There is a good deal of symbolic heft to the circumstances of the United States Women’s National Team’s 1-0 win against Canada in the CONCACAF Championship final on Monday night: the one-goal margin of victory is the same gap that separated the two teams 11 months ago, when the Canadians upset the USWNT on the way to their first-ever Olympic gold medal; the USWNT took 17 shots and landed six of them on goal in both games, enjoying 56 and 55 percent of the possession in the Olympic semifinal and CONCACAF final, respectively; and both games hinged on somewhat light penalties past the 75th minute. Though the USWNT had at least three great chances to put one past the Canadian keeper, they had to wait until the 77th minute for Alex Morgan’s strong penalty kick to distance themselves from their opponents.
Morgan started in the 2021 loss to Canada, though she was pulled in the 60th minute, ending her underwhelming Olympics with a whimper. The 33-year-old star has had a rough go of it over the past year, playing poorly in the Olympics, ceding her spot on the team to a handful of prospects, and struggling for the Orlando Pride. Coach Vlatko Andonovski is starting to supplant the USWNT’s incredibly accomplished group of veterans with younger talent ahead of the World Cup in 2023 and the Olympics a year later, which is necessary for the team’s fortunes since Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Christen Press are 37, 34, and 33, respectively (Press also just tore her ACL last month). Rapinoe didn’t start a single game in this tournament, and she and Andonovski say her role on the team is to mentor the younger players. Morgan’s big tournament and game-winning goal in the final show that she still has something to offer the team ahead of those tournaments. “I’m not surprised but very happy how she has handled the whole situation in how she came back,” Andonovski said after the final. “I said it early on: Alex is a better player. That’s what makes her special. She doesn’t want to stop growing, doesn’t want to stop developing.”
The 1-0 scoreline underplays how much more threatening the USWNT were than Canada. Mallory Pugh was a terror down Canada’s left flank, outpacing her defenders and consistently testing Kailen Sheridan. The Canadian keeper was her side’s best player on the night, and maybe the tournament, allowing zero goals from open play throughout Canada’s run. Pugh nearly opened the scoring within the first 45 seconds, blasting a rocket from a tight angle and forcing Sheridan to react as quick as she could.
In the 30th, Pugh got free and ran with the ball untouched all the way from her own defensive third into the box and nearly beat Sheridan. The Canadian keeper later kept the USWNT off the board at the end of the half with … whatever this was.
She was powerless to stop Morgan’s penalty, though, and the USWNT are CONCACAF champions in a year when that designation means more than usual. In an effort to create both more and more meaningful competition, CONCACAF announced the creation of the W Gold Cup as well as a new qualifying format for major intercontinental tournaments that more heavily weighted the CONCACAF championship. By beating Canada, the USWNT have now formally qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the 2023 World Cup (though they had already secured their ticket), and the 2024 W Gold Cup. There are only two spots at the Olympics for CONCACAF teams, and Canada will now have to beat Jamaica in a playoff in 2023 for the chance to even qualify for the right to defend their title. So there were some very real stakes last night, which made the USWNT’s win and dominant performance that much more satisfying. Rose Lavelle looks satisfied, right?