper dove right, giving the Americans the very early lead.

In the ninth minute, things changed drastically when a sloppy pass from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to center back Becky Sauerbrunn allowed Spain to take possession with space. Spanish striker Jennifer Hermoso was able to take the shot from outside the penalty area while Naeher was still off her line. She sent the ball into the upper right corner; a quality finish on top of a poor defensive performance by the U.S.

Though the scoreline seemed to suggest otherwise, the U.S. was in control of the game before and after Spain’s equalizer. The Spanish defense hung on amidst the many chances coming at them, while the American defense looked a little shaky and gave up any chance for Spain.

With 10 minutes to go in the half, the Stars & Stripes started taking shots from outside the 18-yard box without taking the time to build up a play. The frustration felt by the team was evident as they could not manage to break Spain down.

Spain took the American’s lack of concentration and used it to their benefit, creating some really positive chances for themselves. The American defense was finally tested for the first time in the tournament.

Both teams kicked up the intensity as the first half came to a close, with no result to put either side up going into the locker room. A halftime score of 1-1 was a victory for the Spanish and a shocking scoreline for the Americans.

Not much changed coming out of the locker room. The first 20 minutes of the half held quality ball control from both teams but was not as dominating of a performance from the U.S. as fans had hoped to see. They made no substitutions, which was an interesting choice considering the physicality of the game and the toll it was taking on the players.

Striker Alex Morgan specifically was clearly struggling as the game went on. She was injured in the last match against Sweden and was targeted with heavy contact in Monday’s match, leaving her slower on the ball than usual. Morgan was not subbed out until the 85th minute when Carli Lloyd came in for her.

The breakthrough finally came in the 71st minute when Ohio-native Rose Lavelle drew another penalty kick. The call went to Video Assistant Review, which simply confirmed the referee’s decision. Rapinoe took the second penalty kick as well, despite an initial thought that Morgan would take it. With the game on the line, Rapinoe slotted it in just like she did the first time, though the goalkeeper guessed right this time. The ball snuck right out of her reach and gave the Stars & Stripes another lead.

Lindsay Horan came into the match for Lavelle in the 88th minute. Lavelle continued to have an outstanding World Cup, creating several great chances for her team.

Rapinoe got a standing ovation as she was taken out in the 97th minute by Christen Press.

Though an unconventional and rather underwhelming victory for the U.S., it gave them what they needed to move on in the tournament. The Americans will play host team France on Friday at 3 p.m. ET in the quarterfinals. France is one of the other favorites to win the World Cup, so the match should be a showdown, to say the least.