VANCOUVER, B.C.—A recurring theme of the U.S. women's soccer team's experience at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament thus far has been unlikely heroines stepping up to provide the scoring, including Amy Rodriguez's five-goal outburst against the Dominican Republic and Sydney Leroux's five goals against Guatemala. It was a similar story that played out again Tuesday night at B.C. Place, with midfielder Carli Lloyd notching a hat trick that proved crucial in the Americans' 4-0 win over Mexico. Lloyd's presence was crucial to the U.S. victory Tuesday, but she said afterwards having so many different players step up over the course of this tournament illustrates how much talent the Americans have.
"We have a tremendous amount of depth," Lloyd said. "It's great. This is the time to get young players out on the field, get experience, gain confidence. That's huge for our team and I think it's going to be a good year for us."
Lloyd, who now has five goals in this tournament, said she and her teammates were motivated by the loss they suffered against Mexico at the end of 2010 in World Cup qualifying.
"It was redemption for us," she said. "We came out strong and we knew we had to get it done."
That wasn't a particularly easy task, though. The Mexican team had also gone 2-0 in its first two games at this tournament, scoring 12 goals and allowing none. It represented the toughest test the American team had faced thus far, and it got a boost from a vocal crowd of 7,599 that was notably pro-Mexico. Lloyd said the U.S. team focused on blocking out distractions and sticking to its game plan, though.
"We felt like there were a lot more Mexican than U.S. fans, but at the end of the day we just shut all that out and just played soccer," she said.
The U.S. team came flying out of the gate Tuesday, creating several early chances and taking the lead in the seventh minute when Rachel Buehler rang a shot off the post and Lloyd headed the rebound home. They followed that up less than two minutes later when Heather O'Reilly turned in a great run and an impressive finish from distance.
Lloyd said it was vital for the U.S. to score quickly and put the pressure on Mexico to catch up.
"Anytime you get an early goal it helps," she said.
U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage said that quick start was essential to the American victory, as its attack had a tougher time afterwards.
"We got 2-0 out there quickly, but I have to say after that, we couldn't find our rhythm," Sundhage said.
She was pleased with the quality of the goals the Americans notched, though, and said Lloyd's play was critical.
"I'm very happy about all four goals, and especially with Carli Lloyd, the way she was dominant on set pieces," Sundhage said.
Indeed, set pieces played a vital role in all of Lloyd's goals. The second came in the 57th minute when Lauren Cheney delivered a picturesque corner to the far post and Lloyd headed it home in style. The final goal came in the 86th minute when a Megan Rapinoe corner found Buehler, who chipped it across the box for Lloyd, who in turn volleyed home to complete her hat trick.
Sundhage said Lloyd's play was impressive for more than just her goals, though.
"She is in that box, she is very good in the air," Sundhage said. "I think after the first half, in the second half she picked it up a little bit on both sides of the ball, the defense and the attack. She built the confidence to go up there and score goals."
Lloyd said it's not just about her, though. She said the Americans have received huge benefits from their depth thus far, and she expects that to continue.
"No matter who we put out on the field, players coming off the bench are definitely bringing just that spark, what we need," she said. "It's great. It's going to be a battle for positions; nobody's position is secure and each one of us has to keep working for the spot."
Lloyd said that pressure to perform has caused her to improve at what she does best, distributing the ball and dictating the pace.
"I'm starting to play smarter soccer, keeping the ball moving with one or two touches and getting everyone involved, just kind of dictating the tempo out there," she said. "When things get a little frustrating out there, it's important for me to keep settling the team down and keep playing our game."
As a result of its victory Tuesday, the U.S. clinched top spot in Group B and will face Costa Rica for an Olympic berth in the first semifinal match Friday at 8 p.m. ET. The Mexicans will face Canada in the later match at 10:30 p.m. ET. Lloyd said with such a vital game coming up, it's crucial for the U.S. team to keep improving and learning from what it's done so far.
"It's building on our experience, playing smarter, playing tougher and quicker out there."