CARSON, Calif. (Wednesday, November 22, 2006) -- The United States men played 18 games in their qualifying process for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. For the U.S. women, one victory was needed to advance to the 2007 Women's World Cup in China.
Striker Abby Wambach scored two goals, each the product of a glaring defensive error, allowing the U.S. to defeat Mexico 2-0 in a CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup semifinal before 6,128 who braved cool, misty weather at the Home Depot Center tonight.
The Americans' performance was more effective than impressive in disposing an opponent against which it owns an all-time 18-0 record with an 84-6 advantage in goals scored. Quite impressive was the U.S. establishing a new team record by extending its streak to 31 matches (26-0-5) without a loss, bettering the old mark of 30 (29-0-1), accomplished in 1996 and 1997.
The undefeated skein began December 8, 2004, with a 5-0 whitewash of Mexico on the night U.S. all-time greats Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy played for the last time.
The Gold Cup also serves as the qualifying tournament for North America, Central America and the Caribbean with both semifinal winners earning CONCACAF's two automatic berths in the World Cup, which will be played September 10-30 in five Chinese cities.
Using two goals from University of Portland alumnus Christine Sinclair, Canada also qualified by rolling over Jamaica 4-0 in tonight's opener and will meet the U.S. here Sunday for the Gold Cup championship. Mexico and Jamaica will play for third place Sunday with the winner facing Japan in a two-match series to decide another invitation to the WWC.
Wambach exploited an error by Mexico goalkeeper Sophia Perez to put the Americans up 1-0 in the 10th minute. Defender Catherine Whitehill sent a free kick from the right sideline to forward Kristine Lilly above the penalty arc. Lilly chipped a pass into the right side of the penalty area to midfielder Carli Lloyd, who shot for the far corner.
Perez dropped to her right and should have made the save, but the ball squirted through her arms and just beyond her reach. Wambach was quick to the loose ball and poked it home from two yards for the 1-0 lead.
"I can't say enough about the stress that is relieved in qualifying for a World Cup, especially when you are projected to (qualify) and you are in a region where the tournament is one game and you are in," Wambach said. "It's a pressure situation, and we, of course, draw Mexico and they are a team that sometimes, well, you never know what you are going to get with Mexico. We played them a couple of months ago and they brought a total different look than what they brought today. It means a lot to every single player on this team. We've dedicated so much time, and so much of our lives to pick up ship and move out here for half the year and train (at The Home Depot Center). It is so important to all of us."
Wambach scored again on in impressive, glancing header from a sharp angle for a 2-0 advantage in the 64th minute, but Mexico defender Elizabeth Gomez was guilty of a giveaway and Perez did not play the angle well in allowing the Americans insurance.
A retreating Gomez took the ball away from Lilly with her momentum carrying her deep down her right flank. Gomez tried to turn and touch past Lilly, an ill-considered move. Lilly easily regained possession and carried to the end-line before crossing to the near post. Wambach nodded the ball between the left post and Gomez, who leaned the wrong way, taking a couple of steps to her left.
Wambach leads the U.S. (17-0-4 in 2006) with 16 goals this year, increasing her career total to 66 in 83, her ratio of scoring 0.8 goals per game the best in the program's 22-year history.
"There was tremendous pressure tonight," said U.S. coach Greg Ryan, whose record is 25-0-5 since taking over as coach in early 2005. "One game and you're in. We've got a very young team, with a lot of players that were playing their first qualifier tonight. And I think it was a very difficult situation, and what we got was a professional result. Our team defending was fantastic. One aspect of this team is that we have great players like Abby and Lil (Kristine Lilly) who find ways to win games for us. And they did that tonight."
Mexico never seriously threatened U.S goalkeeper Hope Solo, who made three saves, one with a quick reaction to what turned out to be a soft shot. The Americans recorded their fourth straight clean sheet and 13th in 21 outings this year. Beyond the two goals, however, the U.S. did not create that much danger either, outshooting Mexico 16-5, but only 4-3 on frame.
With the U.S. and Canada qualifying, 12 of the 16 Women's World Cup openings have been filled. The other qualifiers are Australia, China, Denmark, England, Germany, Ghana, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway and Sweden,
The U.S. players will be off until mid-January when they begin preparations for the Women's World Cup.
United State 2, Mexico 0
Lineups: United States - Hope Solo, Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone, Catherine Whitehill, Lori Chalupny; Leslie Osborne, Carli Lloyd, Aly Wagner, Lindsay Tarpley (Heather O'Reilly 64), Abby Wambach (Natasha Kai 88), Kristine Lilly (captain). Mexico Sophia Perez, Elizabeth Gomez, Rubi Sandoval, Maria De Jesus Castillo, Luz Saucedo, Monica Gonzalez (Monica Vergara 77), Juana Lopez (Iris Mora, 54), Fatima Leyva (Maria De Lourdes Gordillo 82), Guadalupe Worbis, Monica Ocampo, 9-Maribel Domínguez (captain).
United States - Wambach (Lloyd) 10.
United States - Wambach (Lilly) 64.
Shots: United States 16, Mexico 5.
Shots on goal: United States 4, Mexico 3.
Saves: United States 3, Mexico 2.
Corner kicks: United States 7, Mexico 1
Fouls: United States 15, Mexico 15.
Offside: United States 4, Mexico 0.
Yellow card cautions: United States - Lloyd 88; Mexico - Dominguez 46, Mora 63.
Referee: Dianne Ferreira-James (Guyana).
Assistant.referees: Jackqueline Saez (Panama), Cynette Jeffrey (Gutana).
Fourth official: Cecibel Ortega (El Salvador).
Attendance: 6,128 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Weather: Cool, misty, 62 degrees.