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.