April 17, 2024

Brighton Journal

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USWNT tops Canada on penalties in epic, rain-soaked Gold Cup semi-final

USWNT tops Canada on penalties in epic, rain-soaked Gold Cup semi-final

Written by Meg Linehan, Steve Young, Jeff Reuter, and Tamera Griffin

A thrilling shootout featuring three saves and a penalty kick by Alyssa Naeher settled the CONCACAF W Gold Cup match between the United States and Canada to send the United States to the final after a 2-2 draw after overtime.

It looked as if American striker Sophia Smith had found the winning goal for the USWNT in the first half of extra time, as she cleanly finished off a redirected header from Rose Lavelle to take the lead. But it did not last long, as a major shift occurred in the second half of stoppage time. With Canadian defender Vanessa Gill running full force into the USWNT box, Alyssa Naeher and Tierna Davidson converged — with Naeher putting his fists to Gill's face instead of the ball. Canada was awarded a penalty kick, and Adriana Leon, the tournament's top scorer, scored the penalty kick.

The Seattle Reign's Jordyn Heitema provided a late equalizer for Canada in regulation time to cancel out an early goal from Jaeden Shaw.

With a penalty shootout win, the USWNT will He faces Brazil in the tournament final on Sunday. Earlier on Wednesday evening, Brazil easily defeated Mexico in the first semi-final match, 3-0.

Aside from the late drama and Naeher's performance in the shootout, the main story of the USWNT's win Thursday night — and Canada's loss — was the condition of the field at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, which was, to put it grossly understatement, extremely wet.

Swimming pool or playground?

It was clear seconds after kick-off that playing normally would be impossible. The field was a Slip 'N Slide for the vast majority of the game, and puddles littered the lights making it impossible to predict where the ball would go or how far. Coupled with the cold — the temperature was about 55 degrees at kickoff, freezing by Southern California standards — the conditions tested the teams more than they could test each other.

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In fact, the conditions led directly to the U.S. goal, as striker Jaden Shaw put the U.S. ahead 1-0 in the 20th minute. By pouncing on a back pass from Canada that had suddenly slowed due to the conditions, Shaw went past her San Diego Wave teammate and goalkeeper Canadian goalkeeper Cailin Sheridan scored the opening goal.

However, there had been plenty of troubling incidents before that point. In the fourth minute, match referee Katia Garcia passed the ball to the touchline to show someone – most likely the match official functionally responsible for deciding whether to postpone the match – that the pitch conditions were unplayable, as the ball had barely rolled a few feet before. He stopped dead in a puddle. Whatever reaction Garcia received, she gave it back to captains Lindsay Horan and Jesse Fleming, whose teams tried to play bravely on a pitch where no one could make more than a few touches and successive passes that often ended abruptly in a wet stop. .

A CONCACAF spokesman said: “It is solely at the discretion of the referee as to whether the pitch is safe and playable.” The athlete. Another CONCACAF representative said the only protocol they were given before the game was that if lightning occurred within eight miles of the stadium, they would delay the game by about 30 minutes.

“Technically and practically under the law, the referee always has the final say to make that decision,” professional referee and CBS rules analyst Christina Unkel said during the halftime broadcast. “However, in practice, there is a match official at every CONCACAF match, and as we saw in the first few minutes of this match, the referee went and showed that the ball was not actually rolling when it went into the goal. Near the fourth official stop, where The match official stands… She was very clear in showing that she didn't necessarily think this was a safe situation, but the match official asked her to continue this match.

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Reaction on social media to the playing conditions was universally negative. posted former USWNT player Julie Foudy“This is too crazy. Stop the game.” San Diego Wave head coach Casey Stoney, whose NWSL team plays at Snapdragon Stadium, was concerned about the players on the field including several Wave representatives, writing“Very dangerous!! Make the right decision for the safety of the players!”

“Why are players being put in this position? There is no chance these are safe playing conditions. Former USWNT player Sam Mewis also posted Wednesday night.

VAR room, we have a problem

Going into the second half, it was clear that the referees had a serious technical problem with their communications equipment. First they had to postpone kick-off to try to get the equipment working, then the center referee and assistant referee switched gears. It seemed in vain as the central referee appeared unable to determine whether she had been called to pause for VAR following an incident in the 48th minute when Tierna Davidson stabbed the ball and Jesse Fleming was tripped in the penalty area. Neither team seemed to understand what was happening as play stopped, except that in the end the penalty was not awarded even though it was clearly a foul inside the box on the replay.

Late madness

For about an hour, the United States seemed content to defy the Canadians to find a way to break through its trench and find an equalizer. After about 80 minutes, the rain subsided long enough to make some parts of the pitch more conducive to ball movement. Perhaps as a result, Canada found it easy to string together passes to unsettle their opponent – ​​and in one such sequence, they found a breakthrough using the aerial route.

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It's a brilliant sequence of movement on and off the ball, leading to Nahier's instability and perfect mismatches inside the box. When Ashley Lawrence sent a cross to the other side of the box, the USA goalkeeper was left reeling in hopes of covering as much of her net as possible. Coming on as a substitute in the 56th minute, Jordin Heitema brought new energy to the forward press and a physical presence thanks to her 5'11″ frame. She found Lawrence's Cross, the intended target, towering over Emily Fox.

The half-foot height difference made a big difference on a surface that offered little traction, and Huitema left nothing to be desired with her head positioned in the opposite direction of Naeher's swoop. This is Huitema's third goal in the tournament, and it is an encouraging return after scoring only four goals in 2022 and 2023.

Circumstances still influenced the way the United States set up its second goal of the night. Emily Sonnett hit a speculative ball up the field, Rose Lavelle did well to head the ball to Sophia Smith, and Smith finished while barely having to carry the ball at all (partly because the field helped steady it on her way).

Smith's goal was the end of an epic match, but a late penalty after a foul on Naher gave Adriana Leon the chance to equalize with the final kick of extra time.

She did just that, and created Nahar heroics in the process.

(Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for USSF)