Rebounding after a slow start to the tournament, the United States is through to the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, with today’s win over China leaving the team in line to face Canada, Ghana, or North Korea in the final eight. Thanks to two goals and an assist from Lindsey Horan, Michelle French’s team claimed second in Group B, a quartet that saw Germany go through as group-winners after a 5-1 throttling of Brazil.
The U.S. came into today’s game with three points through two matches, with an opening game loss to the Germans followed by a 1-0 win over Brazil. Scoring an 82nd minute winner in that match, Horan became the first American to get on the scoresheet in the tournament, her goal foreshadowing what was in store against China.
In today’s 19th minute, Horan met a Makenzy Doniak cross and finished against the bottom of the China crossbar, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead. Seventeen minutes later, Horan had her third goal of the competition, beat goalkeeper Lu Feifei into right of goal, making it 2-0. Four minutes after halftime, Horan set up Rose Lavelle for the day’s final goal, with a China side that put up five against Germany held scoreless in Moncton.
With Germany’s win over Brazil, the U.S. was relegated to second place in the tournament’s toughest group, a standing that earns a quarterfinal matchup with the winners of Group A. Tomorrow’s games in Montréal (North Korea vs. Canada) and Moncton (Ghana vs. Finland) will determine which team slots into that spot, with the North Koreans (2-0-0) needing ply a draw to claim top spot in their group.
Regardless of whom the U.S. faces, Horan’s performances may determine whether the team can defend its crown. With two years’ experience starting for Paris Saint-Germain, Horan is one of the marquee names in this tournament, but three games into the competition, she’s had to do much on her own. Though it took 172 minutes for her to break through, she factored in four goals over the next 57. Perhaps as telling, the U.S. has yet to score a goal in which the 20-year-old didn’t play a part.
As the tournament goes on, French appears to be leaning even more on her best player, moving the natural forward to attacking midfield for Tuesday’s must-win game. The result was the U.S.’s best showing of the tournament, though one that may put all French’s eggs in one basket.
Set to see more time on the ball, Horan may have the U.S.’s fate at her feet. Continue to score at this rate, and the defending champions could yet defend their crown, perhaps avenging their loss to the Germans in the process. Slow down, and French will need another plan to get the U.S. down what’s sure to be a bumpy road.