The United States Women’s National Team booked their tickets for Rio de Janiero, Brazil and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games on Friday night with a semifinal win in the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.
Hope Solo and the Department of Defense pitched yet another shutout and Alex Morgan tallied a hat trick as the U.S. captured a 5-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in the tournament semifinals. With the victory, the U.S earned a spot in the final, and with that comes an automatic bid to the Olympics as one of the top two teams in the qualifying tournament.
The USWNT will play Canada on Sunday in the tournament final.
“We are delighted that we punched our ticket, but I was really pleased tonight with how we played,” U.S. coach Jill Eliis said. “It’s certainly about scoring goals but I thought in the first half it was exceptional at times. For me, these are steps for how we want to play and tonight we made a big step forward.”
Though Hope faced zero shots on frame, her guidance of the defense proved vital for the U.S. in securing their ninth consecutive shutout in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying, a streak that dates back to the 2008 tournament final. The shutout was No. 94 for Hope in her USWNT career and her 143rd win in net with the U.S.
Thanks to the play of the United States defense in front of her, which allowed Trinidad and Tobago to get just one shot off all night, and an aggressive attack on the other side of the field, much of the night was smooth sailing for No. 1.
Tobin Heath got the icebreaker in the 12th minute when she sprinted into the box to a cross from 17-year-old Mallory Pugh and drilled a shot past the outstretched attempt of Trinidad goalkeeper Kimika Forbes to make it 1-0.
Morgan was next to get on the board, on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play from the Stars and Stripes. As Kelley O’Hara arched a ball deep into the box at the far post where a perfectly positioned Lindsay Horan headed it back toward the middle of the goal box and a waiting Morgan, who tapped the ball into the net, to make it 2-0 in the 30th minute. The USWNT stretched the lead to 3-0 late in the first half when Carli Lloyd struck a header — off an excellent corner kick from Morgan Brian — that snuck through the wickets of Forbes in the 43rd minute.
The Americans took that lead into halftime and the second half developed slowly before ramping up quickly in the 71st minute. Another strong corner from Brian put the USWNT in position to score on a scrambling Trinidad and Tobago defense. The initial attempt off that corner on a header by Samantha Mewis was denied by Forbes and the rebound popped up to Morgan, who headed it off the crossbar, but the ball was magnetized to Morgan on this night and the second rebound went right to her left foot, which she used to poke in her second goal of the game.
Then, just over two minutes later, Morgan finished off the hat trick when she made a run into the middle of the box, met a brilliant cross from Brian, and again finished by volleying a shot off her left foot inside of the right post to make it 5-0.
It was smooth sailing from there as Hope secured yet another shutout that helped send the USWNT on to the Olympics.
“I think we broke them down really well,” Morgan said after the match. “Once we started having runs from behind and different waves of runs, we were able to break them down. Overall it was a really good team performance.”
Though their Olympic bid is secure, the United States Women’s National Team still has one more test in the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament, and a familiar one at that in the final.
While the U.S. dominated Group A on the way to the semifinals, Canada did the same in Group B. Then on Friday afternoon, the Canadians booked a spot in the Olympics and opposite the United States in the tournament final with a 3-1 win over Group A runner-up Costa Rica, who the U.S. defeated 5-0 in the opening match of group play.
That win and the U.S. victory over Group B runner-up Trinidad and Tobago set up an intriguing final between the United States and their neighbors to the north, in a rematch of the last two CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournaments. The U.S. won both those matches over Canada and has not lost in WOQ tournament play, holding a record of 17-0-1. However, that one blemish was a 1-1 tie with Canada in the 2008 Final, which the U.S. eventually won in PK’s. That match also marks the last time that the USWNT allowed a goal in Olympic qualifying.
The USWNT holds a dominant 46-3-6 all-time record against Canada, the team they’ve played more than any other in the world, but the present Canadian squad is a competitive bunch and the U.S. women have not faced them since the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in May of 2014. On Sunday, in a high intensity atmosphere with much to be gained from a win, Canada will present arguably the toughest test the U.S. has faced since the World Cup.
“It’s what these girls were really looking forward to coming in here,’’ Canadian coach John Herdman said of facing in U.S. “This group is ready and hungry to take on the U.S. We’re going to give them one hell of a fight as we always do and they’re looking forward to. All Canadians look forward to it. We’re ready for the fight.”
The 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Final is scheduled to begin at 2 p,m. PT and can be seen on NBC Sports Live Extra.