Alex Morgan Leads USWNT to Canada and Paris Olympics

The symmetry would not have been lost for either of them: the United States and Canada, two of the best women’s soccer teams in the world, meeting on a sultry night and chasing a prize only one of them could win.

A tight match. A late penalty. A jubilant celebration.

A year ago at the Tokyo Olympics, it was the Canadians who rejoiced, converting a second-half penalty and winning the game en route to the gold medal.

Monday night in Monterrey, Mexico, it was the Americans who danced at the final whistle. They were the ones who won the penalty and then the match, 1-0, to secure a place at the 2024 Paris Olympics. They were the ones who now had a chance to recover this gold medal.

Victory came in familiar hands: Lindsey Horan controlling the midfield. Rose Lavelle slips behind the defense and win a penalty. Alex Morgan came forward to bury him.

The victory was the second major goal achieved by the Americans in Mexico, in a tournament that served as a qualifier for both the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. The United States had sealed their place in the first in merely qualifying for the semi-finals. But he still had a goal to score and a point to prove against Canada in the Concacaf Women’s Championship final.

Morgan started that Olympic semi-final last summer in Kashima, Japan, but watched the end of it from the bench after being substituted. During the Games, she had been among the most vocal veteran players on that list who had suggested – in no uncertain terms – that coach Vlatko Andonovski was wrong.

In the year since that loss, Morgan, 33, had been among the veterans who were asked to make room for young attacking talents like Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman, to give Andonovski the spot of tinker and re-equip before next year’s World Cup. Cup in Australia and New Zealand. But she also knew her luck would eventually return, and on Monday, after two weeks of games featuring young players and new rosters, Morgan had the chance to make it right, to prove she still had a role. to play.

“I’m not surprised but very happy with how she handled the whole situation in her comeback,” Andonovski told reporters after the final. “I said it early on: Alex is a better player. That’s what makes her special. She doesn’t want to stop growing, doesn’t want to stop developing.

His opportunity to break the scoreless tie came in the 76th minute. Handed the ball over by Horan after Lavelle stumbled in the penalty area, Morgan took a few deep breaths, moved forward confidently and buried a low, hard shot into the bottom right corner as Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan dove into the ‘other way.

Minutes after the final whistle, Morgan was honored as the tournament’s MVP.

“It always feels good,” she said, “to be called a champion.”

Grateful to be back – her longtime teammate Megan Rapinoe didn’t come off the bench in the final – Morgan seemed fine with Andonovski’s picks this time around. But she was quick to notice that breaking in new players, especially on the storied American team, sometimes requires having older ones around to show them the way.

“Some of the younger players are able to look up to the older players in a big tournament like this,” Morgan said. “You just can’t replicate that with friendlies. It must be the real deal. And that’s the real deal.

Andonovski also praised players like Morgan, Rapinoe and defender Becky Sauerbrunn for creating a “superb” environment for success. “We went out for the last match of the tournament, after being in a hotel for a month, with the best energy we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s a testament, first and foremost, to senior players.”

What is the lead of the United States and Canada over their regional rivals? Neither team lost a match in Monterrey en route to the final. Neither of them gave up a goal. Each has scored a dozen goals in their first four games.

The two teams were so dominant, in fact, that once Costa Rica and Jamaica had locked the other two semi-final berths – clinching the region’s other two automatic World Cup berths – they seemed to withdraw before the final, resting some of their best players in the semis and instead focusing on winning the match for third place. Victory there seemed a safer bet, after all, and it came with a consolation prize: a shot at the American-Canadian loser in a two-man Olympic playoff that offered a last-ditch bid for a place in Paris in 2024.

The loss in the final was not a disaster for Canada: its team is still expected to qualify for the Paris Games by beating Jamaica, who beat Costa Rica earlier Monday in the match for third place, in the playoffs next year.

And Canada also learned a few things about itself along the way. Sheridan, who kept her side in the game with several outstanding first-half saves, was named the tournament’s best goalkeeper and now seems firmly entrenched in that role. Julia Grosso won the golden boot as the Championship’s top scorer, and she and 21-year-old compatriot Jordyn Huitema came off the bench on Monday to provide the kind of game-changing spark that could force Canada in the same kind of young versus .-old calculus which the United States now adopts.

“I think there’s another level,” Canada coach Bev Priestman said after her team’s semi-final win, “and I think playing against a team like USA will bring out some of our strengths that the teams may not have allowed us to do.”

Now she and her players – just like Team USA – know a little more about the mix they’ll need to get where they really want to go.

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