think about CONCACAF Championship (W) like playing musical chairs. It started last week with eight teams finishing in four places, each representing a spot at the World Championships next summer.
All of them have been declared.
Now the music is picking up a bit and the pace is getting a little faster because with Thursday’s semi-final victories, the US and Canada are the only teams still in the game. And the chair they’re circling is the region’s only automatic dock in Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Who gets this place will be decided in the tournament final on Monday.
USA, which, like Canada, had already secured a place in the World Cup, moved forward by beating Costa Rica 3-0 in front of a tiny crowd at the huge Universitario Stadium. Canada, ranked sixth in the world, beat Jamaica 3-0.
The teams last met in the semi-finals of the Olympics last summer, which Canada won en route to a gold medal.
But for ahead Alex MorganIn the rematch, which will take place on Monday, it will be not so much about settling scores at the last Olympics, but about qualifying for the next one.
“The rivalry has definitely escalated over the last couple of years. But really, it’s not about looking back, it’s about looking forward,” she said. “Look at this squad. There are a lot of girls who weren’t there even last year.
“This will be an opportunity for us to beat a ticket to the Olympics. [and] prove to ourselves and the world why we have this #1.1 place.”
It has been more than four years since the reigning world champions and Olympic champions faced each other when the US beat Germany in the 2018 SheBelieves Cup. It has been over seven years since the two champions have played in an official match; it was in the 2015 World Cup final where the USA beat Japan.
These were games that many of the women on the current US team watched on television, as 10 players on the roster are 25 or younger, and 12 entered this month’s tournament with 15 or fewer international appearances.
So if the first four games of the CONCACAF Championship helped the US reach the final, they also provided valuable experience for the transition team.
“We wanted to put them in a difficult position in games they have to win,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said after Thursday’s win. “I’m glad we were able to put them through a game like this.”
Morgan said that veterans also needed to be involved in the learning process.
“The only thing I have improved in this tournament is the vocals, the help to the players on the field, the positioning, the set pieces, something that this team is proud of,” she said. “The mentality just pushes the players forward a bit.”
Emily Sonnett’s first career goal in the 34th minute was the only one the US needed.
The sequence began with Mallory Pugh bending a corner into the center of the penalty area, where it hit a Costa Rica defender and bounced off the far post onto Sonnett, who rebounded over the legs of Costa Rica’s Gabriela Guillén as he fell to the ground in a six meter box.
Pugh made it 2-0 in stoppage time in the first half and Ashley Sanchez ended the game in stoppage time in the second half, which should probably count as an increase in the score since the US didn’t lose a World Cup or Olympic qualifier – or even allowed a goal one at the age of 12.
Including Thursday’s result, the US is 30-0 and outscored opponents 148-0 after losing to Mexico in 2010.
However, the latest addition to this list was more of a sloppy than a team effort as the US held the ball for almost an hour and beat Costa Rica 15-2 but lost more chances than they converted. And it won’t do against Canada.
“We made too many technical mistakes, too many for the players on the pitch,” Andonowski said. “We know they can set up the ball, pass and execute. And that’s what we’re going to study to see what it is. Is it mental preparation or physical preparation? Whatever it is, we’ll have to fix it.”
They have three days to do this. Because when the music stops on Monday, only one team will get a place in the next Olympics, and the other will have to count on the playoffs to get into it.
“I’m very excited about this game,” said Canadian coach Bev Priestman. “You always want to test yourself. USA is an incredible team. I know they will definitely enter this game with Tokyo in mind. They want to fix it.
“A lot is at stake. This is the Olympics and we want to make sure we don’t get knocked out.”