ith both nations already assured spots in the Beijing Olympics
this summer, Canada
and the United States
battled Saturday night in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying
title and seeding preference in the Olympic First Round Draw
Canada eventually lost a seven-round penalty kick contest after holding the US to a scoreless tie through regulation time, then exchanging strikes during overtime. US midfielder Carli Lloyd
scored first with a long free kick following a hard (yellow card earning) foul by Kara Lang
. After conceding its first goal in four matches, Canada charged back and tied it up from the corner flag, with four minutes left in the second overtime period, as Melissa Tancredi
heading her fifth score of the tournament.
Canada played a strong first half featuring several good attempts on net including two each from Christine Sinclair and Lang. Defender Candace Chapman also steered long free-kick just wide of goal. Through the first 45 minutes Canada and the US shared possession however, in the second half high-scoring forward Abby Wambach helped the US turn the tide, and the Canadians chased the ball for long periods. Fortunately for Canada, Erin McLeod had an inspired game in net, making 10 total saves including game-saving stops in regulation time from Amy Rodriguez and substitute Angela Hucles. In overtime, McLeod came up big against Wambach (twice), Rodriguez, Hucles and Lori Chalupny.
Coach Even Pellerud thought Canada played a “very high quality first half,” and recognised Wambach’s affect on the game. “She is strong on the ball and made it easier for the US to get lots of cross balls into the score box.” Pellerud had "no complaints" about the goal conceded, and on Canada's fight back, “I liked the moral of my team. It was good to see. I thought it was an international game of very high standard, one of the best I’ve seen.”
During the penalty shootout, US goals by Lloyd, Hucles, Wambach and captain, Christie Rampone, were matched by Sinclair, Tancredi, Lang and Clare Rustad. McLeod saved Chalupny’s low shot, making up for Martina Franko’s miss off the post. Canada's Rhian Wilkinson then matched Leslie Osborne’s successful strike yet after US substitute Heather O’Reilly scored, Brittany Timko’s hard attempt found goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, sending the Americans home with the trophy. Pellerud didn't appear disheartened. “When it comes to a shootout, a coach has no confidence and you control almost nothing. You pick five players and cross your fingers.”
Another narrow CONCACAF Championship Final loss, following late, one-goal losses in the last two Gold Cup finals, was a tough ending for the Canadians however, the team is leaving Juarez with a valuable consolation prize — its first ticket to the Olympic Games. McLeod emphasized how important that qualification spot is, “We’re so proud, [after Wednesday’s win over Mexico to clinch the spot] we were relaxed for the first time in five months and we’re happy to be going and we’ll do our best to prepare for it.”