Any time there’s a single-game knockout sporting event, from the NCAA Tournament to the NFL playoffs to global soccer, there’s a moment when you don’t quite know what will happen.
On Friday night, the U.S. women’s national team showed once again how good they are at keeping that moment short.
Playing a do-or-die Olympic qualifying game against Mexico in suburban Los Angeles, the Americans roared out of the gate and never looked back in a 4-0 win that booked the four-time gold medalists’ ticket to Tokyo this summer.
Rose Lavelle opened the scoring in just the fifth minute, firing in from 20 yards after charging on to a nifty flick from Megan Rapinoe.
Samantha Mewis doubled the lead in the 14th, pouncing on a Rapinoe corner kick in the middle of the 18-yard box.
Mewis also scored the third goal, smashing in a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box in the 67th.
Christen Press authored the fourth with an inch-perfect chip in the 73rd. It was her fifth goal of the Olympic qualifying tournament, and her sixth straight national team game with a goal. The streak dates back to last November, and includes every game of still-new coach Vlatko Andonovski’s tenure so far.
In the days before the game, Mexican players spoke of wanting to play positively against the American juggernaut, instead of sitting back and bunkering. To their credit, they lived up to that. But they could only do so much against Mewis and Julie Ertz’s power, and Lavelle’s class on the ball.
Friday’s game was one of two semifinals in the qualifying tournament, in which the two semifinal winners advance to the big stage. Canada won the other contest, beating Costa Rica, 1-0, earlier in the day. Young star Jordyn Huitema scored the goal.
Unlike in World Cup qualifying, the Olympic qualifying semifinal losers get no backup route because the latter’s field is much smaller: 12 teams instead of 24.
The U.S. and Canada will renew their old rivalry in Sunday’s tournament final (6 p.m., Fox Sports 2 and Galavisión), with nothing official at stake other than bragging rights. There’s likely to be plenty of chirping by fans on social media, but on the field it’s been a lopsided series.
Canada, led by international goal-scoring record holder Christine Sinclair, hasn’t beaten the U.S. in 34 straight games — 28 losses and 6 ties. The U.S.'s last win in the series was March 11, 2001 at the Algarve Cup in Lagos, Portugal.
This meeting will be the teams’ first since the final of Concacaf’s last World Cup qualifying tournament in October of 2018.
This summer, the U.S. will aim to become the first ever reigning World Cup champion to win the Olympics the following year. All six previous World Cup winners since the Olympics added women’s soccer in 1996 have failed to do it.
Andonovski was hired to make that history, and while his team beat a slate of inferior opponents in qualifying, it showed plenty of signs that it’s the clear favorite to top the podium this summer.