The USA is going to the Paris Olympics.
Eleven days after clinching a berth in the 2023 Women's World Cup, it booked its ticket to the 2024 Olympics with a 1-0 win over Canada in the Concacaf W Championship final.
Somehow, that fact escaped Vlatko Andonovski's mind.
"I was just reminded of it a minute ago," the U.S. head coach said at his post-game press conference in Monterrey late Monday night. "I totally forgot that we qualified for the Olympics."
First things first will be the World Cup next summer in Australia and New Zealand, where the USA will be bidding to become the first team to win three straight.
"That's our focus," he said of the World Cup. "The moment we qualified [after the second game of the Concacaf W Championship], we started talking about preparation, what it takes to prepare for the World Cup. And we don't want to look past that."
Since the USA lost to Canada in the Tokyo Olympic semifinals, the focus has been on rebuilding the national team and getting younger ahead of the World Cup.
"We think that this is just the beginning of what we are going to see in the next 9-12 months," Andonovski said.
The irony is, the hero of Monday's final was 33-year-old Alex Morgan, who did not play for eight months before being recalled in June following her torrid start to the NWSL season (11 goals in 10 games) at her new club, the San Diego Wave.
"I have to say I've been not surprised, but very happy how she has handled the whole situation and how she came back," Andonovski said after Morgan's penalty kick in the 78th minute broke the deadlock. "And I said when we came back in camp that Alex is a better player and what makes it special is she doesn't want to stop growing. She doesn't want to stop developing."
Andonovski credited veterans like Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn for supporting the 15 players who were playing in their first qualifying competition for the USA.
"They were able to maintain a super environment and a really positive environment, lots of energy and enthusiasm," he said. "We came out in the last game of the tournament after being in a hotel for a month with the best energy that we've ever had. And that's a testament first and foremost to the senior players who were able to build a very good culture, very good environment. And then, obviously, the young ones follow the lead."
The USA's play over the two weeks was often sloppy and disjointed, and it often looked lethargic against clearly weaker opponents -- the Concacaf W Championship was the sixth straight Concacaf qualifying tournament in which the USA swept every game without conceding a goal -- but Andonovski insisted he saw improvements here and there in his team's play in each game from when it gathered in Denver and played two friendlies against Colombia in June.
"Those are the moments that give us coaches validation to what we do and make us happiest coaches," he said. "That means we're moving the right direction."
The Concacaf sweep is validation for the youth movement Andonovski started last fall after losses to Sweden and Canada at the Olympics.
"The team is significantly younger than the previous time we played Canada," he said. "They came with pretty much the same team from the Olympics, and we changed [six] players in the starting lineup."
The core of the national team, in Australia and New Zealand next summer and France a year after that, will likely include youngsters like defenders Alana Cook (25) and Emily Fox (24), midfielder Andi Sullivan (26) and forwards Sophia Smith (21) and Mallory Pugh (24) who weren't at the Olympics.
Casey Murphy (26) started three of the five games in goal. Two of the pleasant surprises in Monterrey were Naomi Girma (22) and Ashley Sanchez (23). Such is the USA's depth that 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman (20) hardly got on the field. And not to be forgotten are Tierna Davidson (23) and Catarina Macario (22), who would have both started but for knee injuries that kept them out of the Concacaf W Championship.
"They're going be here for at least three, maybe four World Cups," said Andonovski, mentioning Fox, Sullivan, Smith and Pugh. "So get used to them."