The US WNT got off to what some would call a rough start in their third match in the first round of qualifying. Costa Rica came out ready to play against the United States, proving their skill early on in the match. Several minutes into the game, Carli Lloyd gave away a ball at the midfield. The Tica’s midfielder aptly threaded a pass, splitting the US midfield, to a teammate. That teammate pressed the ball forward, splitting the United States back line to an on-running forward. The Costa Rican forward was left all alone, running at Nicole Barnhart. The forwards shot, likely a result of Barnhart’s super intimidating awesomeness, went far wide of the goal out of harm’s way. The speed in which the play had developed and rendered the mighty US defenseless was a huge boost for the Ticas and very frightening for the US.
In the opening 15 minutes of play the Costa Rican WNT had many more dangerous chances at the USA back line than their opponent did. The bright spot in the USA’s attack in the first half was the impressive effort put forth by defender Ali Krieger, whose absence in this tournament has been notable. Krieger was effective in the back line by shutting down any attack in her area and quickly transitioning to push the ball forward. The most notable of which was a pass that Krieger made on the ground from the midfield, splitting the entire Costa Rican line-up towards a surprised WNT forward. Krieger’s efforts were almost rewarded when Krieger’s cross, intended for the back post, went wayward towards the upper 90 of the back post. The ball sailed just left of the goal, but Krieger’s faux-attempt was the US WNT’s most dangerous opportunity up until that point in the match.
Overwhelmingly, the US WNT forwards seemed utterly lost in the opening minutes of the match. It seems that forwards Abby Wambach and Lauren Cheney were occupied by their alternate personas Amy Wamebach and Lauren Sheeney. Wamebach and Sheeney had obviously never seen a soccer ball before in the life, or so you would think by the way they would helplessly chase after and stare at any pass their teammates sent their way.
But as is typical WNT fashion, when struggling offensively against a side they have absolutely no business struggling against, follow the philosophy: dive and dive again. In the 32nd minute of play, Lauren Cheney received a pass at the top of the Costa Rican box with her back to goal. As she was receiving the ball, the Costa Rican captain stepped in and toe poked the ball away before Cheney could receive it. The defender made contact with Cheney’s leg after clearing the ball away and Cheney went down in a heap. The ref fell for it and awarded a penalty to the United States, which Amy Wamebach Abby Wambach neatly tucked inside the lower left corner of the net.
The WNT continued to struggle offensively, but allowed fewer opportunities to their foe. Finally understanding what the rest of us have been saying for quite some time, Pia yanked Lloyd from the match in favor of Lori Lindsey. Lori Lindsey seemed to have held back to hold the midfield while Boxx roamed around, looking to get involved in the attack. Also at this time, Kristine Lilly, who had been at left winger, and Yael Averbuch, who had been at right winger, switched sides. The move was ineffective. Ali Krieger’s runs became more infrequent, which is not all that surprising. Her constant runs into the box were continually unrewarded by Yael Averbuch who favored a lazy cross into the penalty area over a give and go with an unmarked Krieger.
The score remained 1-0 going into the half, even though Lauren Cheney had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 41′ minute. After a cross had made its way to the back post, Cheney, unmarked, miss-hit the ball from 5 yards out, struggling to put the ball into the back of the net. The ball had no momentum and was easily scooped up by the Costa Rican goalkeeper. The Costa Ricans were deprived of a sure opportunity to tie the score up in extra time when the ref denied them a penalty kick. At the edge of the box, just on the goal line, an Ali Krieger tackle recklessly missed the ball and instead took out the Costa Rican forward. In my opinion, the play wasn’t deserving of a penalty. However, I prefer consistency out of my referees, and if the US was deserving of a penalty earlier in the match, then this play was equally deserving, if not more so.
The second half proved to be far more fruitful for the US WNT. The Costa Rican offense has proven itself to be incredibly skillful and tactically impressive; however, they were overwhelmingly outmatched by the United States defense physically. Costa Rica had plenty of opportunities in the second half, earning several corners and free kicks in dangerous range. However, whenever a forward would break free of the back line, a US defender was no more than three steps away to neutralize the effort.
The US WNT struggled coming out of the gates in the second half, with Amy Wamebach completely incapable of shooting the ball in front of a wide open net. In the 52′ minute, Abby had the ball 8 yards out, but instead of shooting she held on to the ball. It wasn’t long before she was forced to fend off several defenders. She ultimately shoveled the ball to Kristine Lilly, who somehow managed to earn a cross or a corner or something off of the play. Ultimately the effort ended with a Shannon Boxx header going over the goal.
Cheney had two chances in the 56′ and 57′ minutes that could have broken the game wide open. In the 56′ Cheney found herself running directly at the goalkeeper, completely unmarked. Her shot went right into the keeper’s arms. In the 57′ minute a beautiful Ali Krieger cross found Cheney running onto the back post. Cheney volleyed the ball one-time, but again, right into the keeper’s arms. In a never ending onslaught, Cheney received a ball from the left side in the 58′. Keeping her eyes on the ball, Cheney ran into the box, preparing to redirect the ball on frame. Simultaneously, the Ticas goalkeeper came rushing out. Cheney redirected the ball over the goal keepers head, but the shot went left of the goal. Cheney and the keeper collided, and Cheney earned an undeserved yellow card on the play. The Ticas goalkeeper was on the ground for several minutes being tended to before resuming play.
Ten minutes later, Cheney finally netted a goal, putting the ball in the roof of the net from 6 yards out. On a US corner, the Costa Rican defender stopped a shot with her chest, but the deflection went straight to Cheney. Getting hit pretty hard on the play, the goalkeeper was down again, this time to be replaced by Costa Rica’s backup. During this time Alex Morgan was substituted into the match for Wambach.
In the 74′ minute, the United States was awarded a free kick from around 30 yards out, just slightly left of the center of the goal. Yael Averbuch’s shot skillfully rocketed under the crossbar and into the goal. A minute later Heather O’Reilly was subbed into the match for a quiet Shannon Boxx. O’Reilly was moved to the right side while Averbuch was to resume Boxx’s role as an attacking midfielder. For the next five minutes or so, Costa Rica stepped up the pressure. During this period, Rachel Buehler tried really hard to give Costa Rica an opportunity, when she half-Buehldozered a Costa Rican forward who was chasing a loose ball that Nicole Barnhart was coming out to grab. Showing a proclivity for protecting the goalkeepers, the ref declined to call the penalty.
In the 82nd minute of play, Alex Morgan collected the ball on the 6 yard box, and despite being covered by two defenders, kept her composure and was able to slide in a shot past the Costa Rican goalkeeper. The remainder of the match saw the US on their heels as the Ticas were pushing hard for a goal. In the 88th minute of play, a United States corner resulted in a goal for Lori Lindsey. However, the referee cited Kristine Lilly for interfering with the goalkeeper and what would have been Lori Lindsey’s first international goal was disallowed.
Costa Rican put the pressure on hard in extra time. Krieger stepped up big in the 90th minute, shutting down one of Costa Rica’s forwards at the top of the box, clearing the ball for a corner. Shortly after, Costa Rica was awarded a free kick about 20 yards out, to the left of the goal. The shot was almost identical to Averbuch’s rocket in the 74′, but Barnhart cleanly read the play, calmly tipping the ball over the crossbar. The US scrambled to clear the ball out of their defensive third in the waning moments of the match. They were finally able to get possession of the ball, putting together an attack that featured Alex Morgan on the left side of the field. Morgan calmly cut the ball in towards the goal and pushed it to the end line, leaving the defender behind her. Morgan then crossed the ball across the box towards an on-running and undefended Lauren Cheney. Cheney’s shot went sailing over the crossbar and I held my head in disgust. I scored one goal on my varsity high school team on a play identical to that one, so I have the full freedom to judge you, Ms. Sheeney.
The whistle signaled the end of the match shortly thereafter. It was rather unfortunate that Costa Rica wasn’t able to find the back of the net as they played a tremendous match and the score line didn’t seem to reflect that in the slightest. The US WNT is scheduled to come up against much more impressive competition this Friday, playing the runner-up of group A, either Canada or Mexico. In order to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, the United States must win Friday’s match. If they continue to play matches in the lackluster manner that has become standard operating procedure, they might be in for a rude awakening.