The United States women's national team defeated Canada 2-0 to win the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship on Wednesday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Rose Lavelle got the Red, White and Blue off to a fast start with a goal in the second minute, and Alex Morgan put the game away with a goal in the 89th minute, the 97th of her international career.
This marks the United States' eighth CONCACAF title.
United States' Depth Makes Attacking Offense Impossible to Stop
When teams take on the United States, they know they will have to try to find ways to contain stars like Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath.
However, the attack doesn't stop there. The U.S. has plenty of other viable scoring options, such as Julie Ertz, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan. And as Canada quickly found out on Wednesday, Lavelle can also find the back of the net.
In this tournament, the U.S. had 10 different players score and had six with multiple goals:
- Alex Morgan (seven)
- Tobin Heath (four)
- Rose Lavelle (three)
- Carli Lloyd (three)
- Megan Rapinoe (three)
- Julie Ertz (two)
- Crystal Dunn (one)
- Lindsey Horan (one)
- Sam Mewis (one)
- Christen Press (one)
Morgan won the Golden Boot with her seven goals.
Morgan, Rapinoe, Heath and Lloyd are nightmare matchups for any opponent, so when the rest of the squad gets in on the action, opposing defenses are going to have a hard time keeping the U.S. off the board.
The United States scored in the first 10 minutes of every game in this tournament, but two of those goals came from younger players. Mewis and Lavelle each managed to get on the board within the first five minutes of a match during the tournament.
When the supporting cast steps up like that, especially early in a contest, it helps the team settle in while also taking pressure off the stars to carry the team.
Alyssa Naeher Makes Strong Case for No. 1 Job
Alyssa Naeher had not conceded a goal while starting three of the four games through the semifinals, but the championship game against Canada figured to give coach Jill Ellis a chance to see how her top goaltender fared against top competition.
Up until this point, Naeher had yet to really be tested. Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica provided very little challenges, mustering a total of just one shot on goal between the three. However, Canada has a much more prolific attack.
Canada, the No. 5 team in the world, outscored its first four opponents of the tournament by a combined 24-1. Canada star Christine Sinclair (177 international goals) ranks second only to U.S. legend Abby Wambach in career scoring.
Facing an offensive attack like that would be a solid test for a goalie with just 37 career caps.
The U.S. did a great job of controlling the ball and limiting Canada's scoring opportunities. Naeher may not have had many moments where she had to make a play, but when the ball came her way, she was ready.
Most importantly, she was never caught out of position, a key against a top team.
Of course, the defense deserves credit as well for helping keep opponents completely off the board throughout the tournament. Back in 2015, the defense, featuring Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O'Hara and Julie Johnston (now Ertz), played a crucial role in helping the team return to World Cup glory.
Sauerbrunn, Ertz and O'Hara remain, with Dunn and Abby Dahlkemper now also key pieces of the back line.
Naeher may not have Hope Solo's resume and accolades, but as the U.S. prepares for France, she appears to have the edge over Ashlyn Harris for the No. 1 job.
United States Ends Qualifying as World Cup Favorite
The U.S. ended the 2015 World Cup as the No. 1 team in the world, and it enters 2019 as the team to beat.
While the competition early in the tournament may not have been the toughest of tests, Ellis' squad has proved itself against top teams time and time again this year. And Wednesday was just the latest example.
Though the overall series (49-3-7 all-time in favor of the U.S.) may be lopsided, Canada has given the United States plenty of competitive games in recent years. That includes a dramatic extra-time goal by Morgan in the 2012 Summer Olympics semifinals.
Any matchup against the neighbors to the north has proved to be a physical clash. Once again, the U.S. showed it can answer the bell, even in rainy conditions.
The CONCACAF tournament is not the only reason the United States ends qualifying as the World Cup favorite, though. The victory pushes the squad to 23-0-3 in its last 26 matches, going 16-0-2 in 2018. This year alone, the United States has beaten, among others, Germany, England, Japan, Brazil and Canada while also producing draws against France and Australia. Those are all teams ranked in the top eight in the world, and the U.S. did not drop a single match.
Even as the reigning World Cup champs, the United States has something to prove to the world. The 2016 Summer Olympics ended with a stunning loss in the quarterfinals, which ultimately led to Solo's departure following her controversial comments criticizing Sweden. That loss has been looming over their heads for two-plus years now.
Ever since, Ellis has been trying to work different players into the mix and get her team ready for the future. The 36-year-old Lloyd has taken on a reduced role as Ertz, Horan and Lavelle are among those being asked to do more.
Meanwhile, Morgan has been playing as good as anybody in the world all year long. She led the tournament in scoring despite sitting out against Panama in the group stage. Her goal in the 89th minute gave her 24 goals in 24 games:
If she stays healthy and continues to play at that high of a level, this team will be unstoppable in France.
The 2019 World Cup is now less than a year away, and this team is on a serious roll. As a result, it is in good shape to prove the 2016 Olympics are a thing of the past.
Both the United States and Canada qualified for the 2018 FIFA Women's World Cup by reaching the championship game of the tournament. Neither squad currently has a match remaining on their respective schedules in 2018.