There was no shocking upset Friday night in Houston as the U.S WNT dominated Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for its sixth straight Olympic Games, earning the right to defend their 2008 and 2012 Gold Medals.
Alex Morgan continued her long return to the form with a hat trick and coach Jill Harris turned some heads with a couple of lineup surprises.
Ellis was expected to return to her starting 11 from the first two games of the CONCACAF Championships/Olympic Qualifiers but the coach elected to replace Ali Krieger with Kelley O’Hara at right fullback and surprisingly Ellis left Crystal Dunn out in favor of 17- year old Mallory Pugh.
Dunn scored five goals in the Americans 10-0 shellacking of Puerto Rico but Pugh also impressed in that match and the youngster was quick to make her mark versus T&T.
Pugh set up the first goal of the game in the 12th when she beat her marker down the left flank and saw her cross finished by Tobin Heath, who fired home with her left foot, getting to the ball first with an impressive burst.
Led by goalkeeper Kimika Forbes the Soca Princesses tried gamely to hang on but the Americans were in complete charge of this match from the opening whistle.
The U.S. went up by two in the 30th minute when Lindsey Horan nodded O’Hara’s cross back for Morgan to volley home. The Yanks continued to pepper Forbes’ goal with shots, finally adding a third in the 43rd minute on a rare mistake from Forbes who let Lloyd’s header slip through her gloves.
Ellis used her three subs around the hour mark, sending Christen Press on for Pugh (59), Samantha Mewis replaced Horan (60), and Lloyd gave way to Dunn (66).
Two Morgan goals two minutes apart completed her hat trick, a welcome development for the U.S. who won the World Cup last summer with just one goal from the dangerous striker.
It was an impressive Olympic-clinching win for the U.S. but it showed that the gap between CONCACAF front runners U.S.A. and Canada and the rest is still fairly wide.
Canada claimed CONCACAF’s other Olympic berth with a 3-1 win over Costa Rica prior to the U.S. match at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday.
The Ticas represented well versus Canada and with its win over Mexico look to have moved into the third spot behind the region’s Big 2.
Canada’s star forward Christine Sinclair led her nation back to the Olympics with a brace, giving the sports second leading goal scorer 161 career goals, not far behind Abby Wambach’s total of 184.
Costa Rica’s rising star Raquel Rodrigues Cedeno scored from the penalty spot to put a late scare into the favorites but Canada’s 16-year star Deanne Rose restored the two-goal advantage killing off Costa Rica’s hopes of a comeback.
Old and sometimes bitter rivals U.S. and Canada will meet to decide the CONCACAF Championship on Sunday at 5 pm ET.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 3 2 5
TRI 0 0 0
USA – Tobin Heath (Mallory Pugh) 12th minute
USA – Alex Morgan (Lindsay Horan) 30
USA – Carli Lloyd (Morgan Brian) 43
USA – Alex Morgan 71
USA – Alex Morgan (Morgan Brian) 73
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Julie Johnston, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Meghan Klingenberg; 14-Morgan Brian, 9-Lindsey Horan (3-Samantha Mewis, 60), 17-Tobin Heath, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.) (16-Crystal Dunn, 66), 2-Mallory Pugh (12-Christen Press, 59); 13-Alex Morgan
Subs Not Used: 6-Emily Sonnett, 11-Ali Krieger, 15-Stephanie McCaffrey, 18-Ashlyn Harris, 19-Jaelene Hinkle, 20-Alyssa Naeher
Head coach: Jill Ellis
TRI: 1-Kimika Forbes; 2-Jenelle Cunningham, 4-Danielle Blair, 5-Arin King, 6-Khadidra Debesette, 8-Victoria Swift (11-Janine Francois, 68), 9-Maylee Attin-Johnson (capt.), 10-Tasha St. Louis (3-Mariah Shade, 72), 12-Ahkeela Mollon, 14-Karyn Forbes, 19-Kennya Cordner
Subs Not Used: 7-Kayla Taylor, 13-Naomie Guerra, 15-Lian Hinds, 16-Jo Marie Lewis, 17-Anastasia Prescott, 18-Shalette Alexander, 20-Saundra Baron
Head coach: Richard Hood
Stats Summary: USA / TRI
Shots: 27 / 1
Shots on Goal: 15 / 0
Saves: 0 / 9
Corner Kicks: 10 / 0
Fouls: 10 / 9
Offside: 7 / 0
TRI – Tasha St. Louis (caution) 27th minute