Monday, August 6, 2012

Cascadia stars as USA Women survive 4-3 OT thriller after trailing three times to Canada

Richland’s Hope Solo made a couple nice stops, but was outshined on the day by her Northwest counterparts who dominated the scoring summary and stole the spotlight in a wild back-and-forth Olympic Semifinal affair that saw the Canadians take the lead three times before going to overtime, where the United States eventually prevailed, 4-3, on a stoppage time header from Seattle Sounders Women striker Alex Morgan.

Seattle Sounders goalkeeper and University of Washington product Hope Solo was one of the focal points heading into the tournament, but despite her lengthy shutout streak coming into the contest most of the eyes were on the star duo Abby Wambach of the United States and Christine Sinclair. Instead, the match ended up being a showdown of University of Portland products as Sinclair and fellow former Pilot Megan Rapinoe exchanged goals, making the match an all-Cascadia affair.

At the stroke of 22 minutes the Canadians struck first, ending Solo’s shutout run at 368 minutes with a fantastic play that gave the Canadians the lead against the United States for the first time since 2003. It started with an excellent through ball from Marie-Eve Nault on the left wing in to former Vancouver Whitecap Melissa Tancredi at top of 18. Tancredi deftly touched and turned to deliver to an onrushing fellow former Whitecap Sinclair, who took a couple nice, small cuts to elude American defender Kelly O’Hara and bury it inside the left post out of Solo's reach.

Five minutes later Hope Solo made a great stop, snaring a shot that was rising over her head from longtime Vancouver Whitecaps product Sophie Schmidt.

Then Alex Morgan nearly equalized on a long free kick from fellow Sounders Women teammate Megan Rapinoe, heading the ball from 14 yards just inches wide of the far post. Wambach provided a near miss as well on the header from seven yards on a great cross from Morgan in the 37th.

Still trailing in the second half, the drama escalated nine minutes in when corner kick from Rapinoe driven low to the near post found its way through two Canadian players and over the line, though it could have just as easily been ruled an own goal as it struck former Whitecaps goalkeeper Erin McLeod at the same time it crossed the line.

Canada reclaimed the lead at the stroke of 67 on an excellent cross from Tancredi that found Sinclair in the box for a 10-yard header inside the far post out of Solo's reach once again.

The second Sinclair goal sparked an electrifying span of six minutes with three goals. As three minutes later Rapinoe fired back with a great shot from just inside the upper right corner of the box that caromed off the far post and in to level things at 2-2 in the 70th minute.

But Sinclair answered right back with her third of the night in the 73rd on a corner kick from current Whitecap Kaylyn Kyle, rising above two US defenders that were in front of her and heading across the goal from eight yards inside upper portion of the far post over the leap of an American defender on the line.

Things went from exciting to melodramatic though five minutes later with a pair of controversial calls from the referee, who first ruled in the 78th minute an extremely rare time-wasting foul on McLeod that came out of the blue, giving the United States an indirect free kick. On the restart, a well-struck effort from Rapinoe glanced off Diana Matheson before hitting Tancredi’s folded arm that was up against her chest in a protective stance.

The referee’s whistle blew and moments later Wambach was netting in her fifth game in a row in the 80th minute from the spot to tie things at 3-3.

Five minutes from time Wambach had a look at an open goal after a great run by Morgan got behind defense on the left side, allowing her to send a low ball across the goal that slipped by McLeod to Wambach, who uncharacteristically missed from inside the six.

Solo, well positioned, made nice save in 89th when Schmidt got behind the defense after a turnover, sending the match to overtime.

Again, Wambach nearly had the winner when she sent a header off the crossbar in the 119th minute from middle of the box, leaving just three minutes of stoppage time to what appeared was going to be a penalty kick tiebreaker to decide the outcome. 

Then, in the third minute of stoppage time, the US stunned Canada when a cross from substitute Heather O’Reilly on the right flank found Morgan for a looping header from seven yards that over the reach of McLeod as it slipped in under the bar.

The victory sets the US up for a rematch with Japan, who held off a late-charging France for a 2-1 win in the other semifinal, giving up its first goal since their 2-1 opener against Canada in which Tancredi scored. The Japan and the United States are the first two teams to reach World Cup and Olympic Finals in back-to-back years, giving the Japanese an opportunity to become the first to win the events consecutively after a remarkable 2-2 draw at the World Cup Final a year ago in Germany that saw American heartbreak in a penalty kick tiebreaker that finished 3-1 for the first-time champions.