The USA advanced to the Women’s World Cup with a lopsided victory over a Mexican team that left a couple of solid attackers on the bench and never threatened to come back from an early U.S. goal.
Costa Rica advanced in penalty kicks in the first qualifying semifinal, with Dinnia Diaz saving all three Trinidad and Tobago kicks she faced while the Tica kickers calmly converted their attempts. Costa Rica and the USA will play in the final for bragging rights but little else — even calling it the CONCACAF championship seems dubious when Canada (automatically qualified for the World Cup as hosts) isn’t participating.
As promised in the headline, here are the key moments and random thoughts (the latter in italic).
USA: Hope Solo; Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen, Christie Rampone, Ali Krieger; Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd; Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press; Sydney Leroux
Starting Leroux instead of Abby Wambach isn’t that much of a shocker; Jill Ellis has rotated attackers at times, and Wambach could always come in off the bench. The shocker is the omission of center back Becky Sauerbrunn, arguably the world’s best defender. She should be rested and ready to go. Why leave her out here?
Mexico: Pamela Tajonar; Bianca Sierra, Christina Murillo, Alina Garciamendez, Kenti Robles; Liliana Mercado, Arianna Romero, Lydia Rangel, Dinora Garza, Tanya Samarzich; Luz Duarte
Veronica Perez, Monica Ocampo and Teresa Noyola on the bench, leading the Fox broadcasters to question whether Mexico was simply writing off this game and resting players to try to clinch a World Cup berth in the third-place game instead.
10 seconds: Boom, up to Leroux. She’s offside.
Despite that direct start, the USA spend its next several possessions going through the middle through Lauren Holiday.
4th minute: USA free kick, far right, 25 yds out. Rapinoe serves to box, nothing doing.
6th minute: GOAL USA 1-0. As they had early in Monday’s game, the USA has too many players sitting in the middle of the box — three this time — but Tobin Heath’s excellent cross goes straight to the head of Carli Lloyd. Credit Holiday with switching the point of attack out to Heath.
9th minute: Quick ball from the left flank ahead to Press in the middle, and Tajonar has to race out to head it away awkwardly.
15th minute: Mexico has a possession in the U.S. half. Possibly their first, at least their first with more than 1-2 touches.
Mexico has been defending in two lines — the four at the back, then five at midfield, the latter about 30-35 yards up the field, trying to make it difficult for Holiday to distribute. They’ve been somewhat successful, but they only needed to fail once, and they have.
19th minute: Two U.S. shots, the first (from a curiously open Press) saved, the second blocked. Rapinoe, slightly right of center, flicked it to Leroux at the top of the box, who one-timed it to Press. Then Leroux pounced on the rebound but couldn’t punch it in. The danger continued for another few seconds.
22nd minute: Good U.S. chance on a smart ball from Engen at midfield that floats over Sierra to Press. Her shot finds the side netting.
Not really sure I see that, but I’ve been watching Haiti play, so the bar has been lowered for me.
28th minute: Good 1v1 play from Press on the right. Rapinoe can’t quite get onto the cross. Holiday blasts a follow-up shot well high.
29th minute: Penalty kick USA, and on first glance, I don’t buy it. On the replay, I definitely don’t. That’s a dive from Tobin Heath. Lloyd converts it. 2-0
32nd minute: Free kick USA as Mercado tangles with Leroux. Rapinoe takes it about five yards outside the arc. Puts it on goal, but Tajonar handles it easily.
Indeed — Rapinoe is often up at center forward. Or Lloyd.
35th minute: Ali Krieger gets forward, tries a cross, gets it back and gets hammered by Samarzich. Rapinoe’s free kick from the side of the box is easily cleared.
36th minute: The first corner kick of the game goes to … Mexico! Robles works up the right channel and wins it. The ball bounds out to Mercado, who takes aim from 25 but sends it comfortably wide of the far post. First shot for Mexico, but nothing to trouble Solo.
38th minute: Two more crosses from Press. Also an odd moment on the first one as a second ball materializes on the field. Mexico’s defense alertly clears both of them.
40th minute: Another good cross from Press, this time to Lloyd, who ends up laying it back to Press. She tries to lob it over the mass of red defenders, but it’s over the bar as well.
43rd minute: Second U.S. corner kick, both within a couple of minutes, and Holiday shanks it over the end line.
45th minute: Press crosses to Klingenberg, which makes sense because the outside backs have gotten bored and are just racing into the Mexican box at will now. She receives it at an awkward height and sends it over.
Shots: USA 11-1; Shots on goal: USA 4-0; Corner kicks: USA 2-1; Offsides: USA 3-0; Fouls: MEX 7-2. But the CONCACAF site credits Mexico with an impressive 16 clearances (USA four) and 27 recoveries (USA 1).
Mexico is playing with no confidence, no discipline, nothing to suggest they’re doing anything other than going through the motions before facing Trinidad and Tobago in the third-place game.
48th minute: An actual attacking possession for Mexico, with two crosses coming from the right — one cleared, one out of play. First test of any kind for central defenders.
49th minute: Chance for USA. Ordinarily, you’d laugh at someone who hit the crossbar from three yards out, but Leroux had to stretch out her foot after Rapinoe’s cross went past/was flicked on by/was dummied by Heath.
54th minute: Lloyd tries a little too hard to get something done in the box and is called for the foul.
MEX substitution: Sandra Mayor for the exhausted solo front-runner Duarte, who has not been able to get on the end of whatever hopeful balls the Mexican midfield has lobbed up in her direction.
56th minute: GOAL 3-0 USA. Leroux with a nicely weighted through ball to Press, who was kept onside by a stray center back. Press takes one touch as Tajonar lunges, then finishes into the open net. Rapinoe also could have finished it.
So here’s how fluid the formation is — the forward just played a through ball to the right wing, which she finished alongside the playmaking midfielder.
61st minute: Chance as Leroux hits the woodwork again, this time finding the right post from 18 yards out while her defender retreated.
Well, if it’s any consolation, it’s three now.
USA substitution: Abby Wambach in for Sydney Leroux. Not sure why, other than perhaps to please the crowd. It was not a popular substitution on Twitter.
62nd minute: Cross from Press to Wambach’s feet. She’s wide open on the 6. Can’t get it. Perhaps not quite in the flow of the game after two seconds.
65th minute: Cross from Wambach to Holiday, whose header from 10 yards dead center goes wide.
It’s garbage time now.
67th minute: Tobin Heath tries to keep the ball in play by leaning forward and kicking it like a one-footed scorpion kick. But it was already out. Did I say it was garbage time?
USA substitution: Morgan Brian for Megan Rapinoe.
71st minute: U.S. corner kick sent to Wambach, who’s defended well enough that she can’t get the header on frame.
MEX substitution: Monica Alvarado replaces Murillo.
74th minute: Press with yet another terrific cross, Holiday dummies it for Heath, whose shot is blocked by the sprawling Robles.
USA substitution: Heather O’Reilly replaces Lauren Holiday. Surely, the USA will juggle the lineup somehow to account for the flank player subbing for the converted center mid, but does it matter at this point?
75th minute: With the first kick after the substitution, a free kick is floated to Lloyd. She’s clearly offside, but everyone briefly celebrates her hat trick before realizing the flag is up.
MEX substitution: Noyola for Robles. They’re rolling the dice on offense now. Well, not really. They’re just throwing warm bodies onto the field until this is over.
Cat Whitehill tells us Abby Wambach has dropped into the No. 10 role. But she’s not going to try to be a playmaker like Rapinoe.
Meanwhile, Tobin Heath is dribbling like Curly Neal against the Washington Generals.
84th minute: Chance as Wambach’s shot is saved by Tajonar. Press follows up but hits the left post.
Fox raises a pointed question: Given Hope Solo’s impending trial, do you play Ashlyn Harris in the final, just for the experience? Cat Whitehill agrees that it’s a good opportunity to play Harris.
Shot count is now 18-1 USA.
Tobin Heath is down holding her shin. From the replay, I’m not sure she’s wearing shin guards. Actually quite common for players to use tiny, flimsy shin guards, which baffles me. But Heath is back up quickly. And Whitehill is now lobbying for Ellis to play Julie Johnston in the final.
90th minute: The USA officially shifts to keepaway mode.
92nd minute: Wambach shoots from 25, easily saved.
So the USA advances for the World Cup, avenging a loss at this stage to Mexico four years ago that sent the Americans on an odyssey to reach the tournament.
The final against Costa Rica could be an interesting test of U.S. depth if Ellis puts out a few reserves. Costa Rica is clearly the third-best team in the region at the moment and should be the toughest opponent the USA will face until it goes outside the continent for opposition.