VANCOUVER, B.C.—Heading into their final group-stage game of the CONCACAF women's soccer Olympic qualifying tournament Tuesday, there are at least two motivations in play for the American team. The first is simple and intrinsic: a draw or a victory against Mexico would give the U.S. top spot in Group B and a (theoretically) easier matchup in the semifinals against whichever of Canada or Costa Rica finishes second in Group A. The second goal has less to do with this particular tournament, but it may be preeminent in the Americans' minds: getting revenge on Mexico.
The U.S. and Mexico have long been rivals in women's soccer, but it's been a mostly one-sided rivalry until recently. Mexico has only made it to the Women's World Cup twice and has never gotten out of the group stage, while the U.S. has two World Cup titles, three Olympic gold medals and six CONCACAF Gold Cup championships. It's in that latter tournament, the North American championship that doubled as qualifying for the 2011 Women's World Cup, where things changed, though. Mexico knocked off the U.S. 2-1 at home in the 2010 Gold Cup semifinals, and that meant that the Americans were held to a third-place finish and had to play Italy for a berth in the World Cup. The U.S. still got into that World Cup and made it all the way to the final before losing to Japan, while Mexico didn't win a game in the World Cup itself, but the stumble against the Mexicans in the qualification round is still very fresh on American minds.
After the U.S.' 13-0 win over Guatemala Sunday, American head coach Pia Sundhage said the team is already locked into preparation for Tuesday's game.
"We will be prepared for Mexico, that's for sure."
Sundhage said things should be different this time around.
"That was 2010; this is 2012," she said. "We have a different personality today, an attacking personality. We're going to concentrate on that and work on our strengths."
Veteran American forward Abby Wambach said after Sunday's game the team will have to be in top form against the 21st-ranked Mexicans, who have won their first two games 5-0 and 7-0 and are a much tougher test on paper than 85th-ranked Guatemala or the 88th-ranked Dominican Republic.
"It's important that everyone be firing on all cylinders when we play Mexico," Wambach said.
Although the U.S. has already qualified for the crucial semifinal round, Wambach said their focus is firmly on Tuesday's game.
"Our team is playing well right now and we have one more important game to get to the semis," she said.
Sundhage said after the Americans' 14-0 win over the Dominican Republic that this team has particularly worked on staying in the moment at all times rather than looking too far ahead. She thinks maintaining that focus will give them an edge.
"We care every single game and every single goal," she said. "If we can keep that feeling, we can win the next game."
American striker Amy Rodriguez, who had five goals in that game against the Dominican Republic, said the memory of the loss in Mexico is still firmly with the U.S. team, motivating them to excel.
"We walked away from Cancun last year very disappointed," Rodriguez said. "We're not going to let that happen again."