U.S. Women's National Team
Yanks Defeat Canada, 2-0, to Finish Off Qualifying
February 22, 2016
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team wrapped up the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament on Sunday afternoon in Houston, beating Canada 2-0 in the final.
From the opening minutes, Canada insisted on turning the match into a physical affair but the Americans proved to be the better team and stretched its unbeaten streak against Canada to 31 games.
The U.S. win came on the back of second-half tallies from Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath, with Becky Sauerbrunn and Mallory Pugh picking up the assists. Sauerbrunn also registered up her 100th cap in the contest. Here are three thoughts from the game.
HORAN HER BEST YET
Since Jill Ellis made Horan a starter back in December, the U.S. has played a series of weak opponents. While Horan has had some bright moments in those matches, as a converted forward, she has also worked her way through a steep learning curve.
On Sunday, Horan played her best game yet for the Yanks. While she still lost possession a little too often and occasionally pushed forward at the wrong times, she also scored the opening goal and displayed an impressive work rate.
Her combination play with midfield partner Morgan Brian opened up the Canadian defense on several occasions and Horan repeatedly found her teammates in space out wide.
The 21-year-old still has some improvements to make over the next six months before the Rio Olympics, but credit must be given to the youngster for her play and Coach Ellis for seeing the potential of this move when no one else did.
LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR
With both teams having already qualified for the Olympics via their semifinal wins on Friday, some might have expected Sunday’s game to a friendly affair—that wasn’t the case.
The rivalry between the two sides has gotten especially bitter in recent years and Canada showed right from the outset it wasn't opposed to mixing it up with the Americans.
In the seventh minute Nichelle Prince took out American goalkeeper Hope Solo from behind. In the 15th minute Melissa Tancredi—the same player who stomped Carli Lloyd’s head in the 2012 Olympics—shoved Julie Johnston into Solo while chasing down a through ball.
Five minutes later Josee Belanger whacked Lindsey Horan from behind earning a yellow card, and in the 39th minute Tancredi was at it again, taking out Lloyd in the box for what looked like a clear penalty—no foul was given.
After the break the shenanigans continued, with Mallory Pugh taken out in the box. Again, no call was awarded. However, karma seemed to intervene when Horan scored the eventual game-winner one minute and 43 seconds later.
The Canadians apparently learn their poor sportsmanship directly from their coach, John Herdman. After the match, Herdman threw his second-place medal into the stands.
Removing the medal immediately, as Herdman did, is understandable. Throwing it into the stands is poor form. https://t.co/qUVd9bhk27— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) February 22, 2016
Herdman: "I don't play this game for medals - not silver medals, anyway."— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) February 22, 2016
Looking ahead, the U.S. doesn’t have much of a break. In early March, it will play the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 5 sides in the world—Germany, France, and England—in the SheBelieves Cup. Those games should give Ellis an even greater understanding of her squad against top competition.
On Sunday, Ellis started the same XI that started on Friday—a bit of a surprise considering that gave her players less than 48 hours of rest. She also gave Pugh and Kelley O’Hara consecutive starts over Crystal Dunn and Ali Krieger—another surprise.
The SheBelieves Cup will also give Ellis an opportunity to continue to work out the kinks in the Horan-Brian pairing. The partnership, still in its infancy, has moments where both midfielders go forward at the same time, leaving the center backs exposed. It’s not wholly surprising considering that Horan is a converted forward and Brian a converted attacking midfielder, but it is a mistake that will get exposed against top sides.
The first match of the SheBelieves Cup is March 3 against England (7:30pm ET, FoxSports1).
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.