The U.S. women outscored opponents 26-0 and were never under any serious threat in steamrolling their way to another regional championship.
The U.S. women's national team finished off a flawless run at the Concacaf Women's Championship, beating Canada 2-0 to win the regional title yet again days after securing a berth to the 2019 Women's World Cup.
Rose Lavelle scored in the second minute and Alex Morgan tallied in the 89th to put away the neighbors to the north, who kept it close and disrupted the U.S. with physical play but couldn't find the breakthrough in the final third. The Americans outscored opponents 26-0 en route to the title, sending a message to its chief challengers around the world that next summer it's as serious a threat as it's ever been to win another World Cup.
For all the goals the U.S. scored, it was midfield rock Julie Ertz who won Golden Ball honors, while Morgan took home the Golden Boot by edging Canada's Adriana Leon by one for most goals. The big team trophy is the one the U.S. cares most about, though, and it's headed back to Soccer House after another win over Canada on the big stage.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
Yet another early start
In each of the USA's five matches in the competition, it scored within the opening nine minutes. In the opener against Mexico, it was Megan Rapinoe scoring in the third minute. Against Panama, Samantha Mewis scored in the fifth. In the group finale vs. Trinidad & Tobago, Morgan tallied in the ninth. In the key semifinal win vs. Jamaica, Tobin Heath scored less than two minutes in. And Wednesday it was Lavelle's turn, with a poor clearance falling to the Washington Spirit star 20 yards out before she curled in an accurate left-footed shot.
It's way easier to put opponents on the back heel and zap any early confidence when you score early on, and the Americans' aggression and incessant pressure from the opening whistle was a hallmark of their play in the five games they won. There's a no-mercy element to this team against inferior foes, and a lack of fear or hesitation against perceived equals—or as close as it gets to that in this region. It won't always be that easy, but what a weapon it is to be able to come out firing like that.
U.S. forced to defend, deal with physicality
The one area the U.S. hasn't been able to fine-tune in this tournament is in the back. None of its previous opponents were able to generate anything serious in the attack, leaving goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher largely untested and the defenders in front of her rarely under pressure.
That changed a bit on Wednesday, and expectedly so. When Christine Sinclair is lining up on the other side, you're going to have some work to do, and for the first time all competition the preferred top-choice unit of Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O'Hara was called into action. They held it together and came up with the necessary interventions and clearances while calmly playing it out of the back.
The one time Canada came close to scoring, Naeher came through. Her instinctive diving save on Kadeisha Buchanan's header in the 24th minute tipped a goal-bound chance around the post, an important moment for the only real question mark for the U.S. going forward.
Later on, with the U.S. nursing its lead and Canada seeking an equalizer, O'Hara disrupted a Canada foray forward in the 79th minute with a sliding tackle to keep a Sinclair ball from finding Diana Matheson out wide, where she would've been able to send in a potentially dangerous cross. All in all, it was a job well done to silence an attack that, like the U.S., averaged six goals a game in the tournament entering the night.
The other aspect the U.S. had to overcome was an incredibly physical opponent. One way to disrupt an attacking juggernaut is to remove its rhythm, and one way to remove a team's rhythm is to engage in physical play. Canada came up with crunching tackle after crunching tackle, not allowing the U.S. to really develop any flow in the run of play. It's something the Americans may encounter more of on the big stage next summer.
Oh, the irony
Morgan has been a huge proponent of VAR, joining the growing chorus of folks imploring FIFA to introduce video replay at the World Cup next summer, just like it did for the men's World Cup in Russia. Nothing is going to sway her opinion on the matter, but her goal, which provided the late breathing room the U.S. had been seeking all second half, wouldn't have a had a chance of standing had VAR been a part of this competition.
Morgan was well offside when Lindsey Horan crossed to her in front of goal, but the assistant referee's flag remained down and the goal stood. It was Morgan's seventh of the tournament, which secured the Golden Boot, but if Morgan gets her way, it'll be apparent goals like that taken off the board in France come June and July.