2023 Women’s World Cup berth? check
2024 Olympic berth? check
CONCACAF W Championship title with little revenge vs. Canada? check
The U.S. Women’s National Team entered the combo qualifying tournament with three clear goals, and at the end of two weeks of questions—and 90 big wasted minutes Monday night in Mexico—it can safely say it accomplished them all. The roadmap for the next two years is set for the US and its regional bragging rights are enhanced. Canada may have blown out the U.S. en route to Olympic gold last summer, but when it comes to the CONCACAF final against its neighbor to the south, it’s still second-best, now 0-9-1 all-time in such matches against the U.S.
Alex Morgan’s 78th-minute penalty was the difference at the Estadio BBVA, as the United States won 1-0 to claim the CONCACAF tournament title and the spoils that come with it. Morgan was instrumental in earning the penalty, as it set up her pass to Rose Lovell, who was brought down in the box by Alisha Chapman. Morgan then stepped up and coolly beat his club teammate, San Diego Wave goalie Kylen Sheridan, the breakthrough that took so long to come.
Canada’s Olympic dream is far from over, and it will still fancy its chances going to Paris to defend its place on the podium. But instead of automatically qualifying now, it will play third-placed Jamaica in a playoff for CONCACAF’s second berth at the Games in September 2023.
The result was almost a carbon copy of the Olympic semifinal won by Canada last summer, at least as far as scores, goal patterns and hitting the back of the net were concerned. It was a 75th-minute Jesse Fleming goal that gave Canada its famous win in Japan, beginning a year of unusual uncertainty and discomfort for US Vlatko Andonovski’s side, and followed the bronze medal with months of cycling between new and young faces. As a team of transformation.
Such are the USA’s standards that, after it won all five of its matches by 13-0 scores in the tournament, the same questions and uncertainties will remain, and its performance in the final was hardly without fault. The United States had their most fearsome offensive display of the competition on Monday, though it only had one goal to show for it. There was an air of intent against the USA’s only true counterpart in the region, and when Mal Pugh stung Sheridan’s arm with 44 seconds left, it looked like the US meant business.
More chances would immediately follow, with Morgan curling a shot wide in the fourth minute, and Lindsay Horan having a golden look a minute later. Horan came close again with a side volley in the 14th minute, his shot going wide.
The USA half later blew a 4-v-2 opportunity, when Horan streaked down the right with Lovell space in front of him. He instead opted to pass to Pugh on his left, who also had space but pushed his decent-looking effort wide of the target.
Sophia Smith was one of those young forwards who got two of the best opportunities in the United States. Just before halftime, right back Sofia Huerta delivered a perfect cross for Smith at point-blank range, but the ball took some impact on her shot, Sheridan made a great early denial and Canadian center back Kadeisha Buchanan helped cover the goal. Line in rebounds to prevent breakthroughs.
Scroll to continue
In the second half, the US executed an efficient and precise sequence from behind, Becky Sauerbrunn picked up the puck that touched Morgan. His perfect through ball found Smith behind, who rounded Sheridan and then curled the shot into an open net.
It was the kind of miss that could have been haunting, but the USA never wound up and got its just reward in the form of Morgan’s penalty.
The U.S. still has a few things to sort out in preparation for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, one item set. Morgan’s all-round performance in Mexico, coupled with his scorching scoring form in the NWSL, should cement him as the first-choice striker going forward.
“I’m not surprised but very happy with how he handled the whole situation and how he came back,” Andonovski said of Morgan, who was among the veterans who were dropped at various camps last year. “Alex is a good player and that’s what makes him special. He doesn’t want to stop growing. He doesn’t want to stop developing.
“Alex is a big player and big players are born for big moments. That’s what makes him special.”
But other areas may be less obvious, but it’s important to remember who is not currently available or called for this competition in the United States. Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, Catarina Macario, Tierna Davidson, Kristen Press, Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and Tobin Heath were not in Mexico, due to pregnancy, postpartum, injury or coach’s decision. When they are ready to return—if Andonovski deems them worthy—the upcoming competition will go a long way toward shaping the teams that will compete against the world’s best. If the Women’s European Championship is any indication, a worthy contender for the US throne is coming.
As it relates to CONCACAF, though, the United States still reigns supreme. It hasn’t allowed a goal in a CONCACAF World Cup or Olympic qualifying match since 2010—almost 1 2 years—when it lost to Mexico in the semifinals of the World Cup qualifiers. Major tests will come in time over the next two years to truly challenge the United States’ place among the world’s elite. But the No. 1-ranked Americans made sure they earned a spot in that competition, which ultimately was this trip to Mexico.
“Even though it doesn’t seem believable, I thought there were moments in the games where we showed improvement from Game 1 to the end,” Andonovski said. “These are the moments we rejoice in … that validate what we do.”
More Soccer Coverage: