Analysis: USWNT keeps momentum going at CONCACAF W Championship but wasn't easy against Mexico

·4 min read
United States' Kristie Mewis (22) celebrates scoring her side's opening goal against Mexico during a CONCACAF Women's Championship soccer match in Monterrey, Mexico, Monday, July 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Kristie Mewis (22) celebrates with Megan Rapinoe in the 89th minute Monday night after scoring the United States' goal against Mexico during a 1-0 win in the CONCACAF W Championship. (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

The last game the U.S. women’s national team played against Mexico in Mexico was a World Cup qualifier in 2010.

The U.S. lost. Mexico went on to the World Cup directly, and the Americans were forced to win their way into the tournament via an inter-confederation playoff.

A lot has changed since then, with the U.S. winning consecutive Women’s World Cups while Mexico struggled, posting losing records under three coaches. So when the teams met Monday night in the group-play final of another World Cup qualifying tournament — the CONCACAF W Championship — the United States’ 1-0 win was expected.

But it wasn’t easy, with the only goal coming off Kristie Mewis’ thigh after a scramble in front of the net in the final minute of regulation. The goal underwent a lengthy video review before it was allowed to stand.

The victory was the Americans’ 29th straight in CONCACAF World Cup and Olympic qualifying dating to that 2010 loss in Cancun. In fact, the U.S. hasn’t allowed a goal in qualifying since then.

Even before Monday’s game, won before a crowd of 20,521 in a hot and breezy Estadio Universitario, the U.S. had a berth in next summer’s World Cup sewn up. However, this year’s CONCACAF W Championship also will determine the region’s representative in the 2024 Paris Olympics, and in that sense the victory was important because it will send the Americans into Thursday’s tournament semifinal against Costa Rica riding a wave of momentum, having gone 17 matches and 11 months since their last loss.

The U.S. needs to beat Costa Rica, then win next week’s final to guarantee a place in Paris.

For Mexico, Monday’s gutty effort, by far its best of the tournament, showed why the country entered the competition with high hopes. But it exits without a win or a goal — and without a spot in the 2023 World Cup or the Paris Olympics.

“It hurts,” coach Mónica Vergara said in Spanish. “The players have a strong hurt.”

Mexico's Cristina Ferral and the United States' Lindsey Horan fight for the ball.
Mexico's Cristina Ferral (15) and the United States' Lindsey Horan (10) vie for the ball during a CONCACAF W Championship match. The U.S. faces Costa Rica in a semifinal Thursday. (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

Mexico started unraveling in the 73rd minute when midfielder Jacqueline Ovalle was given a red card for a studs-up challenge on American Rose Lavelle. It took the U.S. 16 more minutes, playing against a short-handed team, to get the only goal it needed.

This was supposed to be a coronation for a Mexican program that had made great strides under Vergara, who played on the country’s only Olympic team in 2004, then worked her way up the national team ladder, coaching the U15, U17 and U20 teams before taking over the senior squad 18 months ago.

The team entered the tournament in Monterrey in its best form in a decade, undefeated in its last 10 games and averaging more than five goals per match. So when El Tri Femenil opened the tournament with a loss to Jamaica, Vergara called it “a stumble” and said it wouldn’t define her team. After Mexico lost to Haiti three days later, the coach, who was booed before Monday’s kickoff, already was talking about the 2027 World Cup.

The team’s effort Monday was the kind president Yon De Luisa and the rest of the Mexican soccer federation had hoped for last year when they began an overhaul of the women’s program by making Vergara, 39, the first woman to manage the senior team, handing her a young, talented roster, most of which played in the young, flourishing domestic Liga MX and not for U.S. colleges.

The reset continued two months ago when New York-based promoter Soccer United Marketing was enlisted to put together a series of friendlies in the U.S. to raise money for the women’s team as well as its profile. The first game will be against Angel City FC in September in Los Angeles.

“The support of the women’s program, it was a board decision,” De Luisa said. “No doubt that this is something that will grow in the future.”

That future was supposed to start this week, but Mexico underperformed on the field and played all three games before disappointing crowds in a city where more than 30,000 have shown up to support Tigres Femenil, a women’s club team.

Still, it gave the best team in the world everything it could handle and more Monday. Perhaps De Luisa’s investment will pay off sooner rather than later.

“We must continue to support what is coming,” Vergara said. “That’s the next process.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.