No time to play nice for US women's soccer team
It's hard not to look like a bully when the final score is 14-0. The U.S. women's soccer team had never beaten anyone that badly, not even in the days of Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain.
But this is no time for sympathy. This wasn't a friendly; this was the first game of qualifying for the London Olympics. The non-competitive blowout of the Dominican Republic on Friday night left no doubt whatsoever that the Americans have banned complacency from the roster.
''We want to qualify for the Olympics,'' coach Pia Sundhage said. ''And that's what comes back all the time. This is important. We care every single game and every single goal. And if we can keep that and not take anything for granted - like we almost did when we tried to qualify for the World Cup - if we can keep that feeling, we will win the next game.''
The shock to the system was a qualifying loss to Mexico in late 2010 that threw a huge detour into the Americans' route to last year's World Cup. It remains the only defeat for the U.S. team in 34 games of Olympic or World Cup qualifying.
So when the score was 7-0 at halftime Friday night, forward Abby Wambach wasn't satisfied. She's concerned the Americans might need a win a tiebreaker based on goal differential to get a more favorable matchup in the semifinals. She told her teammates to score more goals.
''It's not easy to beat a team 14-0, quite frankly,'' Wambach said. ''But at the end of the day we needed to make sure and secure the goal differential. That's what's been on my mind all night.''
It would seem the mission is accomplished. Soccer teams just don't win games by two touchdowns, not at this level. The previous record tally for the U.S. team was set back in 1991, with 12-0 wins over Mexico and Martinique in a pair of World Cup qualifiers.
But the BC Place crowd couldn't help but feel sorry for the Dominicans. They started cheering any accomplishment, no matter how small, by the underdogs ranked 88th in the world. The Americans could only do such much: You can't pull all the starters in a sport that only allows three substitutes. Besides, Sundhage wants her players honing their technical skills for the tougher games that lie ahead.
''You can literally put your foot on the ball and stop playing,'' Wambach said. ''Or respect the game, respect your opponents and keep playing soccer. It's a hard balance. We don't want to put Dominican in a position where they feel bad about themselves. We want them to know that they have an opportunity to learn something as well. It's not easy.''
There are eight teams in Vancouver vying for two CONCACAF berths for the London Games, but only four arrived in Canada with any sort of a realistic shot. Four games into the tournament, the score between the haves and have-nots was 27-0 - the United States, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica were unblemished against Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Essentially, the tournament serves to see whether Mexico and Costa Rica can swipe one or both Olympic berths favored to go to the U.S. and Canada. Sundhage, therefore, was asked whether the field is too big, given the embarrassment the Dominicans had just endured.
''No. I think it's a wonderful experience for all of us to be here,'' said Sundhage, who went on cite the value in giving developing teams more chances to travel and play games in high-profile tournaments.
Goalkeeper Hope Solo said she hopes the experience will enlighten the Dominicans so that they will ''continue to put money into their federation and continue to grow women's soccer.''
The Americans, meanwhile, spent Saturday preparing for what should be another overmatched opponent. They play 85th-ranked Guatemala on Sunday before wrapping up group play with a marquee game against Mexico on Tuesday.
But even one-sided games have their perils. Starting right back Ali Krieger tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee in the first half and is likely to miss the Olympics. The 27-year-old Krieger played every minute of all six games at last year's World Cup.
Losing Krieger will hurt, but the U.S. has one of the few teams deep enough to absorb such a blow. When Krieger left the game, she was replaced by Heather Mitts - who earned her 119th international cap and would be a regular starter for most any other team in the world.
''It's really hard to make the team right now,'' Sundhage said. ''We have so many good players. I think this is the best - if you look at individuals - the best team I've ever had since (becoming U.S. coach in) 2008.''
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP