The top-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team is one step closer to making history, again.
After beating Mexico 4-0 on Friday in the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament semifinals, the U.S. clinched its spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. There, the two-time defending FIFA Women’s World Cup champion will aim to become the first team to win the sport’s two major championships in back-to-back years.
The U.S. has won four of the six gold medals since women’s soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996, though the team is coming off a quarterfinal elimination at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, which marked the worst finish in a major tournament for the Americans.
Following a dominating performance in winning last year’s World Cup in France, however, the U.S. should go into Tokyo as the favorite.
The Olympic qualifying effort only cemented that.
The U.S. has traditionally thrived in Concacaf, the confederation consisting of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, and this tournament was no exception.
The Americans cruised through pool play over the past week and a half in Houston, beating Haiti 4-0, Panama 8-0 and Costa Rica 6-0 to remain undefeated in Olympic qualifying play.
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With the action moving to Carson, California, for today’s all-important semifinals, the U.S. continued to roll against Mexico.
Starting 10 of the 11 players who began last summer’s World Cup final — the exception being Carli Lloyd at center forward in place of Alex Morgan, who is pregnant — the U.S. came out fast.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle opened the scoring in the fifth minute, completing a counterattack with a hard, low shot from the top of the penalty area. Nine minutes after that, fellow midfielder Samantha Mewis made it 2-0 with a one-timer off a corner kick.
Mexico’s defense tightened up after that, though, and despite constant pressure from the Americans the score remained until the 67th minute, when Mewis struck again, this time sending a free kick from just outside the penalty area through traffic and into the bottom corner of the goal.
Two minutes later, Christen Press came on as a sub for Tobin Heath, and five minutes after that she completed the scoring. Press took the ball diagonally into the penalty area, had her shot blocked, then chipped the rebound over Mexico’s goalie to make it 4-0. With the goal, Press has now scored in six straight games.
Friday’s win puts the U.S. at 22-0-1 all-time in Olympic qualifying play, with 120 goals scored vs just three allowed. The only game the U.S. failed to win outright was the 2008 title game, when it tied Canada 1-1 in regulation but went on to win in a shootout.
Friday’s result sets up a championship match against Canada on Sunday, which will also take place at Digital Health Sports Park in Carson. However, that match is mostly symbolic as the priority for this tournament was simply to reach the final and qualify for Tokyo.
Lindsey Horan, a 2016 Olympian and member of last year’s World Cup team, led the way with five goals through pool play. Christen Press, another Olympic and World Cup veteran, scored four.
One of the biggest questions facing new coach Vlatko Andonovski ahead of the Olympic tournament will be determining who to bring to Tokyo.
The U.S. featured depth across every position at last summer’s World Cup — and indeed all 20 field players saw some game action in France — but the Olympic roster can have just 18 players, compared to 23 at the World Cup.
To illustrate that depth, Lindsey Horan, a 2016 Olympian and member of last year’s World Cup team, led the U.S. with five goals through pool play. Press, another Olympic and World Cup veteran, scored her fifth on Friday. Yet neither got the start on Friday, though both came on as second-half subs.
The Americans will have opportunities to make their case for roster inclusion in the coming weeks. Three of the world’s top teams in England, Japan and Spain will join Team USA in the SheBelieves Cup in March. Additional friendlies are expected to be announced as well. The Olympic tournament begins July 22.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.