Los Angeles Soccer: Christie Rampone
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.
CARSON -- There's no space for error when the U.S. national team heads into qualifying next week for the upcoming Olympics: CONCACAF has only two berths, and if fate brings a repeat of the region's Women's World Cup qualifiers, the Yanks aren't going to London.
The American women still win their share of international battles -- they're looking to win gold for the third straight Games -- but nothing's automatic anymore, and that includes qualifying. Mexico pulled off a semifinal upset in the CONCACAF qualifiers for last summer's World Cup in Germany, and the U.S. had to beat Italy in a playoff to make the field.
This time there's no backdoor. The semifinal winners are in. Everyone else is done.
“We're not looking past this tournament. I mean, you can't anymore. You saw what happened in the World Cup qualifying,” midfielder Shannon Boxx said Sunday following training at Home Depot Center, where U.S. coach Pia Sundhage will finalize her roster for the Jan. 19-20 CONCACAF event in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We're not taking anything for granted.
“Teams are closing the gap. You can't take any team for granted. It's one game. You see that in soccer, games can go any way they want. I think the biggest thing for us is just to focus on ourselves. I think we did that during the World Cup, and you could see how well we played.”
Canada and Mexico are the other chief contenders for the berths -- both are playing at Cal State Fullerton this week, Canada on Monday night and Mexico on Thursday and Saturday, both against the Los Alamitos Vikings -- with Costa Rica likely to claim the other semifinal berth. The U.S. opens Group B play Jan. 20 against the Dominican Republic, then faces Guatemala on Jan. 22 and Mexico on Jan. 24. The semifinals are the 27th.
“To be honest, don't know much about the other teams. You don't hear about them until you go to qualifying,” said Boxx (Redondo Beach/South Torrance HS), one of the holding midfielders in Sundhage's new 4-2-3-1 alignment. “We can't take them for granted, because we've never seen them play before. I think the Dominican Republic, OK, well, we better not takle them for granted because we have no idea. They could come out and have a lot of power behind them.”
That's doubtful, and not qualifying would be disastrous for the U.S., just like when it failed to reach the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2010. The game with Mexico is critical, because you'd like to avoid the Canadians, the probable Group A winners, in that semifinal.
The Americans can draw strength from their World Cup misery, captain Christie Rampone says. Their dramatic run to the title game ended with a penalty-kicks loss to Japan, which twice rallied from deficits, the second time in overtime.
Shannon Boxx, whose first three teams in Women's Professional Soccer folded, has signed with a club that nearly packed it in last fall.
Boxx (Redondo Beach/South Torrance HS) signed with the Washington Freedom, a club that survived the Women's United Soccer Association's 2003-04 demise but announced last fall it would cease operations unless additional investment was made in the club. Communications industry veteran Dan Borislow purchased a controlling interest, it was announced in December.
Boxx, a central midfielder, was a pivotal player in the L.A. Sol's run to the 2009 regular-season title, joined Saint Louis Athletica when the Sol folded in January 2010 and went to FC Gold Pride when Athletica disbanded six weeks into last season. FC Gold Pride folded after winning the WPS championship last summer.
Midfielder/forward Lindsay Tarpley (Hermosa Beach), whose husband, B.J. Snow, is the head coach of UCLA's women's team, also signed with the Freedom, as did U.S. national team captain Christie Rampone, a center back who was Sky Blue FC's player/coach when it won the inaugural WPS title.
Other Washington offseason acquisitions: defender Marian Dalmy and forwards Johanna Rasmussen and Ella Masar.
What we learned from FIFA's Ballon d'Or festivities Monday night in Zurich: Mongolians love Abby Wambach.
The Hermosa Beach-based striker picked up eight first-place votes in the Women's Player of the Year contest, and two came from Mongolian women's national team head coach Ganjuur Bayartsogt and captain Sugar Bayar.
It wasn't nearly enough to halt former L.A. Sol star Marta's romp to her fifth successive world's-best honor: The Brazilian forward, who led FC Gold Pride to Women's Professional Soccer's title and is now playing in Brazil for Santos, captured 151 of 266 first-place votes from 119 coaches, 121 captains and 26 media. She failed to make the top three on on only 52 ballots, and on two of those -- both from Brazil -- she was ineligible.
Argentina's Lionel Messi won the men's World Player of the Year award for the second straight year, beating Barcelona teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The coaches of the year were Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho, who last spring guided Inter Milan to the UEFA Champions League title, and Germany women's national team coach Silvia Neid.
More interesting than who won is how everyone voted. FIFA won't make public the executive committee members' choices on a World Cup host, but every Player of the Year vote is online, both men and women.
U.S. men's captain Carlos Bocanegra (Alta Loma/Alta Loma HS and UCLA) voted Xavi first, Iniesta second and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) third.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley (Manhattan Beach) went with, in order, Xavi, Sneijder and Messi.
UCLA's Sydney Leroux gets her second stint with the U.S. women's national team when it begins preparations for next summer's Women's World Cup with a six-day training camp at Home Depot Center.
Leroux, who was in camp with the U.S. before two October friendlies but has not yet made a full international appearance, and defender Whitney Engen (Rolling Hills Estates/Peninsula HS) are among seven uncapped players on coach Pia Sundhage's 26-player roster for the Jan. 8-13 session.
Other with local ties on the roster: midfielder Lindsey Tarpley (Hermosa Beach), and forwards Amy Rodriguez (Lake Forest/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and USC), Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar/Diamond Bar HS) and Lauren Cheney (UCLA).
Redondo Beach's Shannon Boxx (South Torrance HS), Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach and fellow veterans Rachel Buehler, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone, Carli Lloyd and Heather O'Reilly have been excused from the camp, but they will join 15 players from the camp on the U.S. roster for the semi-annual Four Nations event in China. The team departs on Jan. 14.
Western New York's expansion team in Women's Professional Soccer is getting started with a local player. Moreno Valley's Beverly Goebel (Moreno Valley HS) was one of the two players the Buffalo/Rochester-based club selected Friday in the league's expansion draft.
Goebel, a midfielder who played collegiately at Sacramento State and Miami, saw action in 16 games (starting nine) with one goal during her rookie season this year with the Washington Freedom.
The Flash, which won the United Soccer Leagues' W-League title but must remake its roster in stepping up to the WPS, took Atlanta Beat defender Kaley Fountain with the first pick. After selecting Goebel, they passed -- there were only 19 players available -- and will fill their roster through the college draft and in a deep pool of free agents.