USA aim golf-clap at their celebration critics and show their steel

Carli Lloyd celebrated her goals on Sunday like she was on the links. And while her team are scary in attack the quality of their defence is still a mystery

In a result that surprised no one, the US women’s national team punched past Chile to secure a spot in the knockout round of the Women’s World Cup. The group stage rolls on, however, and the match against Sweden will determine the USA’s path through the rest of the tournament. Now, first or second place in the group is up for grabs. Here is what we learned from the USA’s 3-0 win on Sunday over Chile.

The Americans are having fun, naysayers be darned

With the controversy that ensued after the USWNT exuberantly celebrated all 13 goals they scored against Thailand, the Americans were a little more low-key in their celebrations against Chile. After Carli Lloyd scored her first goal, she did her usual fist pump, but then followed it up with a polite, dainty golf clap. Lloyd wasn’t sure whose original idea it was, but Lindsey Horan told her they decided whoever scored would perform the clap. “It was fun,” Lloyd said. “I think it made a statement on the sideline.”

So much for their so-called protective bubble that blocks out criticism, eh? The players clearly heard about the hoopla and set out to issue a cheeky response. “The whole team is having fun with this,” Alex Morgan said.

The USWNT’s depth is no joke

So, the rest of the world thought Alex Morgan and her five goals against Thailand were scary? They thought Morgan being flanked by Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe was a problem? Well, how about Carli Lloyd running at goal, with Christen Press and Mallory Pugh alongside her? It’s enough to strike fear into any back line.

No, the Americans didn’t manage another eye-popping score like the 13-0 against Thailand, but Lloyd & Company pummeled a much more organized Chile side and would have had more goals if not for a standout performance from Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who was named Player of the Match, despite her side losing. The American attack managed a whopping 22 shots, nine of them on target, and dominated possession.

“To have the depth we have, to be able to have such rotations and still do well is really important for our longevity in the tournament,” said 20-year-old Tierna Davidson, who made her World Cup debut against Chile. “It’s hopefully going to be seven games and we can’t have every player play 90 minutes in all the games.”

Lloyd states her case

She may not want to be part of the second-string group that coach Jill Ellis put out against Chile, but Carli Lloyd will take any minutes she can get to prove she deserves to start.

“I’m trying, you know?” Lloyd said after her brace against Chile. “I’m having fun, ultimately, going out there and showing my ability. Like I’ve said, I’m not just making this up: this is the best version I’ve been playing as in my career. Whether you put me up top, whether you put me in the midfield, I can do it.”

Lloyd, who will turn 37 right after the World Cup ends, now has three goals in two games at this World Cup, and eight in her last five appearances.

Lloyd has been more than upfront about her desire to be a starter for the USWNT, defiantly telling reporters last month: “I’m not here to be a super sub, plain and simple.” That’s what she is right now but that doesn’t mean she accepts it.

Asked if her outspokenness puts pressure on Lloyd to perform when she does step on the field, Lloyd shifted the question over to Ellis, who has put Alex Morgan ahead of Lloyd on the depth chart. “I’ve become really fit – age isn’t a factor, my ability isn’t a factor,” she said. “I’ve been fine-tuning my finishing. So, the pressure isn’t really on me per se. I think maybe the pressure is on somebody else a little bit more.”

Ellis, meanwhile, has already gone on record that she loves that Lloyd wants to start, and again on Sunday she said Lloyd’s comments are welcome. “It’s a great problem,” Ellis said. “You want to have hot forwards in tournaments, and they’re scoring goals, which is a good feeling for them, so I’m happy.”

The worries about defense aren’t going away

When the US routed Thailand, we said we still weren’t sure how good the American defense was. After another comfortable win, this time over Chile, there’s only more reason for concern.

Officially the Americans got the clean sheet, but there was a rather nervy moment in the first half. On a free kick, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher came out to snuff the attack from Carla Guerrero but instead missed the ball entirely, and it ended up in the back of the net. The lineswoman declared Guerrero had been offside and the goal was called back, but it was concerning for two reasons.

First, Naeher either badly misjudged the ball or was avoiding contact with an opponent. Either way, she missed the ball completely. Second, if Guerrero hadn’t been called offside on the play and the ball hadn’t ended up in the goal, Naeher may have very well been called for a penalty because she took Guerrero out without getting any of the ball.

It was a bad blunder from a goalkeeper about whom there are already doubts. But Naeher has been ignoring those questions and won’t stop now. “I don’t get wrapped up in that to be honest,” she said after the game. “My focus has always been on what I bring to the team, how can I help this team win right now.”

The Americans did preserve their clean sheet, but defender Ali Krieger acknowledged there is work to do. “We were a bit caught off-guard from their set play – they kept stepping and dropping,” Krieger said. “We just need to clean up those little details and be prepared for anything on those set pieces. But I think we did well – they called it back and we move on.”