The US women’s team retained their regional title and qualified for the 2024 Olympics on a Monday night that began with angst.
The Tokyo Olympics gave birth to him. The last two weeks in Monterrey, Mexico at the CONCACAF W Championship have made matters worse. USWNT, according to his own coach, remained unfinished. “If you ask me if we’re ready for tomorrow’s competitive world championships,” Vlatko Andonowski said last week, “we’re probably not ready for that.”
But in the final on Monday, the Americans were reminded of unmistakable truths.
They are still the most talented team in North and Central America, and possibly the world.
Somehow they passed on the titular DNA from generation to generation, including this one.
It’s an unfinished product, but still awe-inspiring.
They beat Canada 1-0 on Alex Morgan’s penalties and the score underplayed their lead. Mallory Pugh could also score; Sophia Smith should have. For 90 tense minutes, shots went past the posts and the balls came to rest just a few feet from the goal line. Almost misses lasted the entire first half and became more and more painful after the break.
The breakthrough finally came after 77 minutes. Rose Lavelle, jumping into the penalty box, was clipped back. Morgan confidently converted from a place.
But it’s been happening all night, ever since Pugh fired a half-volley into goal at an acute angle in the first minute. This has been the case since Sofia Huerta started to cross from the right flank and Lindsey Horan took charge of the midfield.
It didn’t quite come when The US came up with a near-perfect counterattackor when Smith passed Canada’s valiant goalkeeper Kaylen Sheridan. But during the night, the quality of USWNT surfaced. They are created over three expected goals with Canada’s odds of 0.5.
While Thursday’s preliminary rounds and semi-finals brought results but not convincing performances, Monday brought both: a justified, celebratory post-game rendezvous; some revenge for Tokyo 2020’s heartbreak; and a confetti trophy lift.
Despite all the talk of a catching up world, of tactical shortcomings and unfinished evolutions, of inconsistency, the US remains the queen of North and Central America. He hasn’t lost a game or even conceded a goal in a continental competition since 2010. Its youth teams have held the U-17 and U-20 regional titles for some time now.
There is still work, a lot of work to be done before the World Cup next summer. The evolutionary process, which usually begins after the Olympics, began a year later. The next generation, highly experienced, was not battle-tested and not fully integrated with the old guard. Injuries, including a crushing injury to rising star Katarina Macario, have complicated things.
But Monday was fighting, and the test passed with enthusiasm. It was the world champions in football against the Olympic champions, and this convincingly testified to superiority.
“I was very pleased with the incremental improvements [throughout the tournament]Andonowski said after the game.
He has also improved as a coach. While game adjustments in the group stage were slow, on Monday he turned an early injury stoppage into a quasi-time-out and made a notable tactical stunt. Canadian winger Nichelle Prince twisted and turned Huerta in and out on the US right flank. Andonowski, gesturing frantically during the stoppage, urged Smith and the right center midfielder to redouble the pressure on Prince, who was silent for an hour afterwards.
This title, though, was mostly about individual quality. It was about Morgan after an eight-month hiatus from the USWNT, which became the golden ball. It was about the dazzling Smith and Pugh, as well as Andy Sullivan and Emily Fox, replacing pregnant veterans. “They will be here for at least three, maybe four World Championships,” Andonowski said of the youth, then smiled. So get used to them.
The title, ninth for the USWNT in CONCACAF, also qualified the Americans for Paris 2024, but Andonowski forgot about it almost an hour after the final whistle. The focus of his and the players was and remains the 2023 World Cup, which will begin a year after Wednesday. This qualifier was part of a slow and sometimes painful process leading up to 2023. And the progress of the USWNT has, in the end, been satisfactory.
“As a coaching staff we are celebrating a lot because we think this is just the beginning of what we will see in the next 9-12 months,” Andonowski said.
Immediately after admitting last week that his team would not be ready for the World Cup “tomorrow”, he continued: “But will we be ready in a year? Absolutely”.
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