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USA scrapes past Haiti on penalties in CONCACAF semis

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That was just a lot of unnecessary drama at the end.

USA v Japan - Friendly match Women U23 Photo by Jose Breton/Nurphoto

Starting XI: Amanda McGlynn, Tara McKeown, Tierna Davidson, Zoe Morse, Kiara Pickett, Jaelin Howell, Viviana Villacorta, Savannah DeMelo, Civana Kulhmann, Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez

Head coach Jitka Klimkova switched things up for the USWNT U-20 semifinal against Haiti at CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. But in a win-and-you’re-in game, the US didn’t put together much of a first half start.

At first it seemed like DeMelo, Sanchez, and Smith would be working some smooth one- and two-touch balls through the midfield and into the attacking third, but Haiti stayed patient and disciplined, catching the US in several offside traps. They denied the US much space in front of goal and closed down attempts to put the ball into wide space. Their ability to return up the field with speed kept Howell lurking close to the defenders, forcing some long, searching passes from her as she sought to connect to the offense.

The best US chance was in the 26’ right on the heels of a near-disaster for the US when Morse got stripped of the ball and the rest of her defenders scrambled to cover. A good block from Davidson gave them the chance to quickly counter, but after definitively beating the keeper, Sophia Smith missed a wide open net.

That wouldn’t be the last time Smith faced frustration in front of goal as Haiti’s Kerly Theus had a real belter of a half, tipping several balls over the bar, including a great Davidson header off a corner kick near the end of regulation. The teams went into halftime at 0-0, with Haiti having the edge in chances.

The US looked no better in the second half. They shuffled their attackers to put Sanchez on the left, Kuhlmann central, and Smith right, and got a small shot of energy in the 52’ when Villacorta came off for Pinto, but Pinto didn’t prove to be much more effective in helping link up in the midfield. Haiti looked like they had energy to spare, even increasing pressure to completely disrupt any attempt at US possession, while the US struggled to return the favor.

The US found some success by spraying the ball into wide space and putting in the cross or cutback, but everyone was disjointed and off target and the midfield was little help in setting up or possessing.

Klimkova took another stab at unlocking Haiti’s defense by subbing Taryn Torres in for Kuhlmann in the 73’, shuffling the front three yet again, but Torres wasn’t the answer either. And yet the US found a way to score, though it was through the incredible effort of Jaelin Howell, who pounced on a ball DeMelo couldn’t quite trap and sliced through a gap in the defense to make it 1-0.

Haiti took another blow in the 83’ when Emeline Charles misjudged her leap and crashed head-to-head from behind with Brianna Pinto. She took a second yellow and was sent off.

Now all that was left was for the United States to finish things out in a professional way. They made a final sub in the 88’ with Samantha Coffey on for Sanchez and began taking the ball to the corner, but Haiti fought to the dire end and. Well.

McKeown was step behind for much of the game as Haiti continually attempted to break their back line with speed and this time it paid off as Mondesir beat both her and McGlynn.

Tournament format sent them straight to penalties, but it was McGlynn’s turn to come up big. She made two saves and with Torres, Howell, and Morse finishing off their own penalties, the United States squeaked through to finals and secured a berth in the 2018 U-20 World Cup in France.

There really shouldn’t be any sighs of relief here, though. It was a lackluster performance from a side that looked completely incapable of stringing together a series of good one- and two-touch passes. Jaelin Howell setting up a strong block in front of the back line was one of their saving graces, as was McGlynn’s presence in goal, but with an absentee midfield and forward line that seemed to run out of ideas, there remains tons of work to be done if they want to thrive in France.