Friday night, the Under-20 Women’s National Teams for the United States and Canada qualified for the 2012 Women’s Under-20 World Cup in Japan by winning their semifinals at the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship in Panama. In the first semifinal, the USA defeated an under-powered Mexico side by 4 goals to nil. Then, in the second match, Canada defeated host Panama by 6 goals to nil, with five of Canada’s goals coming in the second half.
The USA and Canada will play for the Championship trophy Sunday night (9:00 p.m. EDT), while Mexico and Panama will fight for the final U-20 WWC spot in the Third Place Match, which will be played Sunday evening (6:00 p.m. EDT) prior to the Championship Match.
SEMIFINAL #1: USA 4, Mexico 0.
For the USA, Steve Swanson went with his apparently preferred line-up of Heaberlin; Dunn, Roccaro, Kallman, Pathman; Killion, Johnston, Brian; Horan, Stengel, Ohai. This line-up was the same line-up for the first group match versus Guatemala with one difference: Samantha Mewis started in place of Sarah Killion who was not even rostered for that match. (I suspect that Killion acquired an injury in Panama before the first match, but have not found any concrete information on that. Although, in one of the US Soccer videos previewing the U-20 WNT, an unspecified player has an ice bag wrapped over her foot.)
Mexico, however, was apparently content to play for third place, as Roberto Medina rested three of his starters: midfielder and team captain Nayeli Rangel, plus forwards Chrystal Martinez and Tanya Samarzich. It should be noted that Rangel is still recovering from a torn ACL (acquired last July), so her absence is not totally unexpected. Another regular, midfielder Ariana Martinez, did not start the match, but was subbed-in at the beginning of the second half. (Note: Neither the USA’s nor Mexico’s match reports mentions Martinez’s substitution appearance, but it is noted in CONCACAF’s box score.)
The USA got off to a slow and nervy start but was attacking from the get-go. In the 1st minute, Ohai, from the left flank, sent in a pass to a crowded six-yard box which was easily handled by Mexico’s goalkeeper, Cecilia Santiago. In the 2nd minute, Katie Stengel had a chance for a shot, but ended up getting only a very poor touch of a shot off. The next several minutes was mostly back-and-forth between the USA and Mexico, but the USA did have more chances at scoring.
The first goal came in the 12th minute as Sarah Killion won a ball in the USA’s half and passed to Kealia Ohai, who was playing deep at midfield. Ohai passed to Morgan Brian who fed a ball to a charging Katie Stengel. Stengel dribbled down the center-left side of the field and deep into the box. At the touchline, Stengel negotiated one defender and lobbed a short pass over Mexico’s goalkeeper, Santiago, to the far post, where Julie Johnston powered in a shot past two Mexican defenders. (US Soccer’s match report says that Santiago got a touch on the pass, but, to me, the video evidence is lacking.)
For the next twenty minutes, the scoreline remained the same until the 36th minute when Lindsey Horan and a Mexican defender got physical over a 50-50 ball. A foul was called on the Mexican defender, but from the video angle, it is hard to see who fouled who first. On the ensuing free kick, left-footed Mollie Pathman plus righties Katie Stengel and Morgan Brian both stood over the ball. Meanwhile, Mexico was slow to organize its wall. In the end, it was Morgan Brian who took a quick and hard yet well-placed shot that found the upper right corner of the goal mouth. Santiago barely made an effort on the ball.
Two minutes later, Lindsey Horan receives a pass and dribbles to the top of the box where she unleashes a shot that curls into the upper right corner of the goal.
The first-half ended with the USA up 3 goals to nil over Mexico. The USA had a chance just before the break in stoppage time as Katie Stengel had a great look from inside Mexico’s box, but the shot was well over the crossbar.
In the second-half, around the 48th minute, the USA had a few chances inside Mexico’s penalty box for another goal, with Mollie Pathman having the clearest chance, but her shot rebounded off the crossbar. The rest of the second half was rather uneventful as the USA, for the most part, controlled possession and Mexico did not threaten the USA’s goal — Mexico had no shots in the second half.
For about the last twenty minutes, Mexico had to play with ten women as Briana Lopez injured her knee while going for a 50/50 ball in the 73rd minute. CONCACAF’s post-match report indicates that the injury was only a strain.
Seven minutes later, from outside the top left of the box, Kealia Ohai added a fourth goal via a shot that threaded the two defenders who were marking her. Santiago made an effort for the ball, but Ohai’s shot was too quick, and it found the far side of the goal mouth.
SEMIFINAL #2: Canada 6, Panama 0.
Canada-Panama was a scoreless affair for the first thirty-some minutes of the match. Canada had more of the possession and more attacking opportunities while Panama could barely muster a counter-attack, let alone a full-fledged offensive effort.
The match could have been over in the 2nd minute as Canada had a free kick shot that bounced off the right end of Panama’s crossbar. The only goal of the first half came when Canada’s Christabel Oduro delivered a pass into the center of Panama’s box. Panama’s goalkeeper, Dayton Wetherby, could only clear that pass to the top of the box, where Jaclyn Sawicki passed to Nkem Ezurike, who chipped a shot over a helpless Wetherby.
A few minutes later, Panama’s Yaniska Garcia was lucky to not receive a red card for a handball which would have denied a Canadian goal, had a foul not been called on Canada first.
In the second half, Canada scored two goals in the first five minutes: the first by Jenna Richardson, who was assisted by the scorer of the next goal Oduro. In the 69th minute, forward Amelia Pietrangelo got her first goal of the tournament. Oduro would add another goal in the 84th minute while Sawicki got on the scoresheet in the 88th, thanks to a nifty couples of touchline passes by Pietrangelo and Oduro.
One Marea Roja player did receive a tarjeta roja in the match: forward Marta Cox, Panama’s 2011 Female Player of the Year, was given a straight red for a 90+ minute frustration kick that struck Pietrangelo. As a result, Cox will miss the crucial Third-Place match versus Mexico. (Marea roja means “red tide” in Spanish. A red tide occurs when a rapid growth of algae discolors the water.)