CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (April 6, 2008) – The U.S. Women’s National Team got two goals from Natasha Kai and one from Abby Wambach in a rousing 3-1 victory over Mexico in front of a sold-out crowd of 22,280 at the Estadio Olimpico Benito Juarez.
The victory gave the USA first place in Group A at the 2008 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament and a semifinal match against Group B runner-up Costa Rica on April 9 at 5 p.m. MT for a berth in the 2008 Olympics.
Canada, which defeated Costa Rica, 1-0, earlier today in the final match of Group B will face Mexico in the other semifinal. The winner of that 7:30 p.m. MT match will earn CONCACAF’s second berth to the Olympics.
The packed house and fanatical pro-Mexican crowd created an atmosphere not often experienced by the U.S. Women, which scored all three of its goals in the first half of a highly entertaining and well played game by both countries. It was the 15th largest crowd ever to watch the U.S. women outside of the United States and the largest ever outside the USA in the western hemisphere.
"We saw Mexico play three days ago so we knew the formation, but they have a 12th player, and that's the crowd. It was absolutely wonderful," said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. "This is my first time here in Mexico with the U.S. team and that kind of crowd, I appreciate it a lot. We knew there would be battles, a lot of one-v-one, and a technical Mexico team. So we needed to stay focused in defending and find the space outside their backs. We did a pretty good job at the end of the day."
Sundhage made four changes to the lineup that defeated Jamaica, 6-0, last Friday, inserting Hope Solo in goal, Rachel Buehler at right back, Tobin Heath at left midfield and Kai up top with Wambach.
It was Kai who silenced the crowd just 13 minutes into the game with her 11th career goal. Midfielder Carli Lloyd did well to win a challenge in midfield and struck a long ball to Heather O’Reilly on the right wing. The U.S. midfielder brought the ball down and set off on a long run toward goal before slipping a pass to Kai into the right side of the penalty box. Kai had time to pick her spot and rolled the ball into the left corner past Mexican goalkeeper Sophia Perez.
Perez made the first of numerous tough saves during the match in the 17th minute after Wambach played a cross from the left wing on the ground to the near post. Kai sliced in to get a solid strike on the ball, but Perez managed to tip it away with a great reaction save.
Spurred on by the home crowd, Mexico attacked with fervor in the first half and Evelyn Lopez hit the side-netting in the 27th minute after spinning free of a U.S. defender in the left of the penalty box. When the equalizer did come four minutes later, it was from forward Lupita Worbis, whose world-class strike from outside the penalty area on the right side caught the absolute upper left corner past a flying Solo. Worbis had controlled a U.S. clearance before hitting the 30-yard rocket that was certainly the best goal scored against the USA in recent memory.
With the crowd in a frenzy, the USA struck back even before the celebration had subsided. Almost right off the kickoff, defender Kate Markgraf sent a long ball to Wambach down the left side. The U.S. forward pushed past two defenders into the penalty area, then eluded Perez to the outside before rolling the ball into the open net. It was the 92nd goal Wambach’s career and her third of the tournament. The rare assist for Markgraf was the eighth of her international career.
Wambach’s goal instantly erased Mexico’s momentum, but an even more painful blow was dealt with just seconds left in regulation time of the first half. O’Reilly tried to loop a pass over the Mexican back line but defender Natalie Vinti got her head on the ball, sending it up in the air. As she tried to turn and chase the ball, she slipped and Kai swooped in to take possession for a one-one-one chance. Perez also slipped as she made her move to close down the U.S. forward, but then regained her feet only to be nut-megged by Kai, who simply rolled the ball through the Mexican ‘keepers’ legs and into the net from nine yards out.
The goal was crushing for Mexico, as the halftime whistle blew seconds later. Mexico did come out from the break with renewed enthusiasm and Lulu Gordillo looped a long shot over Solo and off the crossbar in the 56th minute, but the Americans kept pushing and dominated the final 30 minutes even though the one goal which would have effectively ended the game never came.
The fact that the U.S. did not score in the second half can be mostly attributed to Perez, who flew around her goal in the final half hour to make a half-dozen spectacular saves and difficult grabs off crosses in traffic.
In the 65th minute, O'Reilly ran onto a cross at the right post sent by Wambach from the left wing, cut inside to beat a defender and drove a shot that was pushed off the right post by Perez. Five minutes later, substitute Lindsay Tarpley latched onto a ball in a penalty box scramble and lifted an arching shot that hit the right post.
Right after that, O’Reilly hit a great bending service behind the retreating Mexican defense, but Wambach’s sliding shot squirted just wide left of the net at the far post.
In the 77th minute, O'Reilly brought another ball down in right side of the penalty area and ripped a shot across the goal, only to see Perez push it away on the full stretch.
Five minutes from time Tarpley’s cross from the left side just evaded a sliding Rodriguez. O’Reilly ran it down, turned toward goal and let loose a strike from 10 yards that was once again batted away by Perez. Seconds later, O’Reilly dribbled square across the top of the penalty area and sent a left-footed shot off the bottom of the left post.
With three minutes left, Tarpley sprung O’Reilly down the right wing and she cut hard towards the net. O’Reilly played a pass into the slot for Rodriguez, who let it run through her legs to Wambach, but the U.S. forward couldn’t get her second goal of the game, firing high.
Mexico still wasn’t done though as substitute Monica Ocampo shook free in the left side of the penalty area during the final minute of regulation and drove a shot to the near post. Solo was wrong-footed, but reached back to coolly palm the ball over the end line for a corner kick.
The USA did well to possess the ball and kill the clock for the rest of the game, which included five minutes of stoppage time, and at the final whistle the fans gave both teams a huge round of applause. Overall, Mexico did well to make it an end-to-end game, committing numbers to the attack, but the Tricolores just could not punch through the rugged and speedy U.S. back line.
Fans can follow the USA’s match against Costa Rica on Wednesday, April 9, live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker with a kickoff of 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time. In 2004, the USA also defeated Costa Rica for a berth to the Olympics, winning 4-0 in the semifinal of the Olympic qualifying competition in San Jose, Costa Rica.
U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
Match-up: USA vs. Mexico
Competition: 2008 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying
Venue: Estadio Olimpico Benito Juarez; Juarez, Mexico
Date: April 6, 2008; Kickoff – 1:30 p.m. MT
Attendance: 22,280 (Sell-Out)
Weather: Sunny, hot – 74 degrees
1 2 F
USA 3 0 3
MEX 1 0 1
USA – Natasha Kai (Heather O’Reilly) 13th minute.
MEX – Lupita Worbis (unassisted) 31.
USA -- Abby Wambach (Kate Markgraf) 32.
USA – Natasha Kai (unassisted) 45.
USA: 18-Hope Solo; 2-Rachel Buehler, 15-Kate Markgraf, 3-Christie Rampone – Capt., 17-Lori Chalupny; 9-Heather O’Reilly, 7-Shannon Boxx (12-Leslie Osborne, 66), 11-Carli Lloyd, 13-Tobin Heath (5-Lindsay Tarpley, 46); 6-Natasha Kai (19-Amy Rodriguez, 56), 20-Abby Wambach.
Subs not used: 4-Cat Whitehill, 14-Stephanie Cox, 16-Angela Hucles, 24-Nicole Barnhart.
Not Eligible: 8-Lauren Cheney, 10-Kacey White.
Head Coach: Pia Sundhage
MEX: 20-Sophia Perez; 4-Natalie Vinti, 5-Maria Castillo, 13-Lulu Gordillo (19-Iris Mora, 67), 14-Isabel Valdez (2-Leticia Villalpando, 30), 6-Monica Vergara, 7-Evelyn Lopez, 11-Patricia Perez (9-Monica Ocampo, 46), 17-Tania Morales, 8-Carmen Padilla – Capt., 10-Lupita Worbis.
Subs not used: 1-Pamela Tajonar, 3-Rubi Sandoval, 15-Luz Saucedo, 23-Rebecca Mendoza.
Not Eligible: 18-Charlyn Corral, 22-Angelica Figueroa.
Head Coach: Leo Cuellar
USA / MEX
Shots: 20 / 10
Shots on Goal: 13 / 7
Saves: 6 / 8
Corner Kicks: 3 / 2
Fouls: 16 / 9
Offside: 1 / 0
USA – Abby Wambach (caution) 37th minute.
Referee: Erika Vargas (CRC)
Asst. Referee: Cindy Mohammed (TRI)
Asst. Referee: Lynda Bramble-Thompson (TRI)
4th Official: Carol Ann Chenard (CAN)
Sierra Mist Woman of the Match: Natasha Kai
2008 CONCACAF WOMEN’S OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION SCHEDULE & STANDINGS
Team W L T Pts. GF GA GD
USA 2 0 0 6 9 1 +8
MEX 1 1 0 3 9 4 +5
JAM 0 2 0 0 1 14 -14
April 2 Mexico 8, Jamaica 1
April 4 USA 6, Jamaica 0
April 6 USA 3, Mexico 1
Team W L T Pts. GF GA GD
CAN 2 0 0 6 7 0 +7
CRC 0 1 1 1 2 3 -1
TRI 0 1 1 1 2 8 -6
April 2 Canada 6, Trinidad & Tobago 0
April 4 Costa Rica 2, Trinidad & Tobago 2
April 6 Canada 1, Costa Rica 0
Semifinals Kickoff (Local) / PT
April 9 USA vs. Costa Rica 5 p.m. MT / 4 p.m. PT
April 9 Canada vs. Mexico 7:30 p.m. MT / 6:30 p.m. PT
Final/Third-place Game Kickoff (Local) / PT
April 12 Third-Place Game 5 p.m. MT / 4 p.m. PT
April 12 Championship 7:30 p.m. MT / 6:30 p.m. PT