January 24, 2012
By Michael Lewis
U.S. Women dominant in Olympic qualifying
VANCOUVER -- If there is any team in CONCACAF that can stop the U.S. juggernaut, can they please put their best foot forward?
|Carli Lloyd scored her first international hat trick in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Mexico. The U.S. Women have outscored their opponents 31-0 through the first three games of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
No one, simply no one at all, has been able to accomplish that feat against the Americans during the women's Olympic qualifying tournament in the past week. Slow them down once in a while, yes, but never able to shut them down.
Mexico tried on Tuesday night and the U.S. walked out of BC Place 4-0 winners -- thanks in part to Carli Lloyd's first international hat trick.
The Americans, who earned the Group B title, are only a win away from booking their fifth consecutive Olympics -- this summer in London. They will meet Costa Rica in Friday night's at 8 p.m. ET semifinals prior to the Canada-Mexico confrontation at 11 p.m. ET.
The U.S. was virtually unstoppable during the group stage, rolling up gridiron football-like results -- 14-0 against the Dominican Republic and 13-0 vs. Guatemala. The four-goal margin against the Mexicans was closer to more mortal margins of victory, but it still was pretty imposing, all things considered.
Perhaps Mexican coach Leonardo Cuellar put it in perspective. "The U.S. -- they're just the best team in the world," he said. "The U.S. is simply the best.
"We needed to play a perfect game as we did in Cancun to deserve the victory."
Ah yes, Cancun. That is a hot button with the Americans. They are a driven side thanks to the memories of that disaster, something that is used to spur the team on. Some 15 months ago, the Mexicans stunned the Americans in the semifinals of Women's World Cup qualifying. Mexico booked a spot while the Americans were forced to qualify for the WWC in Germany the hard way, defeating Costa Rica in the CONCACAF third-place match and downing Italy in a special two-leg playoff.
"It was redemption for us," Lloyd said of Tuesday’s victory. "We came out strong. We knew we had to get it done. There's no second chances for Olympic qualifying. So we made sure we got into the semifinals and the semifinals are going to be the big one."
While crowd at BC Place was tame in comparison to the intense throng that witnessed Mexico’s pre-World Cup triumph, the loud Mexican contingent let the Americans know they were there.
"We even felt there were a lot more Mexican fans than U.S. fans," Lloyd said. "But at the end of the day, we shut all that out and we just played soccer."
Indeed the U.S. did, converting three goals via dead-ball situations, leaving the Mexicans dead in their tracks.
"I was happy with all four goals and Carli Lloyd, the way she was the end product of the set pieces," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "So we did well with set pieces."
The key to the 29-year-old Lloyd's success? Lloyd said that she has been "playing smarter, playing one or two touches and just being that linker out there. It's working. I think the team's doing the well moving the ball quickly, just doing one or two touches."
If you blinked, you might have missed the U.S.’s first two goals. While they will go into the books being scored in the seventh and ninth minutes, they really were scored only 65 seconds apart.
The first originated from a Lauren Cheney corner kick. Lloyd headed the ball to Rachel Buehler, who sent a shot off the crossbar. Lloyd gathered in the rebound and slotted it past goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago for a 1-0 U.S. lead in the seventh minute.
The Americans struck quickly and suddenly off the ensuing kickoff. Known more for her scoring ability than passing, Amy Rodriguez motored down the left side and crossed the ball, which was blocked. Heather O’Reilly, who ran Mexico’s left-sided midfielder and defender ragged for most of the match, put home the rebound for a 2-0 advantage in the ninth minute.
Lloyd lifted the Americans into a 3-0 lead in the 56th minute, heading home Lauren Cheney’s free kick from the left side from three yards out. It was Cheney’s tournament-high sixth assist.
The Delran, N.J. native completed her hat trick in the 86th minute, putting home a Rachel Buehler feed from six yards.
Every American player wore a tattoo on one of her arms – “liebe,” which is German for love, in honor of their injured teammate, defender Ali Krieger, who suffered tears to her ACL and MCL against the Dominican Republic in the team’s tournament opener on Jan. 20. Krieger, who has the same tattoo on her left arm, returned home to Washington, D.C. for an operation.
Lloyd said that she "dedicated the win to her, the hat trick to her. It's unfortunate that she can't be here for us."