Taking it easy not in their DNA
US players refusing to rest on their accomplishments
UNITED STATES 4, MEXICO 0
CARSON, Calif. — A few moments after the U.S. women’s national soccer team completed a 4-0 victory over Mexico on Friday, five players used their arms to create interlocking rings.
Much like the match, their circles were not perfectly formed. Rose Lavelle, for example, gets a pass due to the red soft cast she wore on her lower left arm.
The message, nonetheless, was clear: The Americans are going to the Olympics this summer. Not that that’s any sort of surprise — they’ve never missed women’s soccer’s second-most important competition.
Fresh off a World Cup championship, FIFA’s top-ranked team has not lost in more than a year, a span of 27 matches. And by sailing through the Concacaf tournament with four victories by a 22-0 margin, the Americans booked a ticket to Tokyo, where they will pursue a fifth gold medal.
There, they will also attempt to become the first women’s team to win the World Cup and Olympic titles in consecutive years. Only a fool would bet against them.
Setting aside the talent and depth, this is a team that, even after decades of success, continues to perform with raging intensity.
“Those emotions and motivation is something that is hardest to get back up again,” said coach Vlatko Andonovski, who in the fall succeeded Jill Ellis, a two-time world champion. “I was glad to see the emotions were out there and the motivation is there to make it happen.”
Said forward Carli Lloyd: “There is hunger. There is desire.”
On those rare occasions when things do go sideways, the players are hard on themselves.
“Our ebbs are like micro-ebbs because we are so psycho,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “It’s hard to keep it up all the time, but as soon as it starts to ebb, it’s like, ‘Oh no, hell no, that’s not happening.’
“We keep each other accountable. It doesn’t need to come from anyone else.”
The Americans scored twice in the first 14 minutes Friday but were a little off their game for stretches of the first half. After intermission, they regained their form to improve to 37-1-1 against Mexico.
Lavelle scored a sensational goal in the fifth minute, Sam Mewis had two goals and substitute Christen Press capped the semifinal
CONCACAF OLYMPIC QUALIFYING FINAL victory with a cheeky finish.
In Sunday’s final, the United States will face Canada, which defeated Costa Rica 1-0 to earn a fourth consecutive Olympic berth. Although that match is inconsequential — both teams will rest regulars after playing less than 48 hours earlier — the U.S. squad will not ease up.
“We have the same attitude as the game before and the game before that,” Andonovski said. “That is not going to change going forward.”
His qualifying unit, which featured 18 players from last year’s World Cup roster, respects the program’s history.
“It’s a legacy that has been passed on,” said Lavelle, a Washington Spirit midfielder who will turn 25 in May. “When Vlatko first came in, he said, ‘What you did this past year was incredible, but that is the past now. We have new goals.
“It was really fun, 2019, but that doesn’t dictate the rest of the years.’ We know that and don’t take anything for granted.”
Lavelle was fabulous in the first half, lively and creative, keeping the ball close, spinning out of trouble and creating opportunity for herself and others.
“Some of the things she comes up with sometimes,” Andonovski said, “it surprises me too.”
Said Rapinoe: “She just has something special, something different that you can’t teach — that little bit of flair.”
Lavelle’s goal rekindled memories of her left-footed strike against the Netherlands in the World Cup final.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, we are here again!’ ” Mewis said. “She is such a unique player in the way she creates space for herself and can wiggle out of tight situations.”
Mewis scored on a pair of wicked shots: an 8-yard one-timer off Rapinoe’s corner kick and a free kick from the edge of the penalty area.
Chris Cuellar, Mexico’s California-born coach, said the U.S. strengths lie in the layers of talent.
“Every practice,” he said, “is probably tougher than a lot of their matches.”
Few would have blinked had Andonovski started any of his second-half substitutes: Press, Lynn Williams and Lindsey Horan. All was not perfect, though.
Said Andonovski: “We played a good brand of soccer, we created lots of good opportunities and, with the quality of the players we have, I think we could score a few more.”
The Americans could get away with that in Concacaf. They’ll need to tighten their performance in the fifth annual SheBelieves Cup, from March 5-11, against sixth-ranked England (in Orlando), No. 10 Japan (Frisco, Tex.) and No. 13 Spain (Harrison, N.J.).
The 12-team Olympic tournament will include third-ranked Netherlands and No. 5 Sweden.
“We saw glimpses of some unbelievable stuff, selfless stuff out there,” Lloyd said after Friday’s match. “We are all along for the ride to keep getting better.”
U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle celebrates after scoring against Mexico during a CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying match Friday.