World Cup-bound: U.S. women get stronger and Concacaf gets weaker

You have to go all the way back to the early years of the Women's World Cup to find an easier path the USA had to the finals than it had in qualifying for next year's tournament in France.

The USA wrapped up its berth in the finals with a 5-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday night in Frisco, Texas. With a young team of players raised in the U.S. youth and college systems -- many were born and raised in the United States -- Jamaica was supposed to be the USA's sternest test, but the game was over in the blink of an eye.

Tobin Heath gave the USA the lead in the second minute, and it led, 5-0, by the 33rd minute.

Sunday's semifinal was par for the course at the Concacaf Women's Championship. In its four wins, the USA outscored its opponents, 24-0, and outshot them, 143-10. Its edge in shots on goal was 66-2.

Not since 1995 has the USA qualified as easily as it did this year. "Easily" is a relative word in the world of U.S. women's soccer and Concacaf. It's taken 29 matches for the USA to clinch a berth in the finals from the seven qualifying tournaments it entered -- that includes the 2003 World Cup that the USA ended up hosting -- and it's won 28 of them.

The only defeat came to Mexico in 2010 in Cancun when the USA fell, 2-1, in the semifinals, forcing it to beat Costa Rica for third place in Concacaf and then Italy in a two-game playoff series.

Has the USA gotten better or the Concacaf competition gotten worse? The answer is a little bit of both.

Costa Rica and Mexico, second and third, respectively, in qualifying four years ago, didn't even make it out of the group stage this year. The USA's last three opponents in qualifying were Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica.

Panama pulled off the upset of the tournament, beating Mexico, but it was one of only four Central American teams to enter qualifying and hasn't played a game outside of Women's World Cup qualifying or the Central American Games in more than a decade. Not for the first time, the T&T women's program is a mess. And Jamaica did not played a game in 2016 or 2017. Bottom: the support for women's soccer across the Caribbean and in Central America is abysmal.

What is true, though, is that the USA has the makings of potentially its best team ever. It isn't the reigning world champion for nothing, and the team has gotten stronger at least since it fell in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals to Sweden in Brasilia.

Jill Ellis has not been afraid to make changes and bring in new players. Nor has she been afraid to play players at new positions -- Julie Ertz in central midfield and Crystal Dunn at left back.

For the first ever, the U.S. players have had the benefit of playing the whole cycle in an on-going women's pro league, the NWSL, which just concluded its sixth season.

It says something about the USA's depth that neither Carli Lloyd nor Mallory Pugh got off the bench on Sunday night.

USA in Women's World Cup qualifying (1991-2019)
1991: 5 games (5 wins by 49-0, deciding game: Canada 6-0)
1995: 4 games (4 wins by 36-1, round-robin competition)
2003: 4 games (4 wins by 22-0, deciding game: Costa Rica 7-0)
2007: 1 game (1 wins by 2-0, deciding game: Mexico 2-0)
2011: 7 games (6 wins, 1 loss by 24-2, deciding series: Italy 1-0, 1-0)
2015: 4 games (4 wins by 15-0, deciding game: Mexico 3-0)
2019: 4 games (4 wins by 24-0, deciding game: Jamaica 6-0)
Note: USA hosted in 1999 and 2003 (after FIFA moved the tournament from China.)
4 comments about "World Cup-bound: U.S. women get stronger and Concacaf gets weaker".
  1. Bob Ashpole, October 15, 2018 at 8:52 a.m.

    In the SA interviews to date regarding style of play and the future of soccer, my impression is that the women's game has been ignored. The people most familiar with the women's game are asked about anything but what should be or is the US style of play.

    The USWNT is and has been a favorite contender for generations. The womens game includes athleticism, but is not dependent on power or size. Power and size is an advantage, but not without superior technical skills and decision making. Pure speed is an advantage, but not without tactical speed. (For example, Rose Lavelle is great technically and rarely uses her fast sprinting speed to solve tactical problems.)

    We should be able to learn from the WNT's success about the US style of play without the distraction of what some people mistakenly call athleticism (really they are talking about strength rather than athletic ability). 

    I would like to see some interviews about US style of play from people who are not going to ignore the experience and success of the US women.  

  2. R2 Dad, October 15, 2018 at 8:55 a.m.

    Not sure what happened with Mexico. Monica Ocampo didn't play in that Panama match, neither did Kiana Palacios. Squad rotation?

  3. John Soares, October 19, 2018 at 12:47 p.m.

    Bob, all good points. If the USMT need an example of what style is beautiful to watch and wins games. Simply watch the USWT in action.... films no doubt available:)

  4. James Cox, October 26, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    I believe you left out the hundreds of NPSL teams in the USA. Thriving, expanding league with real opportunity for new ownership groups and fan-based support in smaller cities and communities. Fort Worth, Napa Valley are two good examples. 

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