MONTERREY, Mexico. After all, it had to be Alex Morgan.
The United States defeated Canada 1-0 on Monday at Estadio BBVA to win the CONCACAF W Championship and secure a spot at the 2024 Olympics. It was the most convincing American performance in the tournament, exuding the confidence that has defined the USWNT for generations.
However, demons of inability to realize quality opportunities followed them into the finals. Early pressure didn’t result in any goals and even shots from outside the 6-yard box were saved – Sophia Smith’s shot was deflected in the closing seconds of the first half by goaltender Kaylen Sheridan.
But when Canadian defender Allisha Chapman fouled in Rose Lavelle’s box with less than 15 minutes left in the game, it was Morgan, who has been at the center of every momentous moment in the US over the last decade, who took the penalty and buried the penalty. hitting the only goal of the game.
“She’s a winner,” US head coach Vlatko Andonovski said of Morgan after the match. “She knows how to win big games. She knows how to perform in big games; she has done this before. She has won world championships, won the Olympics, won major tournaments. It doesn’t come overnight.”
His last remark is important for the American team, which basically lacks such experience, with the exception of a few key veterans. Twelve players from the W Championship CONCACAF USA have played no more than 20 caps.
The US victory restored order both regionally and globally. Canada defeated the United States in the semi-finals of last year’s Olympics, forcing the US to settle for a bronze medal as Canada marched towards its first major tournament victory. For the US, 11 months of recovery – soul-searching even – followed as Andonowski parted ways with several veterans who have been at the heart of the team’s two consecutive World Cup titles in favor of young players he believes. will carry the team to the 2023 World Cup and beyond.
Since a place in the 2023 World Cup was also achieved by reaching the semi-finals of this competition, now is the time to give these players the experience they will need for the bigger stages. Sometimes this process was difficult. The challenge was and remains relentless: to recruit a new core from inexperienced players without sacrificing results. So this victory over Canada is a proof of concept.
“I’m almost thrilled because the atmosphere with the team is really incredible,” said American midfielder Andy Sullivan, who played in her first qualifying tournament with the team. “The mix between senior leaders and young players, for some it’s their first tournament and for some players it’s their 100th tournament, I think it’s an incredible combination.
“That energy today was almost the same as after a long drive, a long tournament, one of the most joyful days we had today. And I think that says a lot about this group and I think we should celebrate that in a lot of ways on the field and after the game.”
Winning the final on Monday does not remove important questions for the team. The US fought in isolated defensive moments against Haiti and at times struggled to get past the low blocks of Mexico and Costa Rica.
There are also questions on each field line about who should start. Veteran goaltender Alyssa Najeher returned to net in the final after Casey Murphy started three of the other four matches in the tournament, including the semi-finals. The back line changed at least one member every game, and the midfield appeared to be switched off at various points in the tournament. Finishing was also a problem.
All these fears are justified, but related to the context of the moment in which the Americans find themselves. They did what was required of them, both stylistically and in terms of results. They worked behind the scenes and improved from the start of the tournament until the final, when this group of new players showed their best results to date.
From the first minute, the US was in the lead, setting the pace and putting pressure on Canada’s backline. Mallory Pugh forced Sheridan to make a save just 40 seconds into the half, and Morgan hit a curling shot wide of the far post three minutes later. Smith had his best opportunity in the first half in the final seconds but failed to accurately touch the ball for the cut-in.
The finish may not have been enough, but the energy and chance creation was exceptional for the US, whose expected goal count that evening was 3.14 compared to Canada’s 0.53, according to TruMedia/Stats Perform. And now the US has beaten Canada in all 10 CONCACAF finals they have met.
“These are the moments that we are happy about,” Andonowski said. “These are the moments that we, as coaches, pay attention to and that give us confirmation of what we are doing. And these are the moments that make us happy as coaches. This means that we are moving in the right direction.”
Captain Becky Sauerbrunn, 37, is one of the few remaining veterans on the team. She was the defensive anchor for the 2015 and 2019 World Cup winning teams. On Monday, sitting on yet another stage with a shower of confetti and pyrotechnics behind her, Sauerbrunn held the CONCACAF W Championship trophy as the team posed for pictures. Morgan sat next to her, holding the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament. The two veterans were at the center of the group, surrounded by much younger people who had never been on a stage like this before.
“You can’t replicate those games in friendly and home tournaments,” Sauerbrunn said. “When something is really at stake, when your future is at stake, having that pressure, letting the young players experience it and kind of get used to that kind of discomfort – because it’s uncomfortable.
“One mistake could potentially leave you unable to qualify for the World Cup: those are huge stakes. So having that kind of pressure and thriving under it is what this team has always been known for. environment and accustom them to it, I think this will only help us in the future.”
Andonowski called Emily Fox, Pugh, Smith and Sullivan by their first names after Monday’s win when he spoke of “players who will be here for at least three, maybe four World Cups,” adding, “so get used to them.”
These 20-year-olds are the future of the US, which is still shaping and experiencing some growth difficulties. They still need time to prepare for the World Cup, but that’s still a year away. And they don’t go through this process alone or without the help of veterans like Morgan, who is still the team’s coordinator.
“For her to be on the field to showcase that and have Mel and Soph by her side is a big win for us,” Andonowski said. “This is a big win for this team – and for the country – because these two are going to have to take it on. What could be better than learning on the spot from one of the best?”
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