Mexico sent a tremendous challenge at the United States Women’s National Team on Saturday, and the world’s top team in needed a clutch save from their star goalkeeper to survive.
In the second game of group play for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Saturday in Frisco, Texas, the USWNT managed just one goal against a tough Mexican side, forcing U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo to be perfect in net. No. 1 was that and then some including a huge save in a critical moment — the 87th minute — when she pushed an oncoming strike over the crossbar to preserve a 1-0 lead in a game that ended by the same score.
Hope welcomed the challenge in logging her 93rd career shutout, and the Americans used the win to expand their point total to six in Group A, and lock up a bid in the tournament semifinals.
“Today’s game was interesting. That’s what qualifying games should be,” Hope said afterward. “We got a berth into the semifinal which was our main objective.”
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) February 14, 2016
No. 1 faced few scoring opportunities from the defensive-minded Mexican squad, but both were vital, and she erased Mexico’s only two shots on goal with poise. The Mexican National Team sat back in a defensive shell, making it tough on the U.S. attack to find the space to score a goal. Mexico put all of their coins in one bank, hoping to steal a win on the strength of organized defense and counter attack, a strategy Hope complimented after the game.
“Mexico had a game plan, they executed it very well,” she told reporters. “They were very organized. They sat back a little bit, making it very difficult for us to get around, very difficult for us to find a goal. We had a few opportunities, we were pushing, trying to get a goal. The goalkeeper made some saves—they were great defensively.”
The USWNT did see a few chances denied before they finally capitalized late in the game. In the seventh minute, forward Crystal Dunn crossed a ball from the right side that deflected in front for defender Meghan Klingenberg at the six-yard box but Klingenberg couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. Later, in the 76th minute, midfielder Lindsey Horan hit the left post on a beautiful scoring chance, but Mexico was able to clear the ball out of the goal box before the U.S could finish.
Two minutes later, the US knocked on the door again when Horan crossed a ball in from the right flank. It deflected off of forward Alex Morgan’s chest before hitting Mexican midfielder Karla Nieto’s hand, granting the Americans a penalty kick.
The Americans sent their captain, Carli Lloyd, to the spot. Lloyd hit a low strike to the left, where Mexican keeper Cecelia Santiago made a diving save. But Lloyd deposited hustled after the rebound and put it into the back of the net for the deciding goal.
“Finally we got a PK and Carli put it away. It’s one of those games where you have to stay patient,” Hope said. “It doesn’t go the way you want it to go, but at the end of the day, we stayed composed, got the job done, and now we have a berth in the semis.”
The Mexican women launched a counterattack late. With four minutes remaining in regulation, Monica Ocampo made a good turn on US defender Jaelene Hinkle before sending a low line drive strike toward Hope’s net. Fortunately, No. 1 was able to lift off and, with a well-timed leap, pushed the hard shot over the crossbar to secure the victory.
The USWNT closes out group play of the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship on Monday against Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has been outscored a combined 15-0 in the tournament so far: a 6-0 loss to Mexico on Wednesday and a 9-0 loss to Costa Rica on Saturday.
“Certainly looking at fatigue issues, looking rest and recovery and making sure we have a game plan and a mentality that make sure we can take care of business,” USWNT head coach Jill Ellis said of the final game in group play. “That’s our No. 1 priority, to get three points and finish top in our group.”
Like the U.S., Canada has locked up a semi-final spot and leads Group B at 2-0 overall with a 5-0 win over Guyana and a 6-0 win over Trinidad in their back pocket. Guyana and Trinidad each beat Guatemala and will square off for the final spot in the semis on Tuesday. The winner of that game will likely face the U.S. in the semifinals on Friday, Feb. 19th in Houston.
But first comes the final match of group play for the USWNT and their matchup with Puerto Rico at Toyota Stadium in Frisco will kick off at 5:30 p.m. PT and will air on NBCSN and NBC Live Extra.