USA Women Dominate Canada, Earn Pan Am Berth

Sept. 06, 2018, 8 a.m. (ET)

The USA Women’s National Team traveled to Montreal Monday, the day after squeaking out a 22-20 victory at Auburn University.  That game was a titanic defensive battle in which the tenacious Canadian women demonstrated they could disrupt the USA offense, by pushing out high, and denying the Americans the opportunity to penetrate the defensive wall.  While the Americans were favored, they never opened up a comfortable lead and actually fell behind late in the game.  Although victorious, the Americans were anything but a sure thing.

So, the final game of the home and home series was destined to be a memorable battle with the hopes of Team USA to qualify for the 2019 Pan Am Games was riding on whether they could mount an offense successful enough to score against the committed Canadians, while still maintaining their exceptional defense.

The WNT drove the nearly 40 minutes to the game in a bus with no air conditioning and were not allowed to lower the windows.  WNT Captain Sarah Gascon called it a “sauna,” indicating the players were drenched in perspiration.  Whether there was any hyperbole in the statement can only be determined by interviews, but there is no doubt the Americans had nothing but business in mind when they took the court at the beautiful 1976 Olympic multi-sport facility, Centre Sportif Claude Robillard. 

The WNT was absolutely unintimidated by a raucous sellout crowd of more than 500 Canadian fans.  Warming up, the Americans were moved to venture to the Americans side of the arena to salute their predecessors, a large number of 1984 WNT Olympians.  Joining with USATH Board of Directors Members Jennie Choi and Dee Miller, an alternate on the 1984 WNT, were Mary Phyl Dwight, Coke Lindsay, Tess Contos, Melinda (Hale) Rhoads, and Dorothy (Franco) Reed.  All of the members of the WNT recognize they stand on the shoulders of that outstanding team of women.

From the opening whistle, the WNT were intense, focused, and absolutely spectacular.  The defense was suffocating.  The Canadians women tried everything and could find no weakness in the impressive American defensive wall.  The interior defense, Jence Rhoads, Jennifer Fithian, Sarah Gascon, supported by a rotation of Nicole Andersen, Julia Sayer, Kathy Darling, and Shani Levinkind, were nearly perfect in the first half. 

On offense, it was obvious Head Coach Christian Latulippe made adjustments to their attack after Sunday’s game.  Noteworthy is that while four backcourt players accounted for 21 of their 22 goals, Sunday, on Wednesday they opened with scoring from five different players.  The Canadians couldn’t answer until an incredible 13:11 into the game. 

The first half opened with goals by Julia Taylor, followed by Andersen, Darling, Zoe Lombard, and Sayer.  When Darling scored again, Sayer followed up with three in a row and Taylor added two more.  The high scoring Andersen found Gascon all alone at the six-meter line and the USA Captain buried it.  Andersen was then quickly rewarded by scoring two more times herself.  The Americans scored regularly, even though the Canadian goalkeeper was brilliant. USA goal keepers Bryana Newbern and Sophie Fasold were solid for the Americans. The halftime score was 14-6, but the game was not that close.

As the second half opened, the task for the Canadians was daunting.  They had to attack relentlessly and outscore the Americans by at least 11 goals to assure themselves a victory of sufficient score to deny the Americans a trip to the Pan Am Games.  Yet, Canada had not outscored the Americans in the previous three halves.  So while took 13:11 to score in the first half, they need only 38 seconds in the second half.  The Americans made several turnovers and found the Canadian goalie impossible to solve.  Yet, the Canadians could not get a solid run to close the score enough to be a threat.

Andersen was once again perfect at the 7-meter line and scored a total of four goals in the half. Taylor added two, as did Levinkind, Rhoads, and Darling.  Although the Canadians scored ten goals, they were still outscored by the Americans.  Their brilliant goalkeeping kept them from embarrassment, but not from being dominated.  When Gascon scored on a breakaway, even the goalie at her best, had no chance.  Marie Vallone found the back of the net for the last of the WNT’s 26 goals for a 26-16 victory.  The victory touched off a wild celebration among the players and their fans in the stands. 

The USA offense was impressive, especially against such exceptional goal keeping.  This time it was the WNT who had nine scorers.  However, it was the USA defense that left everyone in awe.  Wingers Taylor, Lombard, Monaye Merritt, Liz Hartnett, and Vallone played well in support of the interior defense and provided Fasold all the support she would need to keep the Canadians in check.

The WNT earned their berth in the 2019 Pan Am Games, beginning in July.  Head Coach Latulippe was justifiably proud of his team, stating, “I am proud of all of these ladies.  They have worked so hard for a long time and made many sacrifices.  They played really well and deserved this victory.”