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HOUSTON – The United States women’s soccer team may have gotten younger since its victory at the FIFA Women’s World Cup last year, but they may also have gotten better.
The Americans were thoroughly in control in the final of the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in picking up a 2-0 win over Canada on Sunday.
Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath scored second-half goals for the Americans, who could have added a couple of more goals. The tournament champions put the Canadians under pressure for long periods of time and were saved by some last-gasp defending and some missed U.S. opportunities.
The 21-year-old Horan gave the Americans the only goal they would need in the 53rd minute with a great run to get on the end of a Becky Sauerbrunn cross and finish with the subtlest of headers to redirect the ball past Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe.
Eight minutes later, Heath hit a left-footed shot that curled just inside the post to Labbe’s left but it really started with the play of 17-year-old Mallory Pugh. The UCLA-bound Pugh raced up the left side and put a low cross through the open penalty area that found Heath, who had plenty of space to pick her spot and beat Labbe.
Canada-USA will always be a rivalry based on the proximity of the two nations on the map. But the results of the last decade and a half have been pretty one-sided with the Canadians unable to register a victory since 2001.
It was Canada that had the better start by putting numbers forward and forcing some early turnovers that led to some half chances but the Americans just found another gear that the Canadians weren’t able to match and spent much of the game in the Canadian half.
It was scoreless at halftime but the Americans held 67 percent possession and it felt inevitable that goals were around the corner—and they took over in the second half.
Canada hadn’t faced the United States since before the Women’s World Cup so heading into the six-month stretch of Olympic preparations, the team knows where it stands. On Sunday, John Herdman’s group remained compact and organized in its defending for much of the game but had some suspect marking on crosses, especially in the first half.
For the final, Herdman made five changes from Friday’s semifinal win over Costa Rica – which clinched a spot in this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics tournament - and had Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt all drop to the bench for the start of Sunday’s game. Sinclair, Schmidt and Matheson all came off the bench in the second half, but, other than a couple of scoring chances by Melissa Tancredi, the Canadians couldn’t beat American goalkeeper Hope Solo.