Friday, April 19, 2024
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USWNT advance to W Gold Cup final by weathering rain storm in unplayable conditions

SAN DIEGO — It hardly ever rains in San Diego, averaging around 10 inches a year, but the weather had other plans for the 2024 Concacaf semifinal between the United States and Canada on Wednesday night. The conditions weren’t ideal at Snapdragon Stadium in a match former USWNT players wanted called off due to safety concerns, but in the end, a 2-2 extra time draw then saw the Americans win in a penalty shootout, 3-1, with Alyssa Naeher as the hero. The U.S. will face Brazil in Sunday’s final.

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It was a Sophia Smith goal in the first half of extra time, capitalizing on a header through ball from Rose Lavelle, that looked to have clinched the berth in the title match before Alyssa Naeher’s clumsy play on a long ball in the final minutes resulted in a penalty kick that Adriana Leon put away with precision and pace.

In the penalties, with the memories of World Cup round of 16 elimination to Sweden surely on their minds, Naeher got her redemption. The veteran saved the first two penalties she faced, stopping three overall, and she converted one herself to help put her team into the final.

The result, however, could have gone either way with an unplayable surface. The field was already drenched in rain showers from the previous semifinal between Brazil and Mexico. On and off torrential downpours before, between, and during the semifinals left the grass in a soggy state and the ball with nowhere to go. As USWNT players and Canadians exited their warmups, they marched back to their locker rooms drenched before the game had even begun. It was about embracing conditions as the game would not be called off, while also the need to limit mistakes. Both teams would make them. 

During halftime, there was an attempt by a handful of groundskeepers to try their best to sweep away some of the visible puddles. The rain did break as the second half began but had already left its damp shadows on the pitch and directly impacted the score. 

In the first half, Jaedyn Shaw was able to break through on goal for the U.S. before the Americans conceded late to force extra time. In the extra session, a back-and-forth match saw Smith deliver when most needed. Smith’s last goal was in December against China and struggled to find the back of the net during the Gold Cup despite providing an assist on matchday one. 

But it was Shaw’s goal that encapsulated the conditions. It featured a back pass to goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, but the ball didn’t make it as the precipitation halted it in the heart of the box where Shaw pounced, lifting the ball over her and into the net for the opener 20 minutes in. 

Both teams finished the game with a pass accuracy below 50 percent with the conditions creating a nearly impossible pitch in which to play a real game. Ultimately there wasn’t much to learn from the game other than maybe it shouldn’t have happened on this day.  Either way, it’ll be a future discussion for match commissioners.

So perhaps the water bowl provided a reminder that they are capable in these elements and susceptible to conceding in them, too. They’ll dry off and hope for much better conditions come Sunday night where a true soccer match can take place while aiming to clean up the mistakes. 

In Wednesday’s other semifinal, Brazil scored twice in 10 minutes in the first half and trounced Mexico 3-0. La Tri saw Nicolette Hernandez earn a red card just 29 minutes in, ending their dream of continental glory. The Brazilians made quick work of Mexico, using a bit of familiar play that Mexico used to defeat USA, with quick passing and constant pressing. 

Want more coverage of women’s soccer? Listen below and make sure to watch Attacking Third on Golazo Network Monday and Friday for all your USWNT, NWSL and WSL women’s soccer coverage.

What’s next

With the result, the USWNT are through to Sunday’s final where they will meet Brazil at 8:15 p.m. ET on Paramount+.

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