No one gave them much of a chance, but Canada’s under 17 girls were not listening as they went out and halted the march of an “unstoppable” USA team last night in Alajuela, Costa Rica to earn their spot in September’s World Cup. Over the course of their first three games, the Americans were the awe inspiring class of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, rolling up 32 goals while allowing their opponents barely a sniff of a goal. Victory in the semi final was supposed to be a mere formality.
Coach Brian Rosenfeld came up with the tactical plan and his under 17 girls followed it out to the end to eliminate the Americans on penalties after keeping the match scoreless through 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 of extra time.
After the first half hour of balanced play produced chances for both teams, it became apparent the Canadians were settling in to the risky business of defending in numbers while looking for a break on the counter attack. If a goal didn’t come, the worse case scenario would be a penalty shoot out.
That’s not negative football. The Canadians posses the physical strength and determination to keep up with the Americans. They knew they were the only team in the tournament that could make that statement. Playing what nearly amounted to a 7 – 2 -1, they repeat ably searched to get the ball forward to the right side of the middle third of the field before sending long, attack-minded balls to the left winger. Bunkering in would have been negative.
Obviously, they would have preferred winning it with a goal in regulation and continued looking even in extra time. But the goal was to concede no goals. Rosenfeld was convinced his squad had the edge if it went to penalties.
At about 116 minutes it appeared for a while the entire strategy might have collapsed when keeper Sabrina D’Angelo, after gathering in the ball, was clipped by a knee to the thigh by an onrushing American attacker. It was another tense moment in a seat-clawing contest while the keeper – who less than a year ago suffered a knee injury that required major surgery – was attended to.
In penalties, the five Canadian takers were confidently flawless as they picked their spots and hit them dead on. D’Angelo’s intimidating presence caused US captain Sabrinal Wiedmayer to loss cool and send her shot high over the goal, and that was the difference.