Neither would lose symmetry: the United States and Canada, two of the world’s best women’s soccer teams, met on a sultry night and chased after a prize that only one of them could win.
Tight match. Late penalty. A jubilant holiday.
A year ago at the Tokyo Olympics, Canadians cheered as they converted a second-half penalty to win the match on their way to the gold medal.
On Monday evening in Monterrey, Mexico, the Americans danced at the final whistle. They were the ones who won the penalty and then the 1-0 game to secure a place at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. It is they who now have a chance to snatch that gold medal back.
The victory came through familiar hands with Lindsey Horan in control of the midfield. Rose Lavelle slips behind the defenders and winning a penalty. Alex Morgan prepares to bury him.
The victory was the second major goal achieved by the Americans in Mexico in a tournament that served as a qualifier for both the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. The United States secured their place in the former by simply advancing to the semi-finals. But he still had a goal and a point to prove against Canada in the final of the Concacaf W Championship.
Morgan started this Olympic semi-final last summer in Kashima, Japan, but watched it finish from the bench after a substitution. During the Games, she was one of the most vocal veteran players in that roster who suggested in no uncertain terms that coach Vlatko Andonovski was wrong.
In the year since that loss, the 33-year-old Morgan was among the veterans asked to make way for younger offensive talents like Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman to give Andonowski a chance to work and retool ahead of next year’s World Cup. Australian and New Zealand Cup. But she also knew her chance would eventually come again, and on Monday, after two weeks of matches involving young players and new lineups, Morgan got her chance to make things right to prove she still had a role.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m very happy with how she handled the whole situation when she returned,” Andonowski told reporters after the final. “I immediately said: Alex is the best player. This is what makes her special. She doesn’t want to stop growing, she doesn’t want to stop developing.”
Her opportunity to break the goalless draw presented itself in the 76th minute. After receiving the ball from Horan after Lavelle stumbled in the penalty area, Morgan took several deep breaths, stepped forward confidently and landed a low hard shot into the bottom right corner as Canada’s goalkeeper Kylen Sheridan dived the other way.
A few minutes after the final whistle, Morgan was named the best player in the tournament.
“It’s just always nice,” she said, “to be called a champion.”
Grateful for the comeback – her longtime teammate Megan Rapinoe didn’t come off the bench in the final – Morgan seemed to go along with Andonowski’s choice this time around. But she was also quick to notice that breaking in new players, especially on the traditional US team, sometimes required the presence of seniors to show them the way.
“Some of the younger players can look up to older players in a big tournament like this,” Morgan said. “You just can’t do that in friendly matches. This must be the real deal. And that’s the real deal.”
Andonowski also praised the likes of Morgan, Rapinoe and defender Becky Sauerbrunn for creating a “superb” atmosphere conducive to success. “We went into the last game of the tournament after staying in a hotel for a month with the best energy we’ve ever had” he said. “This is a testament, first of all, to older players.”
To what extent are the US and Canada ahead of their regional rivals? Neither team lost a single game in Monterrey en route to the final. None conceded a goal. Each scored a dozen goals in the first four games.
In fact, both teams were so dominant that after Costa Rica and Jamaica took the other two places in the semi-finals – having won the region’s other two automatic places at the World Championships – they seemed to give way before the final, having rested some of their strength. top players in the semi-finals and instead focused on winning the third-place game. In the end, winning there seemed like a safer bet, and it also came with a consolation prize: a toss against a US-Canadian player who lost in a two-legged Olympic playoff and offered a last chance for a seat in Paris in 2024.
Losing the final was hardly a disaster for Canada, with many still expecting its team to qualify for the Paris Games by beating Jamaica, who beat Costa Rica earlier Monday in the third-place game, in next year’s playoffs.
Canada also learned something about itself along the way. Sheridan, who kept her team in the game with some outstanding saves in the first half, was named the tournament’s best goaltender and appears to have stuck to the role. Julia Grosso won the golden boot as the league’s top scorer, and she and fellow 21-year-old Jordyn Huitema came off the bench on Monday to spark a game-changer that could put Canada in the same game. .-an old calculation that now covers the United States.
“I think there’s another level,” Canadian coach Bev Priestman said after her team’s win in the semi-finals, “and I really think playing with a team like the USA will bring out some of our strengths that maybe the teams don’t allowed us to do. ”
Now she and her players – as well as Team USA – know a little more about the mix they’ll need to achieve what they really want.
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