W Championship Finals

Given the relative interest in my Rest of the World Update, I’m continuing to focus on the women’s international games outside of the Euros. This post covers the final of the W Championship between the United States and Canada, with future posts on the semifinals and final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (completed last weekend), and the final group stage games, semifinals and finals of the Copa América Femenina. Somewhere in there, I’ll include a quick account of the OFC Cup of Nations as well. And I will eventually get to the Euros, which have been immensely enjoyable. But first things first:

The biggest game this July came at the beginning of the previous week, when defending World Cup champions the United States faced defending Olympic champions Canada in the final of CONCACAF’s W Championship at Estadio BBVA (home ground of Monterrey) in Guadalupe, Mexico. Canada used the same 4-3-1-2 line-up they had deployed in their last two games (likely in preparation for this final), with Christine Sinclair underneath Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie up top.

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The United States had experimented with various line-ups over the course of the tournament, but mostly stuck with the group that had faced Costa Rica. The exceptions were No. 1 goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher replacing Casey Murphy (who had played for the majority of the tournament), and Emily Fox in for Emily Sonnett at left back. That meant a 4-3-3, with Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith flanking Alex Morgan up top and a fearsome midfield of Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Andi Sullivan.

The US had a torrid start, with chance after chance in the opening 5′. About midway through the first half, with the US still looking the more threatening, Canada responded with a change in formation. Prince and Beckie moved out to the wings, while Jessie Fleming advanced out of the midfield trio to join Sinclair atop a 4-4-2. Even before the change, Quinn had been dropping back alongside Desiree Scott to form a holding pair in the midfield, but moving Prince and Beckie wider and deeper allowed them to contribute defensively on the flanks, where the United States had been consistently creating overloads.

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Even before the change, Canada had started to threaten down the left, with Prince putting US full back Sofia Huerta through the ringer; and those chances continued in the new formation, leading to an exciting, two-way contest. For their part, Pugh and Smith switched flanks midway through the half for about ten minutes, and more generally the front three were fluid in attack. Overall, the United States were probably the better side in an open the first half with chances at both ends.

The second half followed a similar pattern, but the United States looked increasingly more likely to break through. Canada brought Julia Grosso and Allysha Chapman on around the hour mark to provide fresher defensive legs, then Adriana Leon and Jordyn Huitema to rekindle the offense, but neither set of changes seemed to reverse the tide. On the other hand, the United States still seemed unable to turn their threat into an opening goal.

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With fifteen minutes remaining, Morgan fed Lavelle into the box on the right, and Chapman pushed her from behind–but more importantly clipped her ankle to give up a clear penalty. Morgan took the penalty, beating her San Diego Wave teammate, Kailen Sheridan, to give the United States a deserved lead. Canada pushed hard for the remainder of regulation and seven minutes of injury time, throwing center back Vanessa Gilles up top for an additional aerial threat. The US held firm, though, regaining a small measure of revenge Canada’s semifinal victory in the 2020 Olympics, a game that was also won with a 75′ penalty (in that case, won by Deanne Rose off of Tierna Davidson and scored by Fleming).

What to make of the United States overall may well be in the eye of the beholder. On the one hand, the they came away with a win while giving significant playing time to younger, less experienced players. Given the absences of Julie Ertz, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Tierna Davidson, and Catarina Macario (of Olympic Lyonnais), conceivably more than half of a starting XI lost to injuries and pregnancies, holding the course and producing an expected result can be viewed as a promising sign with those players likely returning for the World Cup next summer.

On the other hand, skeptics of Andonovski will point to the US troubles scoring, not only against Canada, but also against Mexico and even, to a certain extent, against Haiti. With much stiffer competition coming in a year’s time, critics will wonder whether the team is making the progress necessary to ensure that last summer’s semifinal exit was a momentary blip rather than the first sign that Andonovski is not up to the job.

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