CARSON, Calif. — The U.S. women’s national team is off to Tokyo 2020 thanks to a convincing 4-0 semifinal victory over Mexico in Concacaf Olympic qualifiers.
The World Cup champions set the tone Friday, scoring early and often, and a raucous crowd of 11,292 at Dignity Health Sports Park watched as Sam Mewis scored in each half. Rose Lavelle, and Christen Press also scored for the USWNT.
“This game means literally everything for the whole year,” Megan Rapinoe said afterward. “It’s kind of cliché but it’s the biggest game of the year, so to be able to secure our spot in the Olympics, this is one to celebrate, at least for tonight and we’re look forward to the rest of the year.”
Lavelle opened the scoring in the fifth minute thanks to a fantastic individual effort. The 24-year-old delivered a rocket across goal inside the far left-post and Mexico goalkeeper Emily Alvarado had no chance to make the save.
Rapinoe set up the second U.S. goal in the 14th minute when her corner kick found an unmarked Mewis inside the Mexico box. The North Carolina Courage midfielder smashed the ball home, and the USWNT was out in front, 2-0.
The U.S. had several opportunities to add to their first half lead, but finishing in the final third remained an unforeseen challenge. A gritty Mexico side never gave up, however, and went into halftime trailing by a pair of goals.
CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 07: United States National team poses before the Semifinals - 2020 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying soccer match against of Mexico of at Dignity Health Sports Park on February 7, 2020 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
“I’m happy for the goals that we scored but I’m also not happy for the missed opportunities because we played a good brand of soccer,” USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We created lots of opportunities and with the quality of players that we have, I think we can score a few more.”
Julie Ertz agreed with that assessment and noted that Mexico made it tougher for the Americans after the score became 2-0.
“We didn’t put away our chances and I think we know that,” she said. “We’ll go back and look at that. That’s how soccer goes, especially with a game that’s so important. This is a game that books us to Tokyo. I think we executed well, came out and after the two goals, I think they knew that they need a goal, so the game opens up.”
In her 100th cap for her country, Crystal Dunn had a fantastic opportunity to score after the break. The Long Island native fired a shot off a free kick in the 47th minute that sailed just wide of the Mexico net. The U.S. continued to apply pressure, and eventually added to their tally.
Mexican defender Bianca Sierra was whistled for a clumsy challenge on Tobin Heath just outside the Mexico box. Rapinoe and Mewis both stood over the ball with the veteran midfielder faking like she was going to take the free kick, but Mewis delivered a booming strike past Alvarado in the 67th minute to make it 3-0.
Sam Mewis makes it three with a perfect free kick! pic.twitter.com/u9QLHjkBsE
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 8, 2020
Looking to add some fresh legs to his side, Andonovski made a double substitution in the 68th minute as Heath and Rapinoe made way for Christen Press and Lynn Williams.
The move to go to his bench made an immediate impact in the 73rd minute as the U.S. struck again with another goal. Press had her first attempt on target blocked by a Mexico defender — but undeterred she stayed focused and calmly sent a beautiful chip up and over Alvarado.
“When they came on the field, they lifted up the tempo,” Andonovski said of Press and Williams. “It was about the time we were giving up a bit of ground and started shifting the block, and that’s where Press and Williams did a very good job pushing up high again. Their speed and technicality was something we were lacking at that point in the game.”
The atmosphere was electric as the heavily favored No. 1-ranked U.S. side dominated Mexico with chance after chance. It took no time for U.S. fans in attendance to break out the popular “dos a cero” and “U-S-A” chants.
The U.S. will face a stern challenge on Sunday as arch rival nemeses Canada awaits in the tournament finale, even though both teams have already clinched their spots in the Olympics. Canada booked their ticket earlier Friday, beating Costa Rica narrowly in the other semifinal, 1-0.