Alyssa Naeher makes one of her penalty kick saves during the shootout. ( Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The U.S. women’s national team returned to a familiar place Friday – the medal round of the Summer Olympics.

In an epic struggle that had plenty of drama twists and turns, the Americans survived 120 minutes and a shootout against a determined Netherlands side to clinch a spot in the semifinals.

Megan Rapinoe, who had struggled putting her corner kicks and free kicks on target, converted the game-winning penalty kick to lift the USA to a 4-2 shootout win after the teams played to a 2-2 draw in Yokohama, Japan.

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who stopped a penalty kick during the run of play, twice denied the Dutch in the tie-breaker. On the Netherlands’ first attempt, she dived to her left to stop Vivanne Miedema, who tallied both of her team’s goals in regulation. On the Dutch’s fourth PK attempt, she dove in the same direction, snaring Aniek Nouwen’s attempt to set up Rapinoe’s game-winning kick. Rose Lavelle, Alex Morgan and Christen Press put their tries away.

The USA, which has won four gold medals and a silver since the women’s tourney was established in 1996, will play Canada in the semifinals at Kashima Stadium in Kashima Tuesday. It will be a rematch of the epic 2012 semifinals in Manchester, England at the 2012 Summer Games.

The Americans returned to the medal round after they were eliminated by nemesis Sweden in a shootout in the quarterfinal finals of the 2016 Rio Summer Games.

The Canadians overcame Brazil in a penalty kick shootout after playing to a scoreless draw in their quarterfinal. Australia and Sweden will meet in the other semifinal on the same day. The gold-medal match is set for Aug. 6.

The game had a little bit of everything, from lead changes to scoring heroics to PK saves and including five goals called back due to offside, four on the Americans.

Lynn Williams, named an alternate who became a team member when rosters were expanded to 22 players, turned out to be the offensive hero. The North Carolina Courage forward scored one goal and set up another during a three-minute span in the first half, which turned the USA fortunes around.

Miedema, who leads the tournament with 10 goals, paced the Dutch with two tallies.

Her first goal came against the run of play in the 18th minute. Miedema turned and fired a shot into the lower corner.

But the USA rebounded with a pair of scores within in three-minute span.

First, Williams crossed the ball into the right flank to Sam Mewis, who headed the ball home in the 28th minute. That goal took 19 seconds to complete and had five players touch the ball. It started with Naeher to left back Crystal Dunn to midfielder Julie Ertz to Mewis to Williams and then Mewis.

Mewis got a rebound of a Tobin Heath corner kick and sent back to Williams beat goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal from eight yards in the 31st minute to give the USA a 2-1 advantage.

Miedema, however, wasn’t finished tormenting the Americans as she slipped a shot into the lower left corner, an attempt that Naeher should have saved, to knot it up at 2-2 in the 54th minute.

The Dutch were awarded a penalty kick after Kelley O’Hara took down Lineth Beerensteyn in the box in thhe 81sat minute. After a VAR check, Naeher dove to her left to save Lieke Martens’s attempt, bringing back memories of her huge PK stop of England’s Steph Houghton in the 2019 Women’s World Cup semifinals.

Continuing a rather unwanted tradition, the USA had four goals nullified due to offside calls as its tournament total reach seven. In chronological order, Tobin Heath (10th) and second-half substitute Christen Press (63rd and 109th minutes) and Alex Morgan (114th minute) were ruled to be offside. Four minutes into extratime, the Dutch had a goal called back due to offsides.