USWNT edges Canada in CONCACAF W Championship final to earn 2024 Olympics berth
The U.S. women’s soccer team doesn’t rebuild so much as it reloads. It’s a circle of life that goes back nearly a generation, to when Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm were replaced by Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, who then gave way to Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.
What doesn’t change, though, are the results, something a youthful, inexperienced U.S. team proved Monday night when it beat Canada 1-0 in the final of the CONCACAF W Championship at Estadio BBVA, earning an automatic berth in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The victory was the Americans’ 31st consecutive in CONCACAF World Cup and Olympic qualifiers dating to 2010 and the 31st consecutive to come by way of shutout. The United States has outscored opponents 149-0 in that span.
And while Monday’s victory wasn’t as dominant as past wins — the only goal came on Morgan’s penalty kick in the 78th minute — it christened a new wave of players who have rejuvenated what was an aging team. It also earned Morgan the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
“It just always feels good,” Morgan said, “to be called a champion.”
When the United States lost to Canada in the semifinals of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics — on a penalty kick — it had the oldest team in the tournament. So after the team’s bronze-medal performance, the second-worst finish for the U.S. women in the Summer Games, coach Vlatko Andonovski set about remaking a roster that also was weakened by injuries and maternity leaves.
As a result, nine women who played in that Olympic loss to Canada weren’t on the team in Mexico and 13 who were here were participating in their first World Cup or Olympic qualifying tournament.
Morgan, 33, was one of the holdovers. She showed why in the qualifying tournament, starting four times while embracing the mantle of leadership and following in the oversized footsteps of Foudy, Hamm and Wambach.
“Alex is a better player,” said Andonovski, who used five starting lineups and 21 of his 23 players in the tournament. “She doesn’t want to stop growing. She doesn’t want to stop developing. She wants to sophisticate her game in any way possible.
“And she has been doing that day in and day out.”
Indeed, Morgan is playing as well as she has at any point in her career. She leads the NWSL with a career-high 11 goals in 10 games for the expansion San Diego Wave and had a team-leading three goals in the qualifying event, trying for the tournament high.
“I just feel good overall. I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m confident,” she said. “And I just feel like I’m able to contribute exactly what’s being asked of me.”
She contributed the only score her team would need Monday after Canadian defender Allysha Chapman reached out an arm to bring down Rose Lavelle in the penalty area with about 15 minutes left in regulation, earning the penalty. Lindsey Horan originally took the ball to the spot, but she eventually yielded to Morgan, who, after a long pause, drove a low left-footed shot inside the right post.
Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan, Morgan’s teammate with the Wave, dove the other way. But she still deserved a better fate for a marvelous game in which she made five saves.
Canada has now lost to the top-ranked Americans in the final of the last five World Cup and Olympic qualifying tournaments in which it has played, with the latest defeat costing it an automatic berth to the 2024 Summer Games. The reigning Olympic champions, ranked sixth in the world by FIFA, still can qualify for Paris by beating Jamaica — a 1-0 extra-time winner over Costa Rica in Monday’s third-place game — in a playoff next summer.
Both the United States and Canada, along with Jamaica and Costa Rica, qualified for next summer’s World Cup simply by making the semifinals here.
“What you saw tonight is World Cup champions against the Olympic champions,” said Canadian coach Bev Priestman, the last manager to beat the United States. “So it’s fine margins at this level. You use these moments to push forward.
“The most important thing for us is that we keep moving forward.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.