USWNT blanks Costa Rica to advance to CONCACAF W Championship

Think of the CONCACAF W Championship as a game of musical chairs. It started last week with eight teams circling four seats, each representing a spot at next summer’s World Cup.

These were all complained about.

Now the music picks up a bit and the tempo picks up a bit, as with victories in Thursday’s semifinals, USA and Canada are the only teams left in the game. And the chair they circle represents the region’s only automatic berth at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Who gets this place will be decided in the tournament final on Monday.

Leaders USA, who, like Canada, have already secured a place at the World Cup, continued with a 3-0 win over Costa Rica in front of a tiny crowd at the huge Estadio Universitario. Canada, sixth in the world, followed with a 3-0 win over Jamaica.

The teams last met in the Olympic semifinals last summer, a game Canada won en route to a gold medal.

But for forward Alex Morgan, Monday’s rematch is less about settling points from recent Olympics and more about qualifying for the next.

“The rivalry has definitely intensified in recent years. But it’s really not about looking back, it’s about looking forward,” she said. “Look at this squad. There are many girls who weren’t even there last year.

“This will be an opportunity for us to redeem our ticket to the Olympic Games [and] Show us and the world why we have this #1 ranking.”

It’s been more than four years since the reigning world and Olympic champions faced each other as USA defeated Germany in the 2018 SheBelieves Cup. It has been more than seven years since the two champions met in an official match; that was in the final of the 2015 World Cup, where the USA defeated Japan.

Those were games that many women from the current US team watched on TV, as 10 players in the squad are aged 25 or under and 12 with 15 caps or less were in this month’s tournament.

So if the first four games of the CONCACAF championship served to propel USA through to the final, they were also valuable lessons for a team in transition.

“We wanted to put them in a difficult situation in competitive games,” said coach Vlatko Andonovski after Thursday’s win. “I’m glad we were able to expose them to a game like this.”

America's Emily Sonnett celebrates her side's first goal against Costa Rica.

USA’s Emily Sonnett (left) celebrates her side’s opening goal against Costa Rica during Thursday’s CONCACAF women’s championship semi-final match in Monterrey, Mexico.

(Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

Morgan said the veterans also needed to be involved in the learning process.

“The only thing I’ve increased from this tournament is the voice on the field, helping the players with positioning, set pieces, the things that this team is proud of,” she said. “The mentality just pushes the players a little bit.”

Emily Sonnett’s first career goal in the 34th minute proved to be the only one USA would need.

The sequence began with Mallory Pugh deflecting a corner kick into the center of the box where it hit a Costa Rica defender and deflected off the far post to Sonnett, who shot the rebound through the legs of Costa Rica’s Gabriela Guillen while he was the six-yard box went down.

Pugh made it 2-0 in first-half injury time, and Ashley Sanchez completed in second-half injury time, which should probably count as a catch-up since the USA are yet to lose – or even allowed one – a World Cup or Olympic qualifier Goal in one — in 12 years.

Including Thursday’s result, the USA are 30-0 and have outplayed their opponents by 148-0 since losing to Mexico in 2010.

The latest addition to that list, however, was more sloppy than confident, as USA held the ball for almost an hour and passed Costa Rica 15-2, but squandered more chances than they took. And that’s not against Canada.

“We made too many technical mistakes, too many for the players on the field,” said Andonovski. “We know they can set up and pass and execute the ball. And that’s what we’re going to examine to see what it is. Is it mental preparation or physical preparation? Whatever it is, we have to fix it.”

They have three days to do this. Because when the music stops on Monday, only one team has a place at the next Olympics, while the other has to face a playoff to get there.

“I’m really looking forward to the game,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “You always want to test yourself. The USA are an incredible team. I know they will definitely go into this game with Tokyo in mind. They want to correct that.

“There is a lot at stake. It’s the Olympics and we want to make sure we’re not out there.” USWNT blanks Costa Rica to advance to CONCACAF W Championship

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