Sunday, January 29, 2012
OLYMPICS: Morgan primes U.S. triumph
By Scott French
Alex Morgan celebrates with Megan Rapinoe after scoring the first U.S. goal against Canada on Sunday.
Alex Morgan had way too much speed for Canada's defenders, and that's the starting point of the U.S. women's national team's comprehensive victory in Sunday's title game at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
The rising star from Diamond Bar scored two goals and assisted both of Abby Wambach's in a 4-0 victory that might have been far worse if not for veteran Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
It completed a perfect run for the Americans in Vancouver, British Columbia, with five shutout victories, none closer than three goals, a 38-0 scoreline and a series of impressive performances that showcased their skill, movement, interchange and versatility in a 4-2-3-1 alignment that has added dynamics to the U.S. game while better utilizing the strengths of midfielders Carli Lloyd and, now the most influential figure on the field, former UCLA All-American Lauren Cheney.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage switched things up against Canada, going back to a 4-4-2 that turned on Morgan's blinding speed. They call the 22-year-old forward “Baby Horse” within the squad -- “I think it's 'cause I gallop like a horse, and I was the baby of the team,” she says -- and Canada had no hope corraling her.
She provided a fourth-minute lead, running onto a Lloyd ball that Wambach headed into space, racing past one defender and holding off another, then sprinted past the defense on the right flank to chip for a Wambach header in the 24th.
It was 3-0 four minutes later, when Lloyd hit the left post and Morgan squared the rebound for Wambach. Morgan added another 11 minutes into the second half, badly beating an offside trap, fending off McLeod and two defenders in a looping run in the box and firing into the empty net.
Morgan scored four goals with six assists during the tournament; Lloyd, Wambach (Hermosa Beach) and Amy Rodriguez (Lake Forest/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and USC) scored six apiece to lead the U.S.
Wambach's pair gave her 131 goals in the international game, pushing past former teammate Kristine Lilly to the second spot on the all-time list. Mia Hamm is No. 1, with 158.
The real work was accomplished Friday, when the U.S. and Canada won semifinals to claim CONCACAF's berths in the women's soccer competition at next summer's London Olympics.
“You know, we qualified already, but this wasn't the end of the tournament,” Morgan told the tournament's broadcast feed following the game. “It's never just a game, it's never just a friendly. We wanted to finish the tournament off strong, no goals allowed, and we're happy with that result.”
The U.S. has won three of four Olympic gold medals and silver in the other tournament, a dozen years ago in Sydney. This U.S. roster included 11 gold medalists from Beijing 2008, four of whom also won gold at Athens 2004 -- plus Wambach, who missed 2008 because of a broken leg.
Captain Christie Rampone is the lone survivor from the 2000 team -- and the last member of the 1999 Women's World Cup championship side.
Hope Solo made two one-on-one saves on Christina Julien in the first half, and Canadian star Christine Sinclair, who scored a tournament-best nine goals for a career total of 129, struggled to impact the game while playing up top rather than in her preferred spot just underneath the front pair.
Solo and Rampone were the only Americans to play every minute of the tournament as Sundhage used her depth to combat an exhausting five-games-in-10-days schedule. Wambach and Lloyd also started all five games, and every player on the 20-woman roster had field time in at least three matches except midfielder Tobin Heath, who started twice; defender Ali Krieger, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Yanks' group opener; and backup goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
Krieger, who is based in Germany, said last week that she hoped to return in time for the Olympics, which begin July 26. It's unlikely she can be ready, which might benefit former L.A. Sol left back Stephanie Cox, a 2008 Olympian and the only field player from last summer's WWC roster not to make the qualifying team.