The U.S. got a measure of revenge for their Olympic semifinal loss to Canada by defeating their North American rival 1-0 in the CONCACAF W Championship final Monday.
Both games turned on a penalty.
Monday’s final marked the first meeting between the two North American powers since Aug. 2, 2021, when Canada won 1-0 on a 75th-minute Jessie Fleming spot kick in the Tokyo Olympics semifinal. The Canadian women went on to claim gold in a penalty shootout win over Sweden while the Americans settled for bronze after beating Australia.
This time the U.S. got the crucial call.
American pressure paid off in the second half when Mexican referee Katia Garcia pointed to the penalty spot after Rose Lavelle went down after contact from substitute Allysha Chapman. Veteran forward Alex Morgan stepped up and beat goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan in the 78th minute for her 118th international goal.
It was the first goal conceded by Canada in five games at the eight-team tournament. The Americans did not give up a goal.
Canada coach Bev Priestman called it a “soft penalty.” But Chapman appeared to put a hand on the American’s back while inadvertently clipping her right foot as she tried to chase her down.
“A great game. I knew it was going to be tight. … It’s fine margins at this level,” said Priestman.
“Do I think it was our best performance against a Tier 1 team? No ,” she added. “But that’s what finals are about. These things happen. The most important thing for us is that we keep moving forward. And I’ll say that to the group. I’m incredibly proud of them.”
Sheridan and Morgan are teammates with the NSWSL’s San Diego Wave FC.
“Alex is a big player. And big players are born for big moments,” said U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, who downplayed the Tokyo revenge factor.
As CONCACAF champion, the Americans qualify for both the 2024 Paris Olympics and inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup, also scheduled for 2024.
Olympic champion Canada can still get to Paris but will have to dispatch No. 51 Jamaica in a CONCACAF Olympic play-in series, scheduled for September 2023, with the winner booking their ticket to the Olympics and Gold Cup. The Canadians beat Jamaica 3-0 in the CONCACAF semifinal.
Substitute Kiki Van Zanten’s 102nd-minute goal gave Jamaica a 1-0 victory over No. 37 Costa Rica in the third-place game earlier Monday at Estadio BBVA.
All four CONCACAF W semifinalists have already booked their ticket to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand by virtue of making the tournament final four. No. 60 Haiti and No. 57 Panama, who placed third in their respective groups, move on to a World Cup intercontinental playoff.
The top-ranked U.S. had the better chances in the first half and had slightly more possession than sixth-ranked Canada but could not beat Sheridan and the teams went into the break scoreless.
The Americans picked up the pace in the second half, continuing to be dangerous on the counterattack after winning the ball back. The Canadians found themselves under the gun for stretches.
After going down, the Canadians found renewed energy and came at the Americans, but could not breach the U.S. defence through six minutes of stoppage time.
Priestman liked her team’s response to the goal.
“They showed that they were willing to do anything to get the result back,” she said. “We gave it everything and that’s all you can ask (for).”
The U.S. outshot Canada 14-9 (6-5 in shots on target), according to CONCACAF.
The U.S. improved to 52-4-7 against the Canadians — 9-0-1 in World Cup and Olympic qualifying, with every meeting coming in the final of the tournament.
The Olympic semifinal win in Kashima, Japan, snapped a 36-match U.S. unbeaten run (30-0-6) against Canada that dated back to March 2001, when Canada posted a second straight win over the Americans.
The U.S. roster has undergone a major turnover since Tokyo.
Only five American players who started against Canada at the Olympics were in the starting lineup Monday — goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan, Lavelle and Morgan.
In contrast, nine of Canada’s starting 11 from that Olympic semifinal started Monday. A 10th, Chapman, came on in the 61st minute. The only Olympic starter missing was goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, who has since retired.
The Canadian starters — unchanged from Thursday’s semifinal win over Jamaica — came into the game with a combined 1,171 caps with Christine Sinclair making her 315th appearance. The U.S. starting 11 had a combined 849 caps with Sauerbrunn leading the way, earning her 207th cap.
Canadian midfielder Julia Grosso earned the tournament’s Golden Boot Award as top scorer with three goals, via a tiebreaker, while Sheridan was named top goalkeeper. Morgan was honoured as the tournament’s top player.
Canada also won the tournament’s fair play award.
Both teams had stretches of possession in the first half with the U.S. having the edge in chances.
The Americans started quickly with Mallory Pugh forcing a save by Sheridan in the first minute. Three minutes later, Morgan shot just wide. The Canadians responded with a pair of early Nichelle Prince shots that did not trouble Naeher.
Prince beat two American defenders in the 17th minute, earning a corner with her ensuing deflected shot. Sheridan was forced to punch away a dangerous U.S. cross in the 23rd.
Sheridan made a diving save to deny Pugh in the 31st minute after a surging run by the American forward.
The Americans’ best chance was in the 39th when the Americans, on a rapid-fire counterattack, had a four-on-two rush only to see Pugh’s shot squib high and wide.
The half ended with the Americans threatening. Sheridan and centre back Kadeisha Buchanan somehow combined in a tangle of bodies on the goal line to stop Sophia Smith from poking in a low Sofia Huerta cross that had eluded sliding defender Vanessa Gilles.
Smith had a glorious chance in the 64th when a through ball put her behind the Canadian defence. She rounded Sheridan but could not put the ball on target from a tight angle.
Priestman sent Grosso in the 57th minute. And the changes kept coming with Jordyn Huitema and Adriana Leon introduced in the 67th minute — with Sinclair exiting — in a bid to inject some life in a Canadian attack that had gone stagnant.
The Americans have now won 11 straight games, outscoring the opposition 46-1, and are unbeaten in 18 outings (15-0-3) since the Olympics. The Canadian women, who saw their seven-game unbeaten run end (5-0-2), are 8-3-4 since Tokyo.
The U.S. women have won all five Olympic qualifying tournaments in which they have participated and eight of nine World Cup qualifying tournaments. The lone blemish was 2010 when the Americans lost to Mexico in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying.
The Americans went into Monday’s final with a 59-1-1 record in World Cup and Olympic qualifying matches. The draw came against Canada in the final of the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament although the U.S. prevailed on penalty kicks to win the tournament.
Canada and the U.S. had met in five of the previous 10 CONCACAF women’s finals, with the U.S. winning all five.
The Canadian women won the CONCACAF tournament in 1998 (when the U.S. did not take part as host of the 1999 Women’s World Cup) and 2010, beating Mexico in the final both times. The Americans have won the other nine editions, including the last three.
The North American rivals blazed an identical trail in reaching Monday’s final, each winning four games while outscoring the opposition 12-0. Canada and the U.S. dispatched Jamaica and Costa Rica, respectively, by 3-0 scores in semifinal play Thursday.
Nine different Americans had scored en route to the final compared to eight for Canada.
—The Canadian Press