VANCOUVER — The United States are still the top dog in CONCACAF.
Alex Morgan led the way on Sunday night, scoring two goals and setting teammate Abby Wambach up for a pair as the U.S. defeated Canada 4-0 in the final of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament at BC Place.
“What we’ve seen from the U.S. over the last few games is they’ve played a lot of things in front,” Canadian coach John Herdman told reporters following the match. “We knew if Morgan played she’d start threatening behind. The (first) goal she scored is a real example of that — she’s a real predator at looking for those longer balls over the top, and it caught us.”
Morgan scored goals in the fourth and 56th minutes, and set Wambach up for markers in the 24th and 28th.
“Today we put everything together and made them look poorly at times,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said of Canada. “But don’t forget, they created chances. There were things out there they did well. At times it was a tight game.”
With the win, the U.S. continues its dominance over Canada, improving its all-time record against the Reds to 42-5-3. Wambach’s brace brings her career goal total to 131, good for second in the women’s all-time scoring books.
“We are winners,” Sundhage said. “That is important. It’s great to feel the gold. That is something we’re looking forward to. But Canada, I’m not caught up in that. It’s more important how we played.”
The fans also set a record, as 25,427 supporters filled BC Place, the highest ever total for a CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying match.
“The atmosphere was just tremendous, fantastic,” Sundhage said. “It’s so much more fun to play under pressure, coach under pressure and people care; that is important. I will say it’s hard on this turf, it’s beating them up.
“There is a reason why some of the players like (Amy) Lepeilbet didn’t play today, because we’re playing on the turf, we had only one day, and then had to play again. It makes it so much harder than playing on natural grass.”
Herdman elected to make three changes for the line-up that defeated Mexico on Friday, as Kaylyn Kyle, Robyn Gayle and Erin McLeod stepped in for Melissa Tancredi, Rhian Wilkinson and Karina LeBlanc.
“Had the selections been different, it would have been a different score line,” Herdman said. “So all credit to (Sundhage). She picked the right team, I picked the wrong one.”
It didn’t take long for the U.S. to get things started, as Wambach sent Morgan on a breakaway with a well-weighted header just four minutes in. The California native demonstrated her speed and strength, outmuscling Candace Chapman and Shannon Woeller before slotting coolly past McLeod in the Canadian net.
Twenty minutes later, Morgan was at it again, this time playing provider, as she received a pass from Megan Rapinoe before crossing to Wambach. The big centre attacked the ball with conviction, beating McLeod with a header from close range to double the U.S.’s lead.
Wambach scored again on 28 minutes, this time with her feet after the Canadian defence found itself in disarray following a long-range shot which rebounded off the post. Morgan once again claimed the assist on the play.
Canada’s best chances of the first half came through two breakaways from Christina Julien. The Ontario native found herself alone 18 minutes in, but Hope Solo was quick off her line to intervene, colliding with the forward. Julien was sent through by Kelly Parker with a minute remaining the half, but Solo again reacted quickly, coming out to block the shot before the ball rebounded off the attacker and out of play.
The opening half also had a moment of controversy, as Julien tackled Rapinoe from behind. The California native reacted angrily, running toward Julien before losing her balance, falling into the forward from behind. Referee Quetzalli opted for the lenient approach, keeping her cards in her pocket.
At the break, Wambach was replaced by Lauren Cheney for the U.S., while Herdman brought in Tancredi for Kaylyn Kyle, who picked up a booking. At the 54 minute mark Wilkinson came in for Gayle.
Cheney sent Morgan through again 56 minutes in, and the forward slalomed her way through the Canadian defence, touching past a lunging McLeod before beating another defender and slotting home to put the U.S. up 4-0.
In the 74th minute, McLeod was forced into a fine save after a strike from Cheney. The ball, which the forward hit first time, appeared destined for the bottom right corner, but the goalkeeper’s stretching save kept the score at 4-0.
After reaching the finals of the qualifying tournament, both teams advance to the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer.
“Tactically we’ve learned a lot,” Tancredi said of the tournament. “I think we’ve proven ourselves and shown a lot of strengths we haven’t shown in the past and have a lot of new personalities out there making their own legacy.
“We’re going to the Olympics and that was our goal here, and I think we concluded that very well here. This team is all about learning, so we’ll look at our performances tonight and just get better.”