Harder, Better, Hungrier: USWNT Flatten Canada in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Final

Commanding in every respect, the United States lived up to its no. 1 world ranking tonight, and then some.  The 4-0 score line provided an apt bookend to a tournament in which the United States outscored its five opponents by a margin of 38-0.

The team not only won like champions on the night, it played like champions, too. There were no signs of the stodgy midfield play or creaky defending present against Costa Rica on Friday (or versus Sweden in Glendale or Canada in Kansas City or Sweden in Wolfsburg, etc.). No, the USWNT overwhelmed Canada from the opening whistle and never relented. The U.S. attacked from all avenues, making the most of its interchangeable attacking parts and stingy defense. The side’s up-tempo pace and acute finishing proved too much for John Herdman’s new-look Canada side to handle.

It was technically a meaningless game as both sides clinched Olympic qualification on Friday, but the United States’ squad clearly took it for what it was: a tournament final. As for the slightly tweaked formation and new personnel, well, here we go again. There’s something about big events that brings the best out of this team. It’s almost like we must view the other substandard matches and performances in a vaccuum: this is the USWNT eager to present itself to the world. When it really matters. Pia makes us (me) look like hypercritical worrywarts once more.

The game proved useful in other ways too. It granted young players a rare opportunity to take center stage in the finale of an international competition – before tens of thousands semi-hostile screaming fans. Familiar names (Buehler, LePeilbet, O’Reilly, Boxx) made way for fresh faces with relatively new assignments. None disappointed, proving the side’s depth is as first-class as advertised.

Becky Sauerbrunn rightfully re-claimed her spot next to Christine Rampone. Lori Lindsey got the surprise start alongside Carli Lloyd in midfield. Kelley O’Hara reprised her role at full-back; only this time on the left. Amy Rodriguez and Megan Rapinoe manned each flank and swapped sides throughout the match. All did a job.

The marquee players also validated their top billings. Hope Solo preserved the U.S.’s perfect defensive record once more, ably snuffing out Canada’s sparse looks on goal in the first half. Abby Wambach flaunted her uncanny goal poaching abilities, tying, then surpassing Kristine Lilly in the process for second-most all-time. With the evening’s other two goals, Alex Morgan was nothing short of effervescent. It was only the 22-year-old’s third international start, but the way in which she burst – okay, cantered – past Canada’s line of defense before slyly guiding in her first goal was vintage Morgan.

Like in Bochum against France, an outmatched Canada was again on the receiving end of a 4-0 shellacking. Nose now perfectly intact, the U.S. confined Christine Sinclair – inarguably one of the three most complete strikers in the women’s game – to only a few meager touches; this after looking like a world-beater two days prior.

To its credit, Big Red will seemingly persist with a few of the tenets hammered home by erstwhile manager Carolina Morace. The team continued to play from the back, opting to pass its way out of trouble. Neither tactic proved effective against a U.S. side endowed with such athleticism and well-honed skill.

To its benefit, the home team didn’t lose in seclusion. The capacity crowd at BC Place – the second largest in team history – sounded as vociferous at the final whistle as it did at kick-off. Despite the sour result, the red-outfitted throng provided a sweet send-off to its national team for accomplishing what it ultimately set out to do: secure a place in the Summer Olympics.

The night belonged to Canada’s southern neighbors, however. Tonight’s result reflects Pia Sundhage’s USWNT at its rip-roaring best. Ruthlessly effective whilst being pleasing on the eye; a difficult and rarely achieved trick, no doubt. The victory also saw the maximization of the wealth of talent on offer. The same can be said for the team’s play throughout the entire competition.

Save for the flat performance against Costa Rica and the loss of one of the premier right-backs in the world, the U.S. had an emphatically impressive tournament, with the goal return to back it up. Sundhage’s squad emerged sharper, bolder, more lethal, and hungrier than before.

Well, since July 17, at least. It was the United States’ most vibrant performance since the World Cup final in Frankfurt. Neither fatal defensive woes nor penalty kick jitters would spoil the proceedings this time though.

The U.S. came to within a few penalty kicks of a world title in July after mostly outplaying the eventual victors. The side should set out to relive the same drama again this summer, albeit with an alternative ending. The USWNT will hope the final scene at Wembley looks a lot like the one witnessed at BC Place.

9 thoughts on “Harder, Better, Hungrier: USWNT Flatten Canada in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Final

  1. Angie

    Still stunned. Pia uses her bench to give important minutes to her bench and the team never wavered. It’s matches like this that will drive us mad for the rest of the year when Pia undoubtedly goes back to her predictable and tired line-ups that breed mediocre results. I’d like to be hopeful that this tournament is a sign of things to come for the USWNT but, well, I know better. Great result tonight, all credit to players and staff alike.

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  2. John F

    Awesome game! Wambach and Morgan played so well together at striker. I’d love to see Pia keep them as starters up top. Morgan is a force. Her goals are great to watch, but I really enjoyed seeing how unselfish she was, looking for the easy goal by a teammate rather than trying to force her own shot. For example, the header to Cheney and the assist to Wambach for Wambach’s second. Really liked what Morgan did in the game. Also, liked the promise of O’Hara on the back line. She can be a special player coming up and adding to the attack on offense.

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  3. e

    What a great match and what a great job by Morgan. The entire team becomes something different with her on the field. Loved O’Hara playing defense. When you open your mind Pia…look at all of the possibilities! Speedy recovery Kreiger!!!!

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  4. random

    O’Hara is doing well attacking out of the back, but she still hasn’t been really tested as a defender. My biggest worry with her at defense is her habit of stupid fouls, hopefully that is being worked on and I’ll have nothing to worry about. I do love the fact they are finding a way to get her on the field, one of my fav players. Morgan looked great last night and I kept thinking of comments from Pia where she said Morgan doesn’t involve the players around her enough or make them better, I didn’t think that was the case last night though there are times when she would make a pass and then walk instead of giving a good sprint for another passing option that can be improved upon.

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    1. MT

      Agreed on O’Hara. She wasn’t really tested at defense was schooled by Sinclair, indicating she’s not quite ready to take on the best in the world. I have no doubt she’s capable of learning the finer points of defending but it will take some time. LePeilbet still has the edge on her in defense. Mitts did a serviceable job and was able to get forward. Considering her lack of experience at RB Buehler also did well. Sauerbrunn was solid, and what can you say about Rampone? She’s the glue that holds any back line formation together.

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  5. soccerfan

    Lindsey looks solid in the midfield with Lloyd, she should get looked at for the starting position. Sauerbrunn needs to start period. And Kelley O’Hara made some great tackles throughout the tournament, tonight included. She might need to pull back on the aggressiveness of them a bit, but I think that comes with practice. All in all, she has had a great audition for an outside back starting position. Anyway, I loved that Pia went with a creative, technical line-up tonight. Smart coaching because I think Canada was expecting the same old. Excited for London!

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  6. VaFan

    Fans and coaches like to talk about “upside” as a way of describing a player’s potential. My feeling is that Kelly O’Hara’s “upside” as an outside back is so great that we need to do everything we can to groom her for that position — and that means playing her in that spot in every friendly between now and London. Energy, pace, aggressiveness, crossing ability, attitude. And we should be more genuinely open-minded about the outside back opposite her, giving Meg Klingenberg and Camille Levin a real chance to win that slot. With any two of those three players, we would have more energy and pace at the outside back position than any other team in the world. Defensive skills will develop with practice and real-game playing time. We have 5 months.

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  7. john

    Congrats!!!
    I don’t want to hear any more about others catching up. The USWNT has been moving forward as well. The current pool is better technically and tactically then its ever been. Look at Pia’s ability to play w/ the pieces and still roll. The only problem w/ Costa Rica was not playing like Americans. By that I mean the cultural confidence, the Eastwood- like swagger, the high pressure that disrupts all but about 3-4 other teams. The single biggest challenge before London is to believe and do what the squad does best. Pity the other coaches who now have to fancy which group Pia’s sending out and how she’ll tweak the approach. Having now removed my rosy lenses I offer this thought: shouldn’t we look at the roster and reconsider those players who are limited in their versatility. I think of Buehler who I don’t see as a intl. outside back. I also question where else Lindsay can play. One should also ponder on Mitts as I’m unsure if she would do well switching to the left. The squad just demonstrated the positives of multi dimensional abilities. I hope Pia hasn’t slammed the door on other options. Perhaps we could send squads to Algarve and Cyprus (if its on ) this year.

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