An 80th-minute goal from Carli Lloyd lifted the United States women's national soccer team to a 1-0 win over Mexico in a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying match on Saturday.
Playing against a Mexico team whose defense was difficult to break down, the United States was awarded a penalty in the 79th minute when Karla Nieto was penalized for a handball in the box.
Cecilia Santiago saved Lloyd's initial attempt from the penalty spot, but the midfielder and U.S. captain followed her shot and slotted home the rebound.
CONCACAF showed Lloyd's goal:
It was a slow start from the United States, who didn't piece together many chances in the first half. The Americans outshot Mexico 5-0 in the first 45 minutes and bossed 58 percent of the possession but lacked that final ball to get them in dangerous situations.
Equalizer Soccer's Dan Lauletta wasn't impressed:
Much of the United States' inability to score was due to Mexico's defensive organization, as NBC Sports' Jeff Kassouf pointed out:
Christen Press, who came in at the half to replace Crystal Dunn, almost put the U.S. in front in the 52nd minute when her shot from the box rang off the post.
NBC Sports showed her chance:
It would have been the perfect reply to the goal she scored in the opening match against Costa Rica, which the American Outlaws showed:
Press' chance wasn't good enough for the Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg, though:
Another opportunity fell to Press in the box in the 63rd minute, but that solid Mexican defending took away clean contact on the shot right in front of the goal. The ball bounced out to Tobin Heath and was shot well wide.
Three minutes later, a long throw fell to Alex Morgan right in front of Santiago's goal. But she, like Heath, shot it over the bar. Frustration mounted even further when Morgan did the same to a header in the following minute.
It's not often that the United States is held scoreless for that long at an Olympic qualifier, as CONCACAF pointed out:
Lindsey Horan found the same luck as Press from a shot from 23 yards out, when she saw her low effort strike off the left post in the 77th minute.
The United States' breakthrough finally came three minutes later in the 80th minute thanks to the handball by Nieto and composure by Lloyd, even after Santiago saved her initial attempt.
However, Ann Odong of the Women's Game did not agree with the penalty call after seeing the ball barely graze off an arm that was not outstretched by Nieto:
The win puts the United States in first place in Group A as it goes three points clear of Mexico. More importantly, it clinches the U.S. a spot in the semifinals of the Olympic qualifiers as it looks to defend its gold medal won in London in 2012.
It was far from a convincing victory, but it was three points for the United States. Goalkeeper Hope Solo realized it wasn't a signature win, via U.S. Soccer WNT:
But at the end of the day, the United States found a way to get the job done. This match gave the Americans an opportunity to take in what Mexico had to offer defensively and create a game plan for future matches on how to break the opposition down.
With that showing, Mexico should be considered a favorite to be one of the final teams remaining in this qualifying tournament.
Mexico frustrated the United States and kept the goal differential close enough where it can still challenge for the top of the group if the U.S. somehow loses its final game.
It's going to be up to head coach Jill Ellis to make adjustments for the United States moving forward to spark the offense, because Mexico has found a way to stifle the Americans' explosive offense.
Stats courtesy of CONCACAF.com.