The United States Women's National Team needed a Carli Lloyd goal off a missed penalty to defeat Mexico 1-0 and advance to the semifinal round of Olympic qualifying on Saturday.
For the second straight game, a controversial decision from the referee -- this time a questionable handball call, -- awarded a penalty to Lloyd, giving her a chance to win the game. And it was a game in which the Yanks struggled to get quality looks at goal. Lloyd stepped up and struck the spot kick, only to see Mexican keeper Cecilia Santiago make a great diving save. But Santiago could not hold on to the ball and Lloyd cleaned up the rebound to see the U.S. through to the semifinal round.
The same starting XI that faced Costa Rica on Wednesday started the game on Saturday for coach Jill Ellis, but did not have the same luck going forward as it did Wednesday night. Mexico started with a five-woman back line and was perfectly content with sitting back and absorbing pressure from the Americans, while trying to keep its goal differential intact.
The Mexicans also established a very physical presence on the field early and often and managed to take the U.S. out of its rhythm.
The U.S. had chances in the first half, with Meghan Klingenberg having an effort cleared off the line early in the contest, but went into the break tied at zero. This was the first time in Olympic qualifying history that Mexico held the U.S. scoreless in the first half, according to CONCACAF. A draw would have been only the second for Mexico against the Yanks all-time.
The win puts the U.S. in a position to rest its starters for the next match against group minnow Puerto Rico, if Ellis chooses to. If that is the case, Mallory Pugh and Christen Press could be in line to get starts.
Press came on for Crystal Dunn at the halftime break, and almost gave the U.S. the lead in the 52nd minute, when she fired a shot off the post. The Orlando Pride's own Alex Morgan had a few half chances in the second half, but was held in check for the most part by a very well-organized Mexican side, before being subbed in the 83rd minute.
The result sets up an intriguing match on Monday, Mexico will face Costa Rica, with the winner moving on with the U.S. to the semifinal round.
The Pride's Ashlyn Harris was an unused sub.
Up next for the U.S. is last place Puerto Rico on Monday.