The symmetry wouldn’t have been lost on any of them: the USA and Canada, two of the world’s best women’s soccer teams, meeting on a sweltering night and chasing a prize only considered one of them could win.
A good match. A late penalty kick. A jubilant celebration.
A 12 months ago on the Tokyo Olympics, it was the Canadians who rejoiced, converting a second-half penalty and winning the match on their solution to the gold medal.
On Monday night in Monterrey, Mexico, it was the Americans who were dancing at the ultimate whistle. It was they who had won the penalty kick after which the sport, 1-0, to ensure themselves a berth within the 2024 Paris Olympics. It was they who now had a probability to grab that gold medal back.
Victory got here via familiar hands: Lindsey Horan controlling the midfield. Rose Lavelle slipping in behind the defense and winning a penalty. Alex Morgan stepping as much as bury it.
The victory was the second major goal achieved by the Americans in Mexico, in a tournament that served as a qualifier for each the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. The US had sealed its place in the previous by merely advancing to the semifinals. But it surely still had a goal to go, and some extent to prove, against Canada within the Concacaf W Championship final.
Morgan had began that Olympic semifinal last summer in Kashima, Japan, but had watched the top of it from the bench after being substituted. Through the Games, she had been amongst probably the most vocal of the veteran players on that roster who had suggested — in no uncertain terms — that Coach Vlatko Andonovski was getting things unsuitable.
Within the 12 months since that defeat, Morgan, 33, had been among the many veterans who had been asked to make way for younger attacking talents like Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman, to offer Andonovski room to tinker and retool ahead of next 12 months’s World Cup in Australia and Recent Zealand. But she also knew her probability would eventually come again, and on Monday, after two weeks of matches featuring young players and latest lineups, Morgan got her probability to make things right, to prove she still has a job to play.
“I’m not surprised but very comfortable how she has handled the entire situation in how she got here back,” Andonovski told reporters after the ultimate. “I said it early on: Alex is a greater player. That’s what makes her special. She doesn’t wish to stop growing, doesn’t wish to stop developing.”
Her opportunity to interrupt the scoreless tie got here within the 76th minute. Handed the ball by Horan after Lavelle was tripped within the penalty area, Morgan took a number of deep breaths, strode confidently forward and buried a low, hard shot into the lower-right corner as Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan dived the opposite way.
Just a few minutes after the ultimate whistle, Morgan was honored because the tournament’s outstanding player.
“It just all the time feels good,” she said, “to be called a champion.”
Grateful to be back — her longtime frontline teammate Megan Rapinoe didn’t get off the bench in the ultimate — Morgan appeared to agree with Andonovski’s selections this time. But she also was quick to notice that breaking in latest players, especially on the tradition-rich U.S. team, sometimes requires having older ones around to point out them the way in which.
“A number of the younger players are capable of look as much as the older players in an enormous tournament like this,” Morgan said. “You simply can’t replicate that with friendlies. It needs to be the actual deal. And that is the actual deal.”
Andonovski, too, praised players like Morgan, Rapinoe and defender Becky Sauerbrunn for making a “superb” environment conducive to success. “We got here out for the last game of the tournament, after being in a hotel for a month, with the very best energy we’ve ever had,” he said. “That’s a testament, at the start, to the senior players.”
How far ahead are the USA and Canada of their regional rivals? Neither team lost a game in Monterrey on its solution to the ultimate. Neither surrendered a goal. Each scored a dozen goals in its first 4 games.
Each teams were so dominant, the truth is, that after Costa Rica and Jamaica had locked up the opposite two semifinal places — clinching the region’s two other automatic places within the World Cup — they appeared to face down ahead of the ultimate, resting a few of their top players within the semifinals and focusing as a substitute on winning the third-place game. Victory there seemed a safer bet, in spite of everything, and it got here with a consolation prize: a shot on the U.S.-Canada loser in a two-legged Olympic playoff that offered a last-chance bid for a spot in Paris in 2024.
Defeat in the ultimate was hardly a catastrophe for Canada: Its team remains to be widely expected to qualify for the Paris Games by beating Jamaica, which beat Costa Rica earlier Monday within the third-place game, within the playoff next 12 months.
Canada learned a number of things about itself along the way in which, too. Sheridan, who kept her team in the sport with several outstanding saves in the primary half, was named the tournament’s top goalkeeper and now seems entrenched in that role. Julia Grosso won the golden boot because the championship’s top scorer, and she or he and her fellow 21-year-old Jordyn Huitema got here off the bench Monday to supply the sort of game-changing spark that will force Canada into the identical form of young-vs.-old reckoning that the USA is now embracing.
“I believe there’s one other level,” Canada Coach Bev Priestman had said after her team’s semifinal win, “and I do think that playing a team just like the U.S. will bring out a few of our strengths that perhaps teams haven’t allowed us to do.”
Now she and her players — similar to the U.S. team — understand how a bit more concerning the mix they’ll have to get where they actually need to go.