October 26, 2014
By Michael Lewis
USA women head and shoulders above CONCACAF foes, but they must rise to the occasion at WWC
CHESTER, Pa. -- If anyone had any doubts, the United States women reminded everyone that they were head and shoulders over any of their foes in CONCACAF Sunday night, literally and figuratively.
To prove their point, the Americans headed in their first four goals en route to an emphatic 6-0 triumph over Costa Rica in the 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship at PPL Park.
Both teams already had booked their tickets to the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, so there was little drama here. The only question was whether an improved and improving Costa Rican side would be able to keep things interesting.
Unfortunately for the true soccer aficionado, that was not the case as Abby Wambach made sure of that, striking for a a hat-trick of headers en route to an impressive four-goal match to increase her international world-record goal total to 177 goals Carli Lloyd, who set up two of the goals, also tallied off a head shot, and Sydney Leroux also found the back of the net.
Wambach has scored 18 qualifying goals, breaking the record of 17 by another USA legend, Michelle Akers.
"Clearly the U.S. is deserving champions," Costa Rica coach Garabet Avedissian said. "They are still the best in the world.
"All you can do really when Abby Wambach is playing like this is to pray, pray that they don't get the ball to her."
To give you an idea about the Americans' dominance in CONCACAF, consider these numbers:
* The USA did not give up a goal in five games in this competition.
* Seven American players were named to the tournament's Dream Team, including Hope Solo as the top goalkeeper, although she did not have to exert herself very much in her four appearances.
* The USA has a 24-1-1 record in WWC qualifying, losing only once -- 2-1 to Mexico in 2010.
* And the Americans have outscored their opposition, 147-5.
They have allowed five -- yes -- five goals in those games, an astounding total.
While the USA certainly endured some problems of team bunkering in, especially in the opening matches, its talent and athleticism and experience eventually prevailed.
So, CONCACAF is not their problem. The likes of Japan, France and Germany, among others, will be in June. They have seven months to plan for Canada with the ultimate goal of reaching the Pacific Northwest -- B.C. Place in Vancouver, Canada, where the final will be held on July 5.
"If we can get outside of our own selves, play as a unit, not just the 11 on the field, but in the World Cup, the 23 that are on the squad can play as a unit ... we can whatever we would want," Wambach said. "That's something that's very special. As long as we don't get our egos involved, 'I'm not playing or you're playing.' If we're not comparing ourselves to each other and just comparing ourselves to ourselves, this team is going to win a World Cup."
The USA might be ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, but the Americans haven't taken a victory lap with a WWC trophy since Brandi Chastain converted that dramatic penalty kick and whipped off her jersey against China in July, 1999. When Canada 2015 kicks off next June 6, it will be nearly 16 not-so-always sweet years.
"We have an opportunity to win a World Cup, we really do," Wambach said. "If this team can manufacture seven consistent games -- they don't have to be great-looking games -- where several players step up to the plate, where certain players shine when the light is shining so bright, then maybe we have a really great chance of winning the World Cup."