So much for Hope Solo’s predicted bloothbath or what many hoped would be a bragging rights game. Instead, the United States women's national team's 2-0 win over Canada in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship was just another ho-hum result for a program that has cruised through qualifying since 1996.
The USWNT has now notched four consecutive CONCACAF Olympic qualifying titles — and those have ultimately resulted in four gold medals.
There’s no question this was the toughest match of the tournament for both teams, but the rivalry feeling was diminished a bit when Canada opted not to start several of its top players, including star Christine Sinclair and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Instead, Canada trotted out a spirited but young squad, which made things interesting in the first half with a clogged-up midfield and a host of fouls. However, the scoring chances for the Canadians were few and far between as the U.S. tested the Canadian defense throughout the half.
It wasn’t until the 53rd minute that the dam finally broke and Lindsey Horan, a newcomer that was a star throughout the tournament, headed in a driving cross from Becky Sauerbrunn to break the deadlock.
Eight minutes later, Mallory Pugh slid a ball across the top of the box that found Tobin Heath for her second goal in as many games.
“You know, it’s good, it’s a building experience for sure,” Canadian forward Melissa Tancredi said. “We didn’t come here to lose. You really have to be on. You really can’t shut off in the middle of the game. You have to keep the intensity going. That’s going to be taxing physically and it’s just a learning experience, really.”
After that score, Canada decided to substitute some of its star players onto the field. And while they created a little havoc while the U.S. was trying to whittle down the clock, only one opportunity came close to finding the back of the net and it was turned away by Solo, who notched her fifth consecutive clean sheet of the tournament.
Despite the result, both of these teams had already punched their tickets to the Rio Games. So it appeared Canada used this opportunity as a chance to evaluate some younger players against the world’s best team and the U.S. used it to see if the lineup that cruised in the semifinal against Trinidad and Tobago could hold up against a much more organized and aggressive Canadian squad.
Both Canadian coach John Herdman and American coach Jill Ellis had to be pleased with the efforts of both of their squads. While there are still several months remaining before the 12-team Olympic tournament in August, both of these coaches have the unenviable task of pairing their rosters down to 18.
One young American that likely booked her ticket to Rio de Janeiro was Mallory Pugh, who was a sparkplug for the U.S. throughout the tournament while earning her three consecutive starts. Pugh’s speed and ability was unmatched by several of the defenders she faced throughout the tournament and she’ll be an invaluable asset in the Olympics.
But before Ellis announces a team for Rio, the Americans still have a host of obstacles to prepare for the Games. That begins with the newly formed four-team She Believes tournament, which features Germany, France and England. The tournament will be played throughout the United States from March 3-9. Tthe U.S. will kick off against England in Tampa Bay on March 3.