Starting XI: Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Kelley O’Hara, Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, Alex Morgan
It couldn’t get any better for the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT): Olympic qualification set, the destruction of opponents at every turn, and the final match of the tournament is your border-rival Canada. The only thing that would’ve made this better is if it was televised (it was available only on NBC Sports app in English but NBC Universo showed it in Spanish).
There were a lot of new faces in this final, which was great to see since most fans are used to the grudge match which is Wambach-Sinclair. Newbies for the Canadians included Ashley Lawrence and Nichelle Prince while veterans like Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson came off the bench.
For the USA, the future of women’s soccer, Mallory Pugh, started and played almost the full 90′ against our arch-rivals. I called on this about two years ago stating “this right here is the future! She’ll get called up before she’s done with high school,” and here she is at 17 years of age, leading our girls to victory. She started up top with Alex Morgan (who thankfully has been able to find her form from 2012) and could’ve played the entire match but was substituted in stoppage time.
The CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament has been a great opportunity to showcase the youth before the Olympics begin. The names you need to keep an eye on are Crystal Dunn (who has been on fire since her World Cup roster snub), Lindsey Horan, Jaelene Hinkle, and the big one, Mallory Pugh. We are fortunate to have a rising star like Pugh but another one to keep an eye on is Horan. Football (soccer) is still not embraced as strongly as it is overseas. So for Horan, a standout at such a young age with European powerhouse PSG (Paris Saint-Germain), to leave UEFA glory and join the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) is a very big deal. Kudos to these youngsters that want to help improve the women’s league here at home.
One thing about being the #1 team on the planet, is that everybody wants a piece of you. The more talented countries aren’t as aggressive as the lower tier, but still, when you’re losing and getting outclassed, things can get chippy. This game versus Canada was just that. Our neighbors to the North were extremely fortunate not to get carded as much as they should’ve. The USWNT often take a schlacking while decimating their opponents but they always get up and push on with class.
The first goal came when Becky Sauerbrunn served a beautiful ball to Lindsey Horan, who nailed a sweet header past the keeper in the 53′. The second goal came when Pugh found Tobin Heath at the opposite end of the box and hit a beautiful one-time goal (when you receive a pass and immediately shoot without dribbling or setting up).
Although the girls won the tournament and defeated Canada 2-0, I’m sure there will be a few changes before the Olympics. Hopefully, they won’t exert too much energy in the coming weeks as they’re hosting the “She Believes Tournament” in March, with titans Germany, France, and England. While it looks to be a better test than the CONCACAF opponents (the three opponents in the She Believes Tournament are ranked Top 5 in the World), I worry about injuries. Also, I’m sure USWNT Coach Jill Ellis might want to rethink the positioning of Horan. While being a young phenom in Paris she was scoring as a striker. With the U.S. she’s been used mainly in the midfield. I would have zero qualms if she wanted to rotate between Pugh-Morgan or Pugh-Horan up top. Because even if the latter combination didn’t prove effective, she’d still have Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Crystal Dunn coming off the bench.
The girls handled their business this tournament and I’m sure they’ll do great in the “She Believes Tournament” as well. I hope these networks will start showing some respect and airing these matches on TV. The men haven’t won a tournament in years but always get televised while the girls are 3-time World Champions and just qualified for the Olympics and have to stream?
Photography: Hakim Wright