GC Daily: Super Sunday puts Ovalle in a league of her own

Your Monday morning look at the latest from the 2024 W Gold Cup. Reaction, analysis, poems, & more from the quarterfinals in Los Angeles.

GC Daily: Super Sunday puts Ovalle in a league of her own
Another brace for Jacquie Ovalle sent Mexico to the Gold Cup semifinals | Courtesy of Concacaf

Note: Welcome back to Gold Cup Daily! A quick snapshot of the tournament's action from the previous day, some elongated thoughts, and the key details of group tables and next matches.

Sunday's Quarterfinal results:
Mexico 3-2 Paraguay
USA 3-0 Colombia

The snapshot

Oof. The 2024 W Gold Cup just had its most wild and entertaining day yet. Phenomenal goals, sensational saves, comedic shithousery, and a baby holding a can of alcoholic sparkling water in the stands. Madness.

Disclaimer: Squad Depth does not approve of giving alcoholic beverages to infants | CBS broadcast

Quarterfinal Sunday began with Mexico and Paraguay playing out the game of the tourney so far. A back-and-forth 3-2 that, for El Tri, went from being a coronation into a nervy fight for their lives.

Jacquie Ovalle gave her country a 1-0 halftime lead with a sniping finish before Karen Luna smashed in a second ball from a corner kick to double Mexico's lead.

Camila Barbosa tapped in from a corner kick to half the deficit for Paraguay only for Ovalle to then sneak in her second goal five minutes later. However, the goalscoring tempo only intensified when just 90 seconds after Mexico went 3-1 up, Paraguay pulled it back to 3-2 via Rebeca Fernandez.

"I thought that they were not going to score any goals against us, then we entered into chaos in the lack of control in our emotions," Mexico head coach Pedro Lopez said.

"This match was very attractive for the spectator, there have been occasions if we had scored 100% of the chances that we had a calmer ending. Not having scored them led to a fairly high-stress situation in the end and I think it also teaches a lesson in this knockout competition."

BMO was coloured green for the day. Over 13,000 fans – the vast majority of whom were cheering on Mexico – showed up for the first quarterfinal. The expecting crowd created the loudest atmosphere we've seen at the 2024 Gold Cup.

That hysteria bled into the second match, where the USA overcame a chippy Colombia by scoring three first-half goals. Lindsey Horan (from the spot), Jenna Nighswonger, and Jaedyn Shaw coming threw for the Americans. Thankfully for the staff, on the pitch, the second half dripped on without much incident.

Tonight's Gold Cup results set up meetings between Mexico and Brazil, plus the USA and Canada, in the semifinals on Wednesday night in San Diego, California.

Same old Colombia-USA, always beefing

Two confederations, both alike in dignity. In fair California, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.

Concacaf and Conmebol. Once again, we had a North American vs. South American ding dong. It's hard to put one's finger on exactly why, but teams from these regions just get spicy against each other.

Interim USA head coach Twila Kilgore was quick to admit this is the case, especially against Colombia. And, furthermore, said that it played into her tactics.

"I actually think the last time we played Colombia [October 2023] there was a similar vibe," she suggested.

"I think we always have bite. But I think tonight part of the key was to play in their third, because anytime it's physical, you don't want to put a referee in a situation where they're to potentially make those calls closer to your goal. So that was a big identifying factor for us today."

Against Colombia, the USA was unusually direct from what we have seen recently under Kilgore. The Americans conceded not having more of the ball early on, and finished with 44% and 65% pass completion (a lowly 196 passes).

Territory was far more important. High-pressing in the South Americans' half was the order of the day, and two of the three goals came directly from turnovers in those situations. Nighswonger's second even came from reacting better to a second ball.

What the U.S. got right against Colombia was the fundamentals of pressing and counter-pressing footy. They understood the areas of the pitch were problems could arise if a mistake was made. Then, they forced mistakes in those zones.

Alex Morgan deserved plenty of credit for rolling with the punches and absorbing all the dark arts that Las Cafeteras through at her.

Similarly, Trinity Rodman gave the timeline plenty of meme-worthy moments as she tried to officiate the match and kindly ask the Colombian players to give her some space while she talked to the under-pressure referee, Marianela Araya.

"Obviously, you can probably read my lips on that one," Rodman told Sylvia Bullock in the mixed zone after the game.

"For us, it's about keeping our head. I am a person who is going to have our team's back...when you see your teammate in the middle of six players, it's really triggering. I don't regret that, that's the intensity that comes with the game. It's all about not getting that red card, and that's why I came out at halftime."

A terrific response to the Mexico debacle for the USA. One bursting with vim, vigour, and obstinance.

Ovalle, in a league of her own

The Tigres UANL winger is having a remarkable tournament. After her brace today, no player has more goals (five) or combined goals and assists (seven).

With Paraguay putting so many players in the middle of the box, Mexico needed a big moment from one of its wide players. So who else but 'La Maga' to step up in a big spot?

Ovalle's first goal had an inevitably about it. The spot on the pitch, wide left of the goal, diagonal, about 45 degrees, is one of her happiest patches of grass.

Often relied upon to rake the ball into the net a the near post, the deadlock breaker on Sunday zipped across the face of the goal, and into the bottom corner, on her favoured left foot.

The second strike showed off her relentless energy, dribbling, and nous. With a rare right-footed strike around the goalkeeper, Ovalle did prosper from a bit of fortune that saw her teammate's shot rebounded into her path.

Like the USA, Mexico has needed to force errors to create their best chances especially – in Mexico's case – against a team that initially lined up in a very defensive formation and low block.

As mercurial as Ovalle has been, what she has provided is a brilliant end product to a well-drilled El Tri team effort across the thirds.

Ovalle's opener was indebted to Karla Nieto getting the better of Ducle Quintana at the top of the midfield. After that action, Mayra Pelayo switched the play before Paraguay could adapt. This capitalized on a rare numbers advantage for Mexico.

The second goal saw Ovalle's Nuevo Leon clubmate Steph Mayor force the turnover from Paraguyan centreback Tania Ris.

In a team that has scored 13 goals in four matches, Ovalle has been directly involved in seven of them. She is Mexico's most consistent threat going forward, and having started every match, is their mainstay on a night when coach Lopez attempted to try a few things out.

On Sunday, the Mexico manager benched Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez in favour of giving Pelayo a go from the start.

While the changes to the starting XI worked from the off, chaos got the better of the Mexico substitutes. The team started to look disorganized defensively, with both Paraguay goals coming from set pieces after Reyna Reyes and Mayor came off the bench.

Lopez confessed part of that was on him. "Against the United States, the substitutions were very good," he said.

"I wanted to put Steph [Mayor] in because we needed to have the ball in that chaos. We needed a player who would retain the ball and thus be able to take the game towards what interested us most. But the chaos, it didn't end and I wasn't happy with my approach, nor the implementation of the changes. I couldn't find the formula."

All in all, I actually think this gut check of a win might suit Lopez and Mexico more than if they had cruised past Paraguay.

Now, they still have something to prove. Something to correct. It was imperfect, loose, and sloppy at times. Top teams win matches when they are rough around the edges.

Despite sublime magic from 'La Maga' there are plenty of improvements to the overall performance level for Mexico. And that can be a good thing. Don't peak too soon.