Place at the 2023 Women’s World Cup? Check.
Olympic place 2024? Check.
Concacaf W champion title with a slight revenge against Canada? Check.
The United States Women’s National Team entered the Combo Qualifying Tournament with three clear goals, and at the end of two weeks of questioning – and after a largely wasted 90 minutes Monday night in Mexico – they can safely say that she has achieved them all. The roadmap for the next two years of the United States is set and its regional bragging rights have been extended. Canada may have toppled the United States en route to Olympic gold last summer, but when it comes to the Concacaf finals against their southern neighbor, they are still second best, now 0 -9-1 all-time in such games against the United States.
Alex Morgan’s 78th-minute penalty was the difference maker at the Estadio BBVA as the USA prevailed 1-0 to clinch the Concacaf tournament title and the spoils that came with it. Morgan was key in securing the penalty as it was his pass that set up Rose Lavelle, who was cut off in the box by Allysha Chapman. Morgan then stepped up and coldly beat clubmate San Diego Wave guard Kailen Sheridan for the breakthrough that took so long to come.
Canada’s Olympic dream is not over, and he will always relish his chance to go to Paris to defend his spot on the podium. But instead of automatically qualifying now, they will face third-placed Jamaica in September 2023 in the Concacaf playoffs for second place at the Games.
The result was almost a carbon copy of the Olympic semi-final Canada won last summer, at least in terms of scoring, scoring and when it hit the back of the net. It was a 75th-minute goal from Jessie Fleming that gave Canada its famous victory in Japan, a result that began a year of unusual uncertainty and unease for Vlatko Andonovski’s American team following its medal bronze with months of cycling in newer, younger faces, operating as a team in transition.
Such are the standards of the United States, that after a tournament in which they won all five games by a combined score of 13-0, some of the same questions and uncertainties will linger, and his performance in the finals was not without mistake. Monday was by far the most formidable offensive display for the United States in the competition, even though there was only one goal to score. There was an aura of intent against the only true peer the United States has in the region, and when Mal Pugh pricked Sheridan’s hands 44 seconds later, it looked like the United States were serious.
More chances would immediately follow, with Morgan curling a one-foot-wide shot in the fourth minute, and Lindsey Horan having a golden stare blocked a minute later. Horan went close again on a side volley in the 14th minute, her shot going just wide.
Later in the half, USA missed a 4-2 chance, when Horan spun Lavelle down the right with space in front of her. She instead opted to go to her left towards Pugh, who also had space but pushed his decent chance on target.
It was Sophia Smith, one of those young attackers thrown into the fire, who however had the two best chances in the United States. Just before half-time, right-back Sofia Huerta delivered a perfect cross for Smith from close range but the ball appeared a bit on her to affect the shot, Sheridan made the formidable initial denial and the centre-back Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan helped cover the goal. line on the rebound to prevent the breakout.
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In the second half, USA executed an effective and precise sequence at the back, with Becky Sauerbrunn picking out Pugh, who touched Morgan. His perfectly weighted ball in the back found Smith, who rounded Sheridan and then quickly rammed the shot into the open net.
It was the kind of miss that could have been haunting, but USA never wavered and got their just reward in the form of a Morgan penalty.
While the United States will still have things to sort out as they prepare for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, one thing seems set. Morgan’s all-around performance in Mexico, coupled with her scorching scoring form in the NWSL, should cement her as a top pick forward going forward.
“I wasn’t surprised but very happy with how she handled the whole situation and how she came back,” Andonovski said of Morgan, who was among the veterans who were left out. in various camps over the past year. “Alex is a better player, and that’s what makes her special. She doesn’t want to stop growing. She doesn’t want to stop developing.
“Alex is a great player and great players are born for great moments. That’s what makes her special.”
But while other areas may be less clear, it’s important to remember who USA currently doesn’t have available or hasn’t called for this competition. Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, Catarina Macario, Tierna Davidson, Christen Press, Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and Tobin Heath were all among those not in Mexico, either due to pregnancy, postpartum, injury or coaching decision, and their reinstatement when they are ready to return – if Andonovski deems them worthy – will go a long way in shaping the teams that will face the best in the world in the upcoming competitions. If the European Women’s Championship was any indication, there are capable challengers coming for the United States throne.
When it comes to Concacaf, however, the United States still reigns supreme. He hasn’t conceded a goal in a Concacaf World Cup or Olympic qualifier since 2010 – almost 12 years– when they lost to Mexico in the World Cup qualifying semi-finals. The most important tests to truly challenge the United States’ place among the world’s elite will come in time over the next two years. But the No. 1-ranked Americans made sure they got a spot at those competitions, which is ultimately what this trip to Mexico is all about.
“Even though it didn’t sound as compelling, I thought there were times in games where we showed improvement from Game 1 until the end,” Andonovski said. “It’s the moments we’re happy about…that give us validation for what we’re doing.”
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