USWNT battle for win over Mexico, clinch spot in semifinals

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by TOM SLATER

To no one’s surprise, the United States Women’s National Team clinched first place in their bracket in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a 1-0 win over Mexico.

But much to everyone’s surprise, it was much harder than anyone thought it would be.

A combination of a sound Mexico game plan – one that was played to perfection for the most part – and some bad luck on the Americans had the match scoreless in the 80th minute.

But the United States’ luck changed twice to give them the victory. First, a controversial hand ball  call on Mexico’s Karla Nieto in the box gave the United States a penalty kick. The ball struck Nieto on the arm after it bounced off an American player and as she was turning away from the play. A harsh call for Mexico’s squad.

Carli Lloyd took the penalty and hit it straight on at Mexico goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago. Santiago blocked the shot but it bounced to an unmarked Lloyd who connected on her 10th Olympic Qualifying goal and fifth of the year.

Mexico pressured a bit in the final 10 minutes, most notably when Monica Ocampo hit a 40-yard shot that Hope Solo tipped over the bar.

The Mexicans can still advance to the semi-finals but have to beat Costa Rica on Monday. Costa Rica trounced Puerto Rico 9-0 in the first game of the doubleheader.

The United States were looking to roll after a 5-0 win three day ago, but Mexico came in with a smart game plan to play five backs flat and squeeze the United States into playing way wide or from long range.

Crystal Dunn did hit a strong shot from about 20 out in the 10th minute that Santiago was able to parry away and Meghan Klingenberg had a chance earlier but couldn’t control a loose ball on the goal line.

It took just about 40 minutes before the Americans got the pace to where they wanted and began stringing passes together five and six at a time. Lloyd’s best chance came on a 40-yard free kick when she pulled a free kick just wide left and high.

And in the second half, the United States continued to press for the goal that would create a deluge – but it never came. Christen Press, who came on after halftime, seemed to energize the squad and hit the post on a shot that she quickly turned on. And Lindsey Horan hit a long shot in the 67th minute that caught the far post and bounded away, keeping the USA’s luck sour. At least until Nieto was called for the handball

The United States finish it’s A bracket with a match against Puerto Rico, who is winless and has not scored a goal yet this tournament.