After losing in World Cup qualifying Friday night for the first time ever, the U.S. Women are back in action today in a do-or-die playoff for the right to play in another do-or-die playoff series to go to the World Cup.
This…hardly the expectation when Pia Sundhage’s crew went south of the Border late last month to at the time win the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
As I wrote Saturday, there’s an enormous silver lining here in this one.
The U.S. has been devoid of competition for quite some time in CONCACAF, though many teams are now gaining on the once indomitable Yanks. The stunner by Mexico now gives the U.S. a series of pressure-packed games in order to more adequately prepare them for Germany 2011.
Sure, any team would rather have a berth–just ask their opponents whose men’s team came a Jonathan Bornstein equalizer away from gaining a berth in the men’s 2010 World Cup only to watch Honduras snatch, and then Uruguay (yes, fourth place finisher Uruguay) stomp on their hopes in a North American-South American tilt.
That said, for a team that is consistently favored and hasn’t won the Cup in over 10 years, handling the business of today’s game and a home-and-home against Italy in a convincing fashion would go beyond restoration of confidence to brimming with confidence.
This game should not be a struggle. Caution on “should not be.” Abby Wambach–nails when coming back with a duct-taped (to quell a bleeder) head–at the end of Friday’s match and company bested the Costa Ricans just days ago, 4-0 in this same tournament.
While the scoreline looks dominant, the U.S. had a difficult time last Monday moving the ball, especially in the first half. Costa Rica was stout and also played a very aggressive man-marking defense not normally seen at this level of play.
With the U.S. impatient to start–a problem for this young team–Costa Rica had the first scoring chances and played the States pretty even through the bulk of the 1st half.
To the open the 2nd, the U.S. finally took some time in possession, and with long balls, cross-fields, and switches unlocked Costa Rica for three in the 2nd session. Game, 4-0.
There is no the doubt the U.S. will need to great chances through sharp, methodical and calculated ball movement today against Costa Rica. The key woman to play the part is their middie Yael Averbuch who will dictate much of the offensive tempo on the interior.
Look for the Yanks to suss out Costa Rica in the early going today and then start attacking when they find where Costa Rica is being drawn out of shape. The ladies should take it and then Italy awaits.