The United States Women’s National Team completed perhaps the most low-key run to World Cup qualification in its illustrious history after Jamaica’s 5-0 defeat at the CONCACAF W Championship on Thursday.
Given the historic dominance of American women in CONCACAF – where they have won 13 straight World Cup qualifiers by a combined score of 58-0 – that’s saying something. But the current format, in which the top two teams from both groups automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup while the two third-place teams head to a playoff, means there will be no match drama. elimination, at least for the United States.
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And after Haiti beat Mexico 3-0 later Thursday, the United States will head to the group stage final against an eliminated El Tri Femenil having already punched his ticket for Australia and New Zealand.
This does not mean that their work is done by any means. The CONCACAF W Championship also serves as the 2024 Olympic qualifying tournament, and the United States will need to win the competition in order to automatically clinch the trip to Paris, while the second and third place teams will head to a playoff.
But at least as far as the World Cup is concerned, Team USA is on its way and Thursday’s performance was utterly dominant. Sophia Smith gave the United States a two-goal lead with the game less than eight minutes old, and a tired Jamaica said they didn’t fight much afterwards. Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis and Trinity Rodman all scored in the second half, and the defence, with Lindsey Horan playing in front of centre-backs – and former college teammates at Stanford – Naomi Girma and Alana Cook were rarely troubled by the Jamaican front line led by Manchester City striker Bunny Shaw. American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was only forced to make two saves.
“Nothing scared us at any time and I think we did a very good job of protecting the space behind us, of protecting and discouraging bullets from [Bunny] Shaw and the screen very well,” USA manager Vlatko Andonovski said. “So every little thing they had in the previous game, we were able to protect and do a good job.”
For Jamaican manager Lorne Donaldson, the sight of Smith tearing up the opposition was familiar. Along with American striker Mallory Pugh, Smith played for Donaldson while with Real Colorado youth club. She certainly hasn’t been easy with her former mentor. His first goal in particular was breathtaking, as he cut in from the right wing and then curled the ball into the net with the outside of his right foot.
“I still want him to do well,” Smith told CBS Paramount after the game. “But when it’s against us, yeah, it’s kind of fun. It’s a fun relationship to have, and seeing him on the sidelines I obviously wish him the best. But we had to mind business.”
For Donaldson, the ties that bind him to the two players are still strong.
“They’re like families. We’re still family,” he said in his post-match press conference. “We want [Smith] half a chance, she’ll take it; excellent footballer, so I expect no less from her.”
Donaldson was less kind to his own side, who struggled to string together many passes and were forced to defend for long stretches. Jamaica now face Haiti in their group stage final.
“We were very s—-y so we didn’t play well,” he said. “We’re not going to face the world champions, play so badly and expect something good out of the game. We weren’t good.”
American performances are always rated on an unforgiving scale given the talent and history of the team. And after the team’s 3-0 tournament-opening victory over Haiti, there were still many questions about the United States’ ability to cope with athletic and mobile teams. But it was an occasion where Andonovski found little to complain about. USA were aggressive from the outside, and the Smith and Sofia Huerta tandem (who assisted Smith’s second goal) on the right flank were relentless in attacking Jamaica.
The unlucky striker of the night was forward Ashley Hatch who had a goal called up for questionable offside and hit the woodwork twice. Even then, she ran a lot of selfless errands to make room for others. And given how the U.S. was most often at the forefront of luck, Andonovski couldn’t bring himself to be overly critical.
“We win the game 5-0, score two or three more offsides. We create another 12 goalscoring chances,” he said. “I think it will be crazy for me to say that some of the attacking players didn’t play well. They all contributed in different ways. They were all dangerous in different ways. And now the only thing I would like to say for every one of them is that I would just like to see them be a little bit more clinical with the finishing touch or the finishing touch and finally, stick around.”
Even with World Cup qualification now secured, Sunday’s group stage final is expected to be anything but low key. It was Mexico who last beat the United States in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, when a 2-1 defeat forced the United States to win the game for third place and eventually a playoff with Italy which they won 2-0 on aggregate.
“We’re starting to focus on Mexico right now,” Smith said. “Obviously, [Mexico is] a great team. It’s a rivalry and I think we have to go out with the same energy if not more, and just do what we have to do.”