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USA toughs out 2-0 win against Canada to finish World Cup qualifying

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The US was in a hurry, but Canada definitely wasn’t.

Soccer: 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship-Canada at USA Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath

The United States looked like they started off on the hot foot as they kicked off against Canada in the final of Concacaf World Cup qualifying. Rose Lavelle hit a curling shot in the 2’ to make it 1-0 for the US, but the game turned into much more of a chess-boxing match after that.

The United States looked like they wanted to go quickly out of midfield, opening up gaps with their movement and picking out targets, but the weighted balls weren’t quite on target and Canada was quick to swarm in their own defensive third. Canada was also immediately physical in a way other teams in Concacaf couldn’t offer against the United States and put bodies on every ball in strong challenges - sometimes too strong, as Canada picked up two yellows in the first half for challenges on Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath respectively. Meanwhile, Heath got a yellow card of her own in the 33’ when she gave back as good as she got against Canadian enforcer Allysha Chapman.

The US still looked comfortable on the ball and well aware of each other, creating a lot of quick, crisp movement along the flanks trying to get the ball into position for a cross or to slip a a player into the box, but Canada especially pressured the US there and kept them pinned wide as much as possible. The US midfield did a lot more defensive work than they’d had to do previously, with Ertz often having to break up play with Horan hanging closer to her than in other games.

The US had their chances though. Rapinoe just missed the upper 90 in the 18’ after O’Hara slashed inside and fed her on the left side of the bix. In the 25’ Dahlkemper hit yet another incredible long ball to put Heath in along the right flank, but Heath was called off. There was a final flurry in front of goal at the end of the half with Ertz making a run off Lavelle and almost getting a ball to Morgan’s feet in front of goal, but Morgan was first blocked, and then put a header over the bar.

There were no US subs to start the second half, which was rockier than the first. Canada looked determined to continue digging into the game with a combination of their physical play and a very measured tempo that slowed the game every time they got on the ball. The US got a little sloppy for those first ten or so minutes, not stepping to Canada in the midfield as much and giving them too much space to get the ball in the box. But they adjusted and reapplied central pressure, with Dunn and Ertz trying to push higher out of the midfield and create some chances for Rapinoe and Morgan. They forced some good turnovers too, like a nice 67’ win in the midfield that let Heath feed Rapinoe in space, but Rapinoe’s shot from distance was parried away by the keeper.

The US kept in control for a lot of the game, but often got stuck on the flanks, unable to find the channel out to switch fields. The US had another great chance from a breakout in the 79’ as Dunn blasted past Canada’s midfield and picked out Morgan, who somehow managed to do a 270-degree turn and poke the ball across goal. It skirted wide of the post and Heath was too far away to finish it. Heath didn’t make great decisions on the night, often playing into Canadian pressure and not seeking her teammates in space, although she was also a target of a lot of physical challenges that put her on the ground.

Ellis finally started to make subs in the 88’, with Carli Lloyd coming on for Lavelle. That was followed by an insurance goal for the US in the 89’, as Morgan finally got on the board, re-directing a ball in from Horan. She was about a foot offside, but there was no call from the linesperson and VAR has yet to make its way to the women’s game.

The goal was followed by Mal Pugh on in the 91’ for Heath, and Casey Short on in the 93’ for Dunn, and then final whistle closed it out at 2-0. It appears Ellis was leery of making a sub while the scoreline was so close, but still wanted to get players some caps in the end.

Overall it was a good test from Canada, who looked as put together as they’ve been in recent games. The US had trouble solving the pressure, often getting hemmed in along the touchline, and Ellis will need to look to how she can get her team playing out of that and moving more through the middle or even resorting to going more direct, which they did from time to time against Canada. Still, even under pressure, there was a lot of great quick one- and two-touch possession to avoid turnovers in those tight spaces, and the defense limited Canada to some very hopeful shots that never particularly threatened, allowing the US to end the entire tournament without a single goal against.

In the end there don’t appear to have been any serious injuries, the team looks like it has a very coherent strategy in place that just needs some fine tuning, and most importantly, the United States has qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Not bad.