CHESTER, Pa. — The U.S. qualified for the 2015 Women’s World Cup on Friday night, blanking a submissive Mexico team 3-0 and earning a ticket to women’s soccer’s showpiece event in Canada. While winning the spot was always expected, it still had to be earned by the Americans, who avoided a repeat of the stunning loss against Mexico four years ago that forced the U.S. into an intercontinental playoff.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
1. This was a no-drama night
The more the U.S. plays Mexico, the more you realize how that Mexico win four years ago really was the biggest upset in women’s soccer history. The U.S. has beaten Mexico convincingly in every game since that 2010 night in Cancún, and on Friday the Mexicans made six lineup changes (saving their best players for Sunday’s win-and-qualify game) and played like a team that wanted the final whistle to come as soon as possible. Carli Lloyd’s two goals and Christen Press’s one were enough to give the U.S. a comfortable win, though the Americans failed to convert several chances — Sydney Leroux hit the woodwork twice — and you still came away with the feeling that the U.S. has another gear it can find.
2. Jill Ellis made some intriguing lineup choices
This was the biggest U.S. women’s game since the 2012 Olympics, yet with a World Cup berth on the line, the U.S. coach elected not to start arguably her best forward (Abby Wambach, replaced by Leroux) and her best defender (Becky Sauerbrunn, replaced by Whitney Engen). Wambach came on as a second-half sub, while Sauerbrunn remained on the bench. Perhaps she wanted to avoid too much strain on Wambach by starting her in games two and three days apart. Perhaps she wanted to give Leroux a chance to get back on track. And perhaps … it’s hard to explain why Sauerbrunn sat, though the word in camp has been that she hasn’t been training as well as usual.
Ellis explained her decisions a bit during her postgame conference: "It's not just looking at games as far as how we start games. It's also looking at games as how we finish games. I said from day one we have a lot of depth. So I think I can look at certain games and select tactically and personnel [-wise] based on how I see the game. Sometimes they'll be starting. Abby started this tournament, and today just based on what I thought, what I felt, we wanted her to come off the bench. And she's been fantastic. On and off the field she's been superb."
3. Christie Rampone is awfully impressive
The 39-year-old captain, the lone holdover from the 1999 World Cup winners, got her 300th cap, second all-time in world soccer history behind the U.S.' Kristine Lilly. Rampone didn’t have much work to do against a Mexico team that only rarely crossed into the U.S.’ defensive half, but let there be no doubt that 300 caps is a remarkable achievement. Rampone isn’t quite as fast as she used to be, but she still reads the game well and is on track to be a starter at next year’s World Cup, where she will turn 40 just before the final. Not bad for a mother of two who has overcome Lyme disease.