It didn’t take long to understand why no other team had engaged in a real soccer game against the United States women’s national team so far at this CONCACAF Women’s Championship, which doubled as a qualifying tournament for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Within just a half, the Americans put four of their six goals past Costa Rica in their 6-0 win on Sunday, which earned them the gold medals to go with the place in Canada they clinched in the semifinals on Friday. Abby Wambach collected four of the goals and Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux each got another.
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Costa Rica’s coach Garabet Avedissian had warned before the game that it would be “foolish … even suicidal” to press the Americans and play an open and attacking game. He did so anyway and soon learned why nobody else had risked it.
“When a team beats you in a matter that’s so convincing, the result is clear,” Avedissian lamented after the game. “They took advantage of their strength; they took advantage of their physical superiority. Those are elements that we don’t have.”
The Ticas tried to play balls over the top for their strikers to hurtle after at first. They were far more dangerous for it than any team the USA has seen so far, and plainly more capable too. They pressed high and with vigor. At last, a team wasn’t just going to sit deep in its own half and brick up its goal. This also left Costa Rica open and stretched though, and the Americans, cherishing the newfound space, happily played through it.
Whether they did it out of tactical conviction or because there wasn’t all that much at stake in this game, the Central Americans got punished for their stylistic good-heartedness in a game with a pleasant mood created by the boisterous spectators.
Just four minutes in, a Megan Rapinoe corner eventually fell to the young collegian Morgan Brian at the far end of the box. Brian chipped it back over for Wambach to nod home. A few chances later, Wambach headed another Rapinoe corner back across and Lloyd got a slight touch to it with her head to redirect the ball into the back of the net.
Lloyd, the almost-local girl, nearly got her second a minute later when she pick-pocketed a defender high up the field and scampered off on goal, but she pummeled her finish just over the far top corner.
She made amends not long thereafter, as she sent a lovely chipped cross into Wambach, who, as ever, rose high and slammed home the header. The truth was that Wambach was so much taller than Costa Rica’s central pairing that even if she had stayed grounded, her head would have reached higher than those of the jumping defenders. Avedissian said that she was a full 10 inches taller than any of his players. An exaggeration, but not by much.
Megan Klingenberg, in pursuit of the fourth goal, slammed a shot off the bar from just outside the box, bringing the ball down and snapping off a half-volley. So Lloyd provided the tally instead, in the 41st minute, when she twisted herself into some space with a superb turn in Costa Rica’s box and lifted yet another high ball to Wambach, who headed home for her natural hat trick.
As if to underscore that the game was pretty much over, the USA made all three of its substitutions at once in the 60th minute. And indeed the Americans kept attacking and kept dominating in every other part of the field as well.
One of those subs, Leroux, ripped a shot just wide on a promising look in the 65th minute. But this night didn’t look like it would be her night either, as the once-prolific striker continued to struggle to fill up the goal. No matter, because she played Wambach through the lines in the 72nd minute. The veteran striker calmly strode at goal and beat Dinnia Diaz with a splendid chip, for her fourth goal. And then Leroux finally got her own, heading home on a Tobin Heath cross the very next minute.
“I’m delighted that we played, I thought, our best game of the tournament,” said USA head coach Jill Ellis. “Costa Rica came out and played a good game, but overall I think it was our best performance.”
As such, the USA finished this tournament with a perfect 5-0-0 record, having scored 21 goals and giving up none. They hardly even surrendered any shots. And so the Americans lifted the CONCACAF championship for the seventh time in their eight appearances at a canter, because their opponents dared to play.