Carolina Courage win inaugural Women’s International Champions Cup
Exactly a year to the day that Trinidad and Tobago ended the World Cup hopes for the United States men in soccer, the U.S. Women’s National Team earned their countrymen a measure of revenge.
Needing a victory to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. men were sent home from their final qualifying match in Couva, Trinidad, with a 2-1 loss last year.
But 12 months later there was no such drama involved for the U.S. women, who wrapped up an unbeaten run through Group A play in the CONCACAF championship with a 7-0 rout of Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday night before a crowd of 3,996 in Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Rose Lavelle scored twice during a three-goal flurry late in the first half, and Alex Morgan also had a brace for the U.S. to give her 94 career international goals, four in this tournament. Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, and Tobin Heath notched one goal apiece, and Heath added two assists as the Americans dominated from start to finish despite a steady rain. The U.S. recorded 59 shots and 18 corner kicks. Trinidad and Tobago was held without a shot or a corner.
The victory sends the U.S., which finished atop the four-team group with three victories, into the CONCACAF semifinals Sunday at Frisco, Texas, where the Americans will play the runner-up from Group B, probably Jamaica.
The championship and third-place matches will be played Wednesday.
The victory also extended the U.S. unbeaten streak to 24 matches (21-0-3) over the past 15 months and 14-0-2 this year as the Americans outscored their three opponents here 18-0.
“I think our approach to these games has been more about us, how we prepared and how we play,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “We’ve had a really tough schedule this year in terms of quality of opponents. Every time we play, we learn something about ourselves. Playing against a low block tonight helped us sharpen our skills.”
Morgan got the Americans rolling in the ninth minute when she finished off a pass from Heath, a former North Carolina Tar Heel, for her third goal of the tournament. Morgan would add a goal in the second half.
The score stayed 1-0 past the 40th minute despite a completely dominant performance by the U.S. Trinidad and Tobago, which was determined to keep 10 players behind the ball, had a small amount of good fortune, too, as the Americans hit the post on four occasions while outshooting the visitors 30-0.
But in rapid succession over a three-minute span late in the half, the U.S. struck three times to break open the match. Lavelle scored from distance in the 42nd and a minute later put away a loose ball in the penalty area.
Dunn, another former UNC star and current N.C. Courage standout, found the range from 15 yards to give the Americans a comfortable 4-0 halftime margin.
“I told the team before the game it was about building momentum,” Ellis said. “A good way to finish our group stage, and now our focus shifts to qualifying in the semifinals.”
Lavelle gave the U.S. all the momentum it needed when she struck for two goals about a minute apart to break the game open.
“I think we have to stay positive in those instances,” Lavelle said. “It’s easy to get frustrated when a team is sitting in a low block like that and you’re having so many chances. I think we knew it was just a matter of time, and we had to keep working.”
Ellis added, “I think again when you’ve got a lot of bodies and numbers in the box, our sharpness and focus was tested in there. The players know those moments don’t come in really big games a lot. The players stuck to what we were trying to do.”
Joining the U.S., ranked No. 1 in the world, in the Frisco semifinals will be Group A runner-up Panama, which despite its No. 66 world ranking upset No. 24 Mexico 2-0 in Wednesday night’s first game.
Panama’s 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey made six saves, including one on a penalty kick against Mexico, which had won all five previous matches against Panama. Karla Riley in the 47th minute and Lineth Cedeno in the 85th scored the goals for Panama, which will probably meet likely Group B winner Canada in the semifinals.
The semifinal winners and third-place finisher in Frisco will earn automatic berths in the 2019 Women’s World Cup next June in France. The fourth-place finisher will meet Argentina, the third-place team from South America, in a two-game playoff in November for a spot in the 24-team World Cup field.
CONCACAF Group A final standings
W L T Pts GF GA GD
x-United States 3 0 0 9 18 0 18
x-Panama 2 1 0 6 5 5 0
Mexico 1 2 0 3 4 9 -5
Trinidad and Tobago 0 3 0 0 1 14 -13
x-advanced to semifinals