Soccer Brief: United States national soccer teams breeze past Latin American rivals
Although the attention of many American sports fans has been directed toward the upcoming Super Bowl, the United States' Men's and Women's National Soccer teams made a bold statement to fans last week, defeating Panama and Costa Rica respectively.
The men's team beat Panama's national team 1-0 last Wednesday for its third straight win, improving to 4-4-1 on the year. This was the U.S. team's first road match in the journey to the 2012 Olympics, taking place in London this July and August.
Eight minutes into the game, midfielder Graham Zusi, in just his second appearance for the U.S. National team, gave the Americans the only goal they would need.
He capitalized on a crossed ball that ricocheted to the top-right corner of the box, drilling it past the Panamanian goalie, Luis Mejia, to the back corner of the net.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who replaced Bob Bradley last summer, saw this as an opportunity to get the backup players some exposure and playing time.
"Our goal with these two games was very simple," he said. "We wanted to introduce the players to those difficult games in different environments, especially away from home outside of their comfort zone. We wanted them to come here and experience this atmosphere and a different way of doing things. I think they did very well with all that."
Despite being a man short for the majority of the second half, the B-team held strong against Panama's aggressive offense. Without a full squad on the field and only up by one goal, the U.S. team then slowed the pace of the game, tightly packing its defense to prevent Panama from taking advantage of the one-man shortage.
With the win, the national team helps its cause in qualifying for its seventh-consecutive Olympics. The squad will get an opportunity to seal its spot in the CONCACAF tournament, which will be held in Nashville, Tenn. from March 22 to 26.
Although the men never won a medal at the Olympics, Klinsmann has high hopes for his team to develop its talent and experience for the 2014 World Cup, taking place in Brazil.
The U.S. women's national team, on the other hand, cruised past the Costa Rican national team in a 3-0 win last Friday in the semifinal match of the CONCACAF women's Olympic soccer tournament. The women cemented their spot in the Olympics with the victory.
Midfielder Tobin Heath sank a rebound past the Costa Rican goalie, Erika Miranda, in the 16th minute to put the U.S. ahead 1-0. Although the U.S. entered the game as the clear favorites, the squad did not seal their win against the persistent Costa Rican team until the very end of the second half. In the 72nd minute, midfielder Carli Lloyd scored from the top of the penalty area. Shortly after, in the 89th minute, an explosive goal by second-half substitute Alex Morgan put the women ahead 3-0 to topple the Costa Ricans.
Despite the loss, Costa Rican coach Karla Aleman emphasized her pride in her players.
"For Costa Rica, it has been a great honor of playing against the best team in the world," she said. "At the moment, these kinds of experiences are the ones that we need for Costa Rica to get better and grow."
Since women's soccer was added to the official Olympic program in 1996, the U.S. women's national team has qualified for all five Olympic tournaments. In those five tournaments, the team won gold medals in 1996, 2004 and 2008.
The men's soccer squad next competes on Feb. 29 at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa, Italy against the Italian national squad, a four-time world cup champion.
The women's national team will square off against New Zealand's national team, on Feb. 11, at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Tex.