The US women’s national team finally got a test in their fifth and final game of the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament – and though it was no easy grade, they passed the test with flying colors.
Despite the best efforts of a very solid Canada side, the USWNT successfully defended their regional crown with a 3-0 victory, with goals from Lynn Williams, Lindsey Horan (pictured above) and Megan Rapinoe. Both sides will carry legitimate medal ambitions to Tokyo for this year’s Summer Olympics.
Here’s three observations from the reigning world champs’ latest inexorable march to the No. 1 spot.
Canada did almost everything right
In the annals women’s soccer history, few teams on earth have consistently given the USWNT a tougher time than the CanWNT – the great tragedy for Big Red is that as many great games as they’ve played against the United States, they’ve always fallen just short of the landmark victory they need to change the story of the rivalry.
So it was again on Sunday. Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller set up Canada in a defensive-minded but overall effective 5-3-2 shape and rugged collective mentality that stymied the favorites’ rhythm for long periods. We’ve previously discussed the likeliest building blocks for engineering an upset of the USWNT, and the Canadians checked many of the necessary boxes at Dignity Health Sports Park.
And crucially, they broke out on several threatening transitions that led to clear looks. All-time world’s leading scorer Christine Sinclair is exactly who they’d have wanted breaking clear one-on-one against Alyssa Naeher in the 38th minute, but Sinc could only blast her shot right into the US goalkeeper.
And even after the USWNT went ahead 1-0 after the break, ruthlessly cashing in on a fleeting moment of slackness by young defender Jayde Riviere, chances appeared. Canadian substitute Deanne Rose was waiting wide-open at the back post for a tap-in if Janine Beckie could’ve just threaded a delivery through in the 77th minute; Beckie’s low shross skipped wide of the far post, however, and that was all she wrote for this clash.
Glitz, grind, whatevs
The USWNT are eminently capable of blowing the doors off their foes, as they showed in their four wins by a total of 22-0 on their path to this final. Canada presented a very different sort of challenge, one marked by deep familiarity on both sides, with most of those on the pitch veteran friends and foes in NWSL play.
When the underdogs reached halftime still level at 0-0, their prospects of keeping it close enough to claw within striking distance of a close late victory looked more than respectable. Yet the cold truth is that the US are no less comfortable grappling and grinding than they are cranking up the throttle.
After a few wobbles in the first half, they cranked their pressing game back up to its usual withering and relentless levels, undoubtedly enabled by the squad depth that allowed coach Vlatko Andonovski to rotate his lineup from Friday’s semifinal win with little to no dip in quality.
That was epitomized by Horan, who harried and hounded the CanWNT for more than an hour before conjuring up three top-class touches in the penalty box to net the second, and most decisive, goal. The US are a colossus.
The USWNT own Concacaf lock, stock and barrel
The North American confederation has now held an Olympic qualifying tournament five times; the USWNT have won it all five times. Concacaf has held a Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament on 10 occasions dating back to 1991; the USWNT have finished tops in eight of them.
Canada are the only ones to ever break that monotony of mastery, snatching first place in the 1998 and 2010 WWC quals, and while they undoubtedly had their chances to do so again on Sunday, it would’ve been an historic result for their program. Given the scorelines of the past two weeks, it seems no one else in the region is any position to get anywhere near either of them anytime soon.
That said, it’s a whole new ballgame when 12 of the world’s best teams gather in Japan this summer. Perhaps a bright young star will rise in that spotlight...