A controversial penalty decision helped sink the Canadian women’s team in Monday’s 2022 CONCACAF W Championship final in Mexico.
Alex Morgan’s goal from the penalty spot in the 78th minute was the difference as the United States earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Canada in the tournament final at Estadio BBVA in Monterrey.
The game’s decisive moment came moments earlier when Canadian substitute Allysha Chapman was judged to have clipped Rose Lavelle from behind inside the 18-yard box. Replays showed that the American player went down far too easily after being barely touched, but the VAR booth didn’t intervene and the call stood.
"I think it was a soft penalty. But these things happen. A penalty is a penalty, and it was a decision that was made," Canadian coach Bev Priestman said in the post-match press conference.
Despite the dubious penalty call, Priestman felt the U.S. were deserved winners
"I don't take [anything] away from the U.S. They brought it to us, and all credit to them," Priestman offered.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Heroic efforts for Canada from Sheridan, Gilles
Although the U.S. benefited from a soft penalty decision, it has to be said that it was the better side based on the balance of play. But the score could have been much worse if not for the outstanding efforts of Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and centre back Vanessa Gilles.
The U.S. enjoyed a 17-11 edge on shots (6-5 on target), but it’s notable that it couldn’t break down Canada from open play. Before Morgan converted her penalty, Sheridan made a series of outstanding saves — including a fabulous diving stop on forward Mallory Pugh — to keep the surging Americans off the score sheet.
In doing so, Sheridan, who took home the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper, firmly established herself as Canada’s goalkeeper of the future following the recent retirement of Stephanie Labbé.
"A lot of people talk about Steph Labbé in the [Tokyo] Olympics, and how that’s big shoes to fill. Kailen has shown that she’s ready… I thought she was fantastic. [She] showed her leadership, showed her calm, collected approach with and without the ball," Priestman said.
Gilles was just as important for Canada, having put her body on the line countless times in making a series of important tackles, clearances and interceptions.
“What an absolute warrior,” Priestman stated. “Top players play in big games like this and deal with threats, and I thought Vanessa was outstanding.”
Canada struggled to create much
In Canada’s three group stage matches and in the semifinal, Canada completely dominated, posting four clean sheet wins by a combined score of 12-0. In each contest, Priestman’s side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and were on the front foot for most of the time.
While Canada’s previous four opponents defended in a low block, Monday’s game was a different matter altogether. The No. 1 ranked U.S. set the tone early by going straight at Canada from the get-go, with Pugh forcing Sheridan to make a save and Morgan curling a shot just past the post in the opening minutes.
It was a sign of things to come, as the Americans carried the play for the majority of the 90 minutes. In contrast, Canada didn’t create much and failed to produce many dangerous moments in the final third. Nichelle Prince looked threatening at times down the left side in the first half. Other than that, fellow attackers Janine Beckie, captain Christine Sinclair, and midfielder Jessie Fleming had quiet nights.
Canada’s attacking play down the wings earlier in the tournament helped them reach the final. But the likes of Beckie, and fullbacks Jayde Riviere and Ashley Lawrence were neutralized by the Americans on this night, as goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had very little to do.
Canada’s late surge falls short
Morgan’s goal woke up Canada, who went forward with far more purpose and intent as it searched for a late equalizer.
For the first time in the match, the Canadians showed genuine aggression in the final third, and came straight at the Americans, with striker Jordyn Huitema, a second-half substitute, leading the charge. Gilles also pinched forward to help support the attack, using her strength and size to boss American defenders on crosses played into the box.
Lawrence carved out Canada’s best scoring opportunity, but was unable to curl her shot into the top corner from inside the penalty area. Grosso had the last chance for the Canadians in injury time, but her attempt from distance was aimed right at Naeher, and the American goalkeeper made a comfortable save.
Priestman liked her team's spirited response after going down 1-0.
"They showed that they were willing to do anything to get the result back," she said. "We gave it everything and that's all you can ask for."
About the author: John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.