VANCOUVER (Jan. 29, 2012) – This is the game U.S. opponents have been dreading and U.S. fans have been anxiously anticipating: the game when the oh-so-promising Abby & Alex pairing first delivered.
Starting together for the first time in the red, white and blue, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan combined on three first-half goals as the U.S. blanked Canada, 4-0, Sunday evening at B.C. Place in the CONCACAF Women’s Soccer Olympic Qualifying Final.
“(Morgan) brought something special today with Abby,” said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. “Our air presence and speed up top made us look really good today.”
With both teams already assured of berths in the 2012 London Olympics and playing in front of a sellout crowd of 25,427 donned in red and white, the time seemed ripe for Canada to put a stop to the USA’s dominance of the border matchup – a 24-game unbeaten streak and 42-3-5 all-time record.
Instead, the U.S. stunned the expectant Canadian fans and team, scoring in just the 4th minute.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd corralled an errant Canadian attempt to switch fields and fired an outlet pass up field. Wambach, a 12-year National Team veteran, rose to nod the ball on to Morgan, making just the third start of her young career. Morgan outraced one defender and then shed center back Candace Chapman’s challenge before pushing her left-footed shot into the lower left corner past Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
“We knew if Morgan played, she’d start threatening behind,” said Canadian coach John Herdman. “The first goal she scored was a prime example. She’s a real predator in looking for those longer balls over the top. It caught us.”
In the 24th minute, it was Morgan’s turn to feed Wambach. The U.S. sprang an expert counterattack with midfielder Megan Rapinoe dribbling down the middle of the field before threading the ball to Morgan on the right side of the 18-yard box. Morgan touched the ball outside to elude Canadian center back Shannon Woeller and then crossed it in front of the goal. Wambach, making a near post run, drove a header into the back of the net to stake the U.S. to a 2-0 lead.
Four minutes later, Morgan and Wambach were back at it. Lloyd banged a hard, low left-footed shot off the right post, which rebounded to Morgan on the right side of the penalty area. Morgan looked up, saw her fellow striker in front of the goal and unselfishly played the ball. Wambach placed a one-time right-footed shot into the right corner for the 131st goal of her career, moving her into second place on the world’s all-time goals scored list as she surpassed former teammate Kristine Lilly (130).
“Abby is by far one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met,” said U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. “Kristine Lilly we all know is a huge name and she’s played a lot of games for this country but for Abby to step up and be one of the top scorers for the U.S. says a lot about Abby’s true athleticism and the true player that she is.”
Struck by the affront to their pride, Canada mounted a pair of tantalizing first half threats, both through forward Christina Julien, only to be stonewalled by Solo.
In the 18th minute trailing by just a goal, striker Christine Sinclair executed a nifty spin at the top of the penalty area and slipped Julien in on Solo. The American ‘keeper charged off her line and dove at Julien’s feet blocking the Canadian’s shot.
Then with the U.S. leading 3-0 a minute before the half expired, Canadian midfielder Kelly Parker sent a through ball to Julien. Rushing past U.S. defenders Heather Mitts and Becky Sauerbrunn, Julien bore down on Solo. Again, Solo left her line and slid to block Julien’s right-footed shot with her knees. The ball ricocheted off Julien and bounced harmlessly out of bounds.
“After her second save, I wanted to go chest bump her,” said Wambach, who credited her teammate for playing through a right quad injury. “That’s the very reason why Hope Solo’s on this team and why she’s the number one goalkeeper in the world in my opinion. When called upon, she makes the big saves.”
With Wambach subbed out of the match at halftime, Morgan carried on without her.
Lauren Cheney, who replaced Wambach, found Morgan with a well-played ball over the top of the Canadian defense in the 56th minute. With McLeod diving at her feet and defender Rhian Wilkinson attempting a tackle, Morgan eluded both by touching the ball to the right. Woeller also slid into a tackle but Morgan, undeterred, spun and shot the ball with her left foot into an empty net.
After the match, the focus was on Morgan and Wambach’s potential.
“I’m not going to lie, I definitely think we really play well together,” Wambach said of her pairing with Morgan. “Her skill set is completely opposite of mine and that makes us a nightmare for opposing defenses. Not only is she fast, but she’s strong on the ball. If it’s a 50-50 challenge, especially if it’s a goalscoring opportunity, she’s likely to win it.”
The final tally for Abby & Alex in their first start together: four goals and three assists. Opponents can only fear and U.S. fans can only hope, it won’t be the last.
Notes: Wambach, Lloyd and Amy Rodriguez tied for the USA lead each with six goals apiece in the tournament…Cheney’s assist of Morgan’s second goal was her seventh of the event and a tournament best…Using the same back four only once – versus Guatemala and in the final against Canada, the U.S. defense did not allow a goal during the five-game tournament…Herdman admitted after the game that he was outcoached. “Pia made some great decisions tonight,” he said. “They took out some of their physical players tonight and they went with technicians which really made it difficult for us to keep them in their half. I think if the selections had been different, it would have been a different scoreline. So all credit to the coach tonight. I think she picked the right team and I picked the wrong one.”…The U.S. will reconvene in Dallas to face New Zealand on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 4pm ET.
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