The USA’s qualifying road to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was not without drama or difficulty, but in the end the Americans once again swept through a CONCACAF tournament and booked their tickets to Canada.
The 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship was staged in four U.S. cities – Kansas City, Kan., Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia – with the top three finishers earning automatic berths to the Women’s World Cup.
The USA opened its competition in Kansas City against a tough and determined Trinidad & Tobago side that held the Americans to a lone goal, scored by Abby Wambach in the 54th minute. The USA did have a 29-7 advantage in shots, but T&T goalkeeper Kimika Forbes had an excellent match to keep the score down while her teammates executed their tactics extremely well in forming a bunker in front of her.
A bit of frustration and adversity can add steel to a team, and a focused USA headed to Chicago for its second group match against a Guatemala side that also sat way back in its defensive third. The WNT could produce only one goal in the first half, that coming from Tobin Heath in the 7th minute, but found its legs after the break and smashed in four more goals for a 5-0 win. Heath added another along with single goals from Carli Lloyd, defender Whitney Engen and Megan Rapinoe.
The USA did suffer a setback in the match as forward Alex Morgan badly sprained her ankle in the first half. She was ruled out of the tournament and, unable to replace an injured player after the start of the tournament, the USA continued on with a 19-player roster.
Carrying momentum from the victory against Guatemala, the USA traveled to Washington, D.C. to face Haiti in its final group match, and the Caribbean side dropped even deeper into its own defensive third than the USA’s first two opponents. Despite facing 11 defenders often within 40 yards of the Haiti goal, the USA managed to break the bunker with an early strike from Lloyd, while Wambach scored seven minutes before the break. The USA then put away the Haitians in the second half with another goal from Wambach, a goal-of-the-year worthy strike from defender Meghan Klingenberg (her first in a U.S. uniform) and single scores from Christen Press and Morgan Brian to win 6-0.
The victory in Washington D.C. set up the most important match of the tournament: a semifinal in Philadelphia against Mexico with the winner earning a berth to the Women’s World Cup. Four years earlier, the USA and Mexico had also met in the semifinal of the qualifying tournament, which was staged in Cancun, Mexico. The hosts stunned the USA by a 2-1 score, forcing Pia Sundhage’s squad to win the third-place match of that tournament and then defeat Italy in a two-game playoff to earn its berth to Germany.
The U.S. players wanted no part in that kind of drama this time. Lloyd again came up huge for the USA, opening the scoring with a header in just the 6th minute. She added a penalty kick in the 30th minute after Heath was brought down in the left side of the box, and Press rounded the ‘keeper in the 56th minute to tap home for the final 3-0 result. The Americans became the 19th country to qualify and were headed to their seventh Women’s World Cup tournament.
The work was not done, however, as Costa Rica awaited in the championship game. The Ticas were fresh off a dramatic penalty kick victory against Trinidad & Tobago in the other semifinal that earned the country its first FIFA Women’s World Cup berth.
In the first CONCACAF Final between these two teams, the USA once again wasted no time getting on the board. Wambach scored in the 4th minute, setting the stage for the “Wambach-Lloyd Show,” as the two players combined for five goals and three assists to give the USA a 6-0 victory and the regional title. Sydney Leroux scored the final goal of the game off a header in the 74th minute, capping off Wambach’s four-goal performance, which made her the USA’s all-time leader in Women’s World Cup qualifying with 18 goals, passing Michelle Akers (17).
Wambach won the Golden Boot as top scorer in the tournament, Lloyd won the Golden Ball as the Most Valuable Player and Hope Solo earned the Golden Glove as the tournament’s top goalkeeper.