SINSHEIM, Germany — Anyone can sign autographs or pose for photos. The U.S. women found a better way to say "thank you" to the American military members who turned their World Cup match into a home game.
The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup with a 3-0 rout of Colombia on Saturday, delighting a sellout crowd made up almost entirely of American fans. The team lined up for a military salute after Heather O'Reilly's opening goal, and Megan Rapinoe grabbed a TV mic and sang "Born in the USA" after she scored.
"The troops came out to practice the other day, which was a fantastic environment," said Carli Lloyd, who scored the third goal. "We thought it would be good to salute them. It was fun, something different."
The two-time World Cup champions now play Sweden, one of two teams to beat them this year, on Wednesday in Wolfsburg to determine the Group C winner. The Americans and Sweden both have six points, but the U.S. leads the group on goal differential and can claim the top spot with a victory or a tie.
Colombia is a team on the rise, finishing fourth at the Under-20 World Cup last year. But this is its first World Cup appearance, and the youngsters were no match for the deeper, more experienced Americans. The U.S. harassed goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda relentlessly, forcing her to work more in this game than some goalkeepers will work all tournament.
She didn't get much help from her backline, which was shredded by the speedy O'Reilly time and again.
"It's a growing experience," said defender Nataly Arias, who was born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area. "It was their size, their speed. They're all big, they're all fast, they're all agile."
And it could have been even worse for the Colombians. The Americans missed at least a half-dozen other chances, and had a whopping 27-12 advantage in shots. Abby Wambach missed so many chances she had little choice but to laugh at her misfortunes by the end of the game, and Rapinoe banged a shot off the crossbar.
Colombia did get four shots on goal, with their best chance coming in the 54th minute.
Orianica Velasquez came in as a substitute, immediately got possession and took a shot, but Hope Solo punched it away.
"It's a tough loss for us, obviously," Arias said. "At the same time, I feel proud of what we did in this game."
The Americans are feeling pretty good about themselves, too.
Though the U.S. is the top-ranked team in the world and the defending Olympic champion, it was Germany, not the Americans considered the favorite when the tournament began. They had dropped three games in a five-month span after going more than two years without a loss, and needed to win a two-game playoff with Italy just to get to Germany.
But the U.S. rolled through its first two games, and its confidence is growing with every win. Though Wambach has yet to score and the Americans are struggling to finish shots, their five goals have come from five different players.
"That's a huge positive," O'Reilly said.
O'Reilly made Colombia pay for its botched clearance of a goal kick in the 12th minute, jumping on the ball after it bounced off Liana Salazar. O'Reilly took a few steps and then blasted a right-footed shot from 25 yards that Sepulveda had no chance to stop. It was O'Reilly's third World Cup goal, and 30th overall.
"Pia's always saying, 'If you have space in front of you, just take it,'" O'Reilly said. "I took a couple of touches and just let it fly."
The crowd of 25,475 burst into cheers as the ball rolled around the upper corner of the net, and the players lined up for their salute. There is a U.S. Army base in nearby Mannheim, and about 350 service members and their families watched the team practice Thursday.
"We were really moved and inspired by the support they gave us," O'Reilly said.
The Americans could have had another four or five goals just in the first half alone. But, just as they have much of the year, they struggled to finish. Wambach, one of the world's best players in the air, misdirected one header wide and sent another soaring over the goal. Amy Rodriguez had a short chip shot blocked and skied a rebound of a Wambach miss, and Sepulveda punched away a shot by Lauren Cheney.
But the U.S. quickly put the game out of reach in the second half, with Rapinoe scoring in the 50th minute and Lloyd in the 57th.
Rapinoe, who replaced Rodriguez at halftime, took a throw-in for the U.S. that Cheney collected. She dished off to Rapinoe, who made a thunderous shot from just inside the penalty box. As the crowd roared, Rapinoe ran to the corner of the field, grabbed one of the big, fuzzy TV mics and did her best Bruce Springsteen imitation.
Lori Lindsey soon joined her, playing air guitar, and the game took on a party atmosphere.
"It always helps to hear 'USA' chants and see so many flags," O'Reilly said. "It builds us up even more."