The United States took it to Guatemala 13-0 Sunday to clinch a berth in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the London Olympics. It was a great game for statisticians and for those who think the Americans need to learn to chill when they have a big lead.
Nothing doing. Not as long as the stunning loss to Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in late 2010 remains fresh on their minds.
“We understand that 14-, 13-goal games can be looked down upon by some of our viewers, our fans, by fans of other countries,” said Abby Wambach, who scored twice in the first half. “But the truth is we didn’t get our job done the last qualifying tournament, and this is a statement that we’re making to the rest of the world, we’re making to our region, and we can’t take any game for granted. We have to play hard, play physical and respect the game. That’s why the results are the results you’ve seen.”
Wambach moved into third on the career goals list for women’s international soccer with 129, ahead of Germany’s Birgit Prinz (128) and behind only Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130). The only active player in the 31-year-old forward’s range is Canada’s Christine Sinclair with 125 — including five in this tournament.
On pace to catch her in a hurry — if Sunday is any indication — is newcomer Sydney Leroux, who replaced Wambach at halftime and scored five goals in just her second cap with the U.S. team. Leroux was born and raised in Vancouver area but has an American father and has opted to play for the U.S. over Canada, prompting the boos and the “Judas” chants from some of the locals whenever she touched the ball.
“I know that there are some people who don’t respect my decision,” Leroux said. “And there are some people who do. And not everyone’s going to like you, and I feel like you have to have some enemies in life or else you’re not doing something right. I’m happy where I am. I’m happy to wear this jersey, and that’s how it is.”
Leroux’s five-spot ties her with Wambach, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett and Amy Rodriguez for the most goals by a U.S. player in a game. Rodriguez accomplished the feat in the 14-0 win over the Dominican Republic on Friday, also as a second-half substitute.
Leroux’s goals came in the 48th, 51st, 57th, 70th and 87th minutes. She is the only member of the roster who didn’t play for the U.S. in last year’s World Cup.
“I heard that some people were booing me,” Leroux said. “But then I think after the fourth goal they stopped.”
When told they didn’t, she answered: “No? Well, they should’ve.”
The big wins provided the Americans a comfortable goal-differential cushion that will allow them to win their group even if they tie their final group game, a much-anticipated rematch against Mexico on Tuesday. The Mexicans have outscored their opponents 12-0 after two games, including a 7-0 win over the Dominican Republic on Sunday.
Sunday’s games capped four days of noncompetitive soccer, with the top four teams at the tournament outscoring the bottom four by a combined score of 51-0. Now come the matchups that truly matter: Canada-Costa Rica on Monday, followed by U.S.-Mexico the next day to determine the winners of the respective groups — and the matchups for the do-or-die semifinals that will produce the two teams headed to London.
It was at the semifinal stage that the Americans stumbled against Mexico in 2010, forcing the U.S., the top-ranked team in the world, into a playoff just to get into the World Cup in Germany.
Looking to rest some of her top players for the upcoming games, Sundhage made six changes to the starting lineup from Friday’s game. One of the changes, of course, involved defender Ali Krieger, who tore ligaments in her right knee against the Dominicans and is likely out for the Olympics.
Lori Lindsey got her first U.S. goal with a header in the 34th minute. Also in on the scoring were Lauren Cheney (24th), Rodriguez (29th), Carli Lloyd (33rd), Megan Rapinoe (75th) and Alex Morgan (83rd).
Wambach’s goals looked effortless against an overmatched Guatemalan team that routinely left players unmarked in the box. All she needed was a casual tap to beat goalkeeper Maricruz Lemus in the 12th minute after a lead pass from Rapinoe, and she had plenty of open net to head down Cheney’s free kick two minutes later and move ahead of Prinz — a player Wambach once thought she would never catch.
“That’s true — I didn’t. And I’m shocked that I have,” Wambach said. “The later on in our career, the stats do start piling up, and the awards come and all of it, but the truth is our team is playing well right now.