Three things learned: United States advances over Germany in epic Women’s World Cup semifinal

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MONTREAL — The U.S. is through to the 2015 Women’s World Cup final — its second straight — after defeating Germany, 2-0 on Tuesday in the semifinal.

There was a different feeling at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday as the U.S. took the game to Germany almost from the opening whistle.

These are three things learned, as the U.S. advanced to the World Cup final to face either Japan or England:

This was an epic match, and the U.S. was on the front foot — Tuesday was the best the United States has played in a long time — like two years kind of long time. The Americans have had to answer countless questions about their dip in over the past year and all the while maintained that they would peak at the right time. They seem to be doing exactly that, riding the momentum of an encouraging quarterfinal victory over China into a downright convincing performance against Germany, refereeing decisions aside. The U.S. hasn’t played this well and this convincing since 2013 (a 3-3 draw against Germany in April of that year comes to mind). The Americans keep talking about peaking at the right time, and they seem to be doing exactly that, now one victory from a third World Cup title.

“I think it was a great semi, two very strong teams playing against each other,” Germany coach Silvia Neid said after the game.

“Unfortunately, we did not follow through and were not dangerous enough when it comes to the goal area and congratulations to the United States.”

Jill Ellis won the tactical battle — The 4-4-1-1 with Carli Lloyd dropped underneath Alex Morgan in the playmaking role worked, freeing up Lloyd once again and giving Lauren Holiday some freedom in the middle of the park as well. Morgan Brian was composed in the middle of the park and she once again did the defensive work that allowed some of the team’s bigger attacking personalities the freedom to get forward. U.S. Coach Jill Ellis described Brian’s role over the past two games as “pivotal” and her performance on Tuesday as “pivotal.”

“It’s not a natural role for her, but she makes it look natural,” Ellis said.

Germany will feel hard-done, but they got out-played — Julie Johnston’s yellow card in the 59th minute that led to a penalty was a soft call in my opinion, but by the letter of the law, if it’s a foul, it’s a red card as the last defender back. But Teodora Albon only pulled out a yellow card, and the U.S. carried on with 11 players and soon thereafter earned a controversial penalty that Lloyd converted.

“The rule says yes, but she didn’t get a red card,” Neid said.

Morgan drew initial contact outside of the box and jumped into defender Annike Krahn, earning the penalty kick.

“It was clearly outside of the area, the goal area and it can be seen quite clearly on television.” Neid said.

Ellis said she doesn’t comment on officiating, but “between the 18s, we were a very good team.”

Penalty kicks aside, the U.S. was the better team on Tuesday. France found out last week against Germany that the better team on the day doesn’t always win. Germany was the better team heading into this match, but the Americans owned the moment.