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[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]he U.S. Women’s National Team defeated Costa Rica, 6-0, to win the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship on October 26, 2014, at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. Both teams qualified for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. For Costa Rica, it’s the country’s first trip to a women’s World Cup. The U.S. has qualified for every women’s World Cup and has won it twice, in 1991 and 1991.
Goal scorers for the U.S. include Abby Wambach, who had four on the night, and broke Michelle Akers’ U.S. record for most goals in World Cup qualifying matches. Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux rounded out the scoring for the U.S.
Costa Rica won its group with wins against Mexico, Martinique, and Jamaica. The Ticas defeated Trinidad & Tobago in the semifinals to advance to the final.
After 10 grueling and action-packed days spread across four cities in the United States, the CONCACAF region has its 3.5 qualifiers for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: the United States, Costa Rica, and Mexico; Trinidad & Tobago is set to compete in an intercontinental home-and-home playoff against Ecuador starting in early November for a spot at next year’s World Cup.
The last full senior-level CONCACAF tournament was Olympic qualifying in Vancouver, Canada. That tournament’s main theme was the gap in class between the top four teams and the bottom four teams. That gap, while not fully shut, has started to close, and it’s a testament to the development of women’s soccer in the region.
This tournament was no different.
While the stat sheet won’t show it for teams such as Martinique, the progress made in experience for the players is immeasurable. Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Haiti all showed up with vastly improved squads. Trinidad & Tobago, in particular, was impressive. Head Coach Randy Waldrum had his squad organized and players such as Kennya Cordner and Kimika Forbes were standouts.
Resources must be made available, and that’s no small feat to ask considering the difficulties these squads faced in just getting to the tournament. The players are there, now it’s up to each federation to put the time and money into making further progress.
The United States: Qualified but Challenges Lie Ahead
After the final match for the United States, Head Coach Jill Ellis said the top priorities for the team heading into this tournament was to qualify for the World Cup and to win the tournament. The U.S. can check those off the list. Beyond that, several questions remain unanswered.
Stats can be deceiving. The U.S. scored 21 goals in five games and conceded none. Why, then, did the U.S. look less than dominant at times throughout the tournament? Setting aside defenses sitting back, the U.S. was less than clinical in front of net. It’s not hard to wonder if one of the National Women’s Soccer League’s best strikers — FC Kansas City’s Amy Rodriguez (13 goals in 22 regular season matches) — would have made a difference as she sat on the bench for most of the tournament. She played 25 minutes in two substitute appearances and hardly got a touch on the ball.
Speaking of sitting back, the United States’ first four opponents sat back defensively and looked for opportunities on the counter and walked away with results closer than many expected. Ellis said in a press conference that “CONCACAF teams have become tactically better organized. And it is a good challenge and it is our job as a staff to make sure our players don’t get frustrated and recognize how to problem-solve the game. And when you get a little tight and frustrated you go back to things that you know that you’re comfortable with.”
The U.S. will need to continue to learn to play against teams that sit back and must finish its chances; teams won’t be as forgiving next summer.
The Youth of Costa Rica Shines Bright
It’s been steady improvement for Costa Rican women’s soccer in the past eight years. After failing to qualify for this tournament in 2006, the Ticas finished in fourth place in 2010, and now have a second-place finish. A main part of its steady rise is its roster. That’s a young roster with an average age of roughly 23 and players who have grown and developed their games together through the youth ranks.
“It will show that giving support like they have done with us in this generation,” said Costa Rican defender Daniela Cruz on attempting to qualify for the program’s first World Cup. “We’ve been [together] since Under-17, Under-20, and now the full team — we’re showing them that we can do it, that there’s talent in our country, and that all we need is support.”
Costan Rica has done all this with one professional player on the roster: Shirley Cruz (no relation to Daniela). Cruz has played in France since 2006 and currently plays with Paris Saint-Germain. The rest of the roster plays in the Costa Rican first division, mostly with Deportivo Saprissa, while a couple of players college soccer in the United States, most notably Penn State’s Raquel Rodriguez.
There is still a lot of work to be done in order to be successful next summer. For Head Coach Garabet Avedissian, a lot of that will come from preparation, including playing matches against high quality teams. Avedissian said the Costa Rican Football Federation will look to schedule five or six friendlies against World Cup competition, either against teams from Europe or against other teams who qualified for the tournament.
This year was a banner year for Costa Rican soccer as the men’s national team made a stunning run to the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the nation hosted its first FIFA event with the U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the U-20 women’s team competed in the U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Mexico qualified for its third World Cup, but it was far from easy for the side that upset the U.S. in 2010. An opening loss to Costa Rica set up a second-place group finish for El Tri and a semifinal matchup against the U.S. Much was made of the rematch between the two, but in the end, the U.S. was dominant (as it has been since the 2010 upset). If progress is the theme to emerge from this tournament, you have to ask where Mexico falls on the scale.
There are several issue the national team must continue to work to overcome, including social and cultural issues that will take longer to change, if it wants to compete at the highest level. There is good news, however. Head Coach Leo Cuellar said in his postgame comments the Mexican Federation had earmarked funds for preparation for next summer’s competition.
JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. Although his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself on being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras). He was the Student General Manager at 107.7 FM The Bronc while at Rider and contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ, area of high school and collegiate sports including Tand Fish4Scores.com.
Brandi Ortega designs, writes, and plays soccer in Southern California. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in English. Find her on twitter at @brandiortega.
Cynthia Hobgood is a Washington, DC-based digital communications consultant, photographer and writer. Hobgood started covering soccer as a journalist in 2000 for weekly/daily publications and ultimately, the Associated Press (while also covering other pro and NCAA sports primarily in the DC area.) She previously helped launch a national youth sports nonprofit and started Full 90 Communications earlier this year. Hobgood has a master’s degree in sports management from The George Washington University School of Business and master of arts degree in English from Baylor University.
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Cynthia Hobgood was on the sidelines throughout the tournament and captured images from the following games: