MONTERREY, Mexico – Thursday brought another methodical performance from the U.S. women’s national team in a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica at the Estadio Universitario. The result got the Americans a place in Monday’s CONCACAF W Championship final, a match they and almost everyone assumed they would win from the start.
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The road to it has been more difficult than dominant for Vlatko Andonovski’s team, but it was enough to qualify for the World Cup in 2023 – where the United States will look to win an unprecedented third title in a row – and place the United States in a victory after have won. a place at the 2024 Olympics.
“I think we need to be overall sharper,” said Emily Sonnett, who scored USWNT’s first goal on Thursday. “I do not think our team is particularly happy with that. There is a lot we need to focus on. But overall, I think we have competed and I think we have stuck to game plans every single game. How do I put are we all moving forward now? “
Two of the goals on Thursday were products of the United States implementing pressure high up in the field at the right time. Sonnet’s opening goal in the 34th minute – the first of her career in 69 appearances – was, like Kristie Mewis’ winner in Monday’s 1-0 win over Mexico, another tough effort from a corner kick.
Important for the creation of this opportunity is something that will not appear on the statistics sheet: an individual defensive effort from Mallory Pugh high up in the field. One minute after Pugh had almost stripped Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez of the ball in his own box when the lone player pressed on, American winger put Costa Rica’s defense under pressure deep inside their own defensive third, won the ball and went straight into goal. . force the corner kick. Sonnett scored on the ensuing game.
Ten minutes later it was Pugh in the end. Sophia Smith won the ball just outside Costa Rica’s penalty area, and Rose Lavelle reacted quickly and got it back on the field to Pugh, who ran in behind. Lavelle’s technical skills made the game, but Smith’s pressure to win the ball back in a high area was the catalyst.
“I think pressure is a great opportunity to switch and attack,” Pugh said after the game. “So I think if you look at it that way, just like defense is attack, then I think it’s just part of our identity. We want to create these attacking moments of transition to be able to create “Advertising, just keep going. We want teams just to feel that pressure, so I think it’s just part of our identity.”
Since Andonovski’s first game in November 2019, the US press has been more varied than the previous iteration under Jill Ellis. The 2019 World Cup-winning team played with a relentless, high-energy press that required significant defensive effort from its front line as well as a midfield that was asked to cover large areas of the ground in wide areas. The ongoing absence of Julie Ertz (pregnant) and Sam Mewis (recovering from injury), two of the three starting midfielders at the 2019 World Cup, is part of the reason the area on the team is in transition.
Andonovski took over the job with a willingness to add nuances to the team’s defensive pressure. His goal, he said at the time, was not to completely recalibrate a system that had brought the team great success, but rather to add sophistication to the process. At times, this means that Americans will drop their line of confrontation a bit to challenge their opponent to play through them. Many opponents – especially in CONCACAF – can not do that.
On Thursday, circumstances dictated that the United States was nevertheless selective as to when to press. The game started at 18:00 local time under the relentless sun while Monterrey’s ongoing drought drags on. The temperature at kickoff was 96 degrees Fahrenheit, with a feel-like temperature of over 100. Thursday was also the fourth game in 11 days for each team (10 for their opponents), and with the final against Canada looming on Monday, US staff had to allow to look ahead.
“It’s about reading moments, and when we want to press, and when we want to let go a little bit and allow them to connect a few passes,” Andonovski said of controlling the heat.
The upcoming clash between the United States and Canada is a rematch from last year’s Olympic semifinals, which the Canadians won in their race for a gold medal, forcing the United States to settle for the bronze medal. Canada will be the toughest and deepest opponent the United States has faced throughout the tournament. It is also a team that likes to find transition moments and strike on the counterattack, just as it did in the semifinals in Tokyo. The United States dominated most of that match, but cashed in a fluky penalty kick on a Canada counterattack and lost 1-0.
Much of the same dynamics will be at play again on Monday, although the US list has undergone a significant revision in the 11 months since that game. Canada, who defeated Jamaica 3-0 in Thursday’s late game, will be defensively healthy and appear to be taking advantage of the United States in large areas as the Americans’ fullbacks advance. This probably means that the United States will choose their moments to pressure their rivals to limit their exposure to the counterattack.
“I feel the way Vlatko wants us to play, it’s different every game, right?” said Alex Morgan. “It depends on whether it’s a four-back or a five-back [for the opposition], the way they push – whether it’s inside or out, the spaces they give, or the high line or a low line. I think we have faced different challenges every game. “
Morgan followed up by noting that the United States could have led 3-0 at the break, but wasted chances, also by her. She hit the post moments inside the match and the United States missed several opportunities from close range, which has been a theme in this tournament. The sharpness is still not there for this version of the US, but it will have to be on Monday. The loser of the final will have to wait a year to confirm his place at the 2024 Olympics via a playoff.
“I thought we were making too many technical mistakes, too many for the players who were on the pitch,” Andonovski said. “Because we know they are technical. We know they can decide the ball and pass, and they can perform different technical requirements.”