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World Cup-bound USWNT huff and puff, best Canada in Concacaf Women’s Championship showdown

Morgan scores her 118th career goal, while Colorado’s Pugh, Horan and Smith support an All-American effort. The close victory secures an invite to the 2024 Summer Olympics

John Babiak

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) came to the Concacaf Women’s Championship final with half a dozen goals. Foremost, they wanted to avenge their painful loss to Team Canada in the 2020-2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. They also desired to win the match against their north-of-the-border rivals outright and be rewarded with a guaranteed berth in the 2024 Women’s Soccer Tournament in Paris. Last and just as importantly, they came out to validate that this team-in-transition from seasoned veterans to rising young players is still the best women’s senior team on planet Earth.

And when the first whistle blew, the starting XI came flying out of the gates like world-class thoroughbreds.

The dynamic trio of Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith, and Lindsey Horan led the team down the field throughout the hot and muggy showdown in Monterrey, Mexico.

The Colorado-three have steadily become head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s recent go-to starting line-up choices. “It is very obvious that the team is significantly younger than the previous time we played Canada.” (Tokyo Summer Olympics) -the skipper said of the three and fellow up-and-coming players ahead of the match. “They’re going to be here for three, maybe four World Cups, so get used to them.”

And did they came out firing on all cylinders. Had their near misses found the back of the net, the outcome would have been a decisive lopsided win for Team USA and an embarrassing defeat for the reigning 2021 gold medal winners.

First, it was Mallory Pugh who tested Canada’s superb goalkeeper, Kailen Sheridan. Just 46 seconds into the match, the fleet-footed Pugh came hightailing down the right side of the penalty box and mightily struck the ball at the goal. The talented Sheridan had a good angle on Pugh’s attempt and made a swift cat-like leap, then pounced on the smoldering ball.

Then it was Lindsey Horan’s turn at trying to break the early draw. In the 14th minute of play, she attempted a world-class falling volley shot on goal from near the top of the box. It screamed over the crossed bar denying the Stars and Stripes their first point of the spirited match.

Twenty-four minutes later, Horan found Pugh again, this time on the left flank of the pitch. She galloped towards the goal and unleashed a rocket that just missed the upper right corner of the plan.

Then it was Smith’s turn attempting to put the Lady Yank’s on the scoreboard. Employing her per usual nose-to-nose attacking method, she went right at and past her marks.

Regrettably, she, too was denied twice my amazing defense at the doorstep of Canada’s goal.

John Babiak

In the waning moments of the first half, midfield boss Horan passed the ball off to a teammate, Sofia Huerta on the right flank. Huerta, in turn delivered a low flying cross into the goal box. The incoming Smith connected with the ball just feet from the goal line but was met full-body-on by Sheridan. The keeper-of-the-tournament made another spectacular smothering save that made the international highlight reel.

Finally, in the 77th minute of play, Lady Luck delivered when a driving Rose Lavelle was brought down inside the penalty box. A compelling penalty was called. A penalty kick followed.

Horan set the ball down on the penalty spot and gathered her thoughts. Then Morgan stepped up and Horan deferred. The cool, calm, and collective team leader fired low at the corner of the goal frame.

Success and a red, white, and blue celebration ensued on the field. 1-0 Team USA.

John Babiak

“It always feels good to be called a champion, so this game means a lot to us. It’s always going to mean a lot.” said an upbeat Morgan after the final whistle. “Canada gave us a run for our money. But we prevailed and feel good about the performance.”

Andonovski commented about Morgangame winning shot, “She’s a winner. She knows how to win big games; she knows how to perform in big games. She’s done it before, she’s won World Cups.”

During the past 30 days, the team trained for seven critical matches. They went on to win all seven and in doing so, qualified for their eighth consecutive Olympics. They became only second to earn an early pass to play in the 2024 games.

“I forgot about it -we qualified for the Olympics,” Andonovski said with a wink and a smile. “Obviously, the World Cup, that’s our focus since the moment we qualified. We started talking about what it takes to prepare for a World Cup.”

In winning their Concacaf Women’s group stage, they won an invitation to the 2023 Women’s World Cup Tournament that will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Next up for the USWNT are two back-to-back games with FIFA 39th-ranked Nigeria. Kansas City and Washington, D.C. will entertain the friendlies.