USWNT continue to dominate CONCACAF – but what’s next?

Lindsey Horan

by TOM SLATER

The simple takeaway from the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament? The Unites States still rules and there’s a decent gap between No. 1 and No. 2.

And there’s an even further gap after that.

As it has in the past, the American side had an easy time qualifying. They scored 22 goals in 5 matches and didn’t give up any. In fact, they haven’t given up any in the last 10 Olympic Qualifying matches. The United States is 18-0-1 all-time in CONCACAF Olympic matches and the one draw came eight years ago. Even then, it was really a win because the United States beat Canada, 6-5, in a penalty kick shootout

Digging a little deeper, here’s what we know after the United States beat Canada, 2-0, to win the tournament:

Lindsey Horan and Morgan Brian own the middle: The two youngsters are teaming up very nicely. Horan got the eventual game-winner against Canada and was stellar the entire tournament. Her ability to post up in the box and win flighted balls as well as serve them herself makes her very valuable. Her understanding of the game was evident throughout the tournament and she should continue to get even better as she settles in.

Brian, the youngerster of last summer, looked like a calm veteran in the midfield. It was her play in the World Cup that let Carli Lloyd go free in the attack and opened the offense. Whether it was the gritty play in midfield or spraying the ball wide, Brian increased the creativity of the Americans’ game.

She received the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

Brian and Horan have been paired together for years in the sub-senior national teams and they know each other’s moves as they do their own.

Are Kelley O’Hara and Mallory Pugh for real? Yes. On both accounts. O’Hara started the final three matches, scored once and was a force up the flanks from her leftback position. Lots of fans are wondering what happened to Ali Krieger, who did not get off the bench the last two games. It appears that Jill Ellis is just favoring O’Hara now.

Krieger may have the better defensive abilities but O’Hara is more dangerous as an attacking outside back.

As for Pugh, everyone’s looking forward to see her play in the SheBelieves Tournament next week where the competition gets substantially tougher.  So far though, the teen midfielder has met every challenge — and then some. She set up Tobin Heath’s insurance goal with one of her patented runs into the box and a timely, accurate ground serve.

Will there be a roster change for the SheBelieves Tournament: Probably not. No one on the current roster did much to damage their chances of sticking around. There is a ground-swell of fans who want Heather O’Reilly back. But who do you send down? Stephanie McCaffrey? Sam Mewis? I don’t see it happening.

And what of former captain Christie Rampone?  She continues to heal here in New Jersey but the emergence of O’Hara could spell the end for Rampone.

All told, it seems that every card Ellis has played since the China match in the Women’s World Cup last June has been the right one.  And so far in 2016 she seems to continue to hold a winning hand.