Los Angeles Times

U.S. women can book a trip to Paris

Morgan’s goal lifts them to W Championsh­ip title and a spot in 2024 Olympics

- By Kevin Baxter

MONTERREY, Mexico — The U.S. women’s soccer team doesn’t rebuild so much as it reloads. It’s a circle of life that goes back nearly a generation to when Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm were replaced by Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, who then gave way to Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.

What doesn’t change, though, are the results, something a youthful, inexperien­ced U.S. team proved Monday night when it beat Canada 1-0 in the final of the CONCACAF W Championsh­ip at Estadio BBVA, earning an automatic berth in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The victory was the Americans’ 31st consecutiv­e in CONCACAF World Cup and Olympic qualifiers dating to 2010 and the 31st con

secutive to come by way of shutout. The United States has outscored opponents 149-0 in that span.

And while Monday’s victory wasn’t as dominant as past wins — the only goal came on Morgan’s penalty kick in the 78th minute — it christened a new wave of players who have rejuvenate­d what was an aging team. It also earned Morgan the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

“It just always feels good,” Morgan said, “to be called a champion.”

When the United States lost to Canada in the semifinals of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics — on a penalty kick — it had the oldest team in the tournament. So after the team’s bronze-medal performanc­e, the secondwors­t finish for the U.S. women in the Summer Games, coach Vlatko Andonovski set about remaking a roster that also was weakened by injuries and maternity leaves.

As a result, nine women who played in that Olympic loss to Canada weren’t on the team in Mexico and 13 who were here were participat­ing in their first World Cup or Olympic qualifying tournament.

Morgan, 33, was one of the holdovers. She showed why in the qualifying tournament, starting four times while embracing the mantle of leadership and following in the footsteps of Foudy, Hamm and Wambach.

“Alex is a better player,” said Andonovski, who used five starting lineups and 21 of his 23 players in the tournament. “She doesn’t want to stop growing. She doesn’t want to stop developing. She wants to sophistica­te her game in any way possible.

“And she has been doing that day in and day out.”

Indeed, Morgan is playing as well as she has at any point in her career. She leads the NWSL with a careerhigh 11 goals in 10 games for the expansion San Diego Wave and had a team-leading three goals in the qualifying event.

“I just feel good overall. I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m confident,” she said. “And I just feel like I’m able to contribute exactly what’s being asked of me.”

She contribute­d the only score her team would need Monday after Canadian defender Allysha Chapman reached out an arm to bring down Rose Lavelle in the penalty area with about 15 minutes left in regulation, earning the penalty. Lindsey Horan originally took the ball to the spot, but she eventually yielded to Morgan who drove a low left-footed shot inside the right post.

Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan, Morgan’s teammate with the Wave, dove the other way. But she still deserved a better fate for a marvelous game in which she made five saves.

Canada has now lost to the top-ranked Americans in the final of the last five World Cup and Olympic qualifying tournament­s in which it has played, with the latest defeat costing it an automatic berth to the 2024 Summer Games. The reigning Olympic champions, ranked sixth in the world by FIFA, still can qualify for Paris by beating Jamaica — a 1-0 extra-time winner over Costa Rica in Monday’s third-place game — in a playoff next summer.

Both the United States and Canada, along with Jamaica and Costa Rica, qualified for next summer’s World Cup simply by making the semifinals here.

“What you saw tonight is World Cup champions against the Olympic champions,” said Canadian coach Bev Priestman, the last manager to beat the United States. “So it’s fine margins at this level. You use these moments to push forward.

“The most important thing for us is that we keep moving forward.”

 ?? Roberto Martinez Associated Press ?? THE UNITED STATES’ Sophia Smith, left, and Canada’s Desiree Scott battle for the ball during the CONCACAF W Championsh­ip final at Estadio BBVA.
Roberto Martinez Associated Press THE UNITED STATES’ Sophia Smith, left, and Canada’s Desiree Scott battle for the ball during the CONCACAF W Championsh­ip final at Estadio BBVA.
 ?? Fernando Llano Associated Press ?? ALEX MORGAN of the United States tries to control the ball against Canada’s Vanessa Gilles during the CONCACAF W Championsh­ip title match. Morgan’s penalty-kick goal in the 78th minute was the winner.
Fernando Llano Associated Press ALEX MORGAN of the United States tries to control the ball against Canada’s Vanessa Gilles during the CONCACAF W Championsh­ip title match. Morgan’s penalty-kick goal in the 78th minute was the winner.

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