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January 27, 2012
U.S. blanks Costa Rica, 3-0, to reach Olympics for 5th time

By Michael Lewis Editor

Alex Morganís second goal of the Olympic Qualifying tournament capped the USAís 3-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday.
Alex Morganís second goal of the Olympic Qualifying tournament capped the USAís 3-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
VANCOUVER -- Prior to the CONCACAF women's Olympic soccer qualifying tournament, the U.S. Women's National Team wanted to send a message to the rest of the world that the team meant business.

Message sent -- for the most part.

The Americans accomplished what they needed to do as they qualified for a fifth consecutive Olympic tournament with a 3-0 win over a determined Costa Rica side at BC Place on Friday night.

But they also sent another message, one that was rather unintended, which reminded their foes in London that their defense is still the team's Achilles heel and can be exploited, especially when under pressure. Despite mistakes, many unforced errors and sometimes a comedy of errors, the U.S. was saved by goalkeeper Hope Solo, who came through under pressure in the first half, despite playing with an ailing right quadriceps.

The first half reminded USA fans and observers of the waning minutes against Japan at last yearís Women's World Cup final, when the Americans twice squandered two leads -- once late in regulation, the other with three minutes left in extra time.

Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd and second-half substitute Alex Morgan scored for the Americans, who had rolled over their previous three opponents in the competition by a ridiculous 31-0 margin.

However, the Costa Ricans, coming off a 5-1 pasting by Canada in their final group stage match on Monday, had something to say about that. The Central Americans hardly looked like the team that had lost all seven of their previous encounters to the U.S. and failed to score a goal.

Moreoever, their close marking and pressure on the ball forced the U.S. to make some dubious decisions -- passing and otherwise -- with the ball. That allowed the Central American side to make life miserable for the U.S., especially its back four of Kelley O'Hara, captain Christie Rampone, Amy LePeilbet and Rachel Buehler.

In a surprise move, the Costa Ricans started Erika Miranda in goal over Julieth Arias, who had a tough game against Canada.

If any of the spectators at the stadium were expecting a Christians vs. the lions scenario, as what essentially transpired in the U.S.'s first three games, they were dead wrong.

The Americans looked a bit tight and out of sync in the early going, and could not get many shots at the Ticas net. Their best opportunity early on came in the seventh minute, when Lauren Cheney fired a shot that Arias caught and dropped but recovered in time before a U.S. player could swoop in and score.

The U.S. finally broke through in the 16th minute. Cheney sent a corner kick to the far post that Shannon Boxx headed toward the net. Arias managed to knock it away from danger, but Tobin Heath, standing on the right side of the penalty area, managed to head it home for a 1-0 lead. It was Heath's second goal of the tournament.

The Americans started playing with fire in the 20th minute, when Buehler gave away a ball to Fernanda Barrantes, who forced goalkeeper Hope Solo to make her first save of the night.

The comedy of errors continued in the back as poor decisions and passing and some loose play led to Solo diving to stop an onrushing Raquel Rodriguez on the left side of the penalty area three minutes later.

And then Carol Sanchez ripped a 40-yard shot that bounded off the crossbar at the upper 90 in the 33rd minute.

The U.S. was given a gift corner kick in the 36th minute, when Arias made a diving save on a header by Lloyd, but brought the ball out of bounds. On the ensuing corner by Cheney, Lloyd headed the ball wide left.

In the 61st minute, the U.S. found itself with a free kick at the edge of the penalty arc after Rodriguez leveled Abby Wambach. Lloyd powered her shot wide left of its intended target.

Three minutes, Cheney came close as Wambach set her up with a flick-on pass that she headed over the bar.

The U.S. had yet another free kick opportunity in the 70th minute, when Sanchez was called for fouling Morgan, who appeared to have taken a dive. Lloyd shot the ensuing spot kick -- you guessed it -- wide left again.

But Lloyd eventually got her goal. Wambach took a shot that Arias slapped at but could not stop from heading toward the goal. Daniela Cruz cleared the ball off the line. The Ticas, however, could not clear the ball out of the penalty area. It came to Lloyd at the top of the 18 and she fired away for a 2-0 advantage in the 72nd minute.

Morgan added a third tally in the 89th minute, beating Arias from the near left side as this time Cruz could not clear the ball off the line.

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