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USWNT slips and slides to dramatic penalty shootout win over Canada

The U.S. women’s national team overcome a gritty Canada squad and the ugly weather conditions in San Diego to seal its berth into Sunday’s CONCACAF W Gold Cup Final.

Twila Kilgore’s squad outlasted the Canadians 3-1 in a penalty shootout after the two teams played out a 2-2 draw through 120 minutes. Canada pegged the United States back on two separate occasions, but the Americans used three penalty-kick saves and even one goal from Alyssa Naeher to book their spot into the tournament final vs. Brazil.

During warmups, the field was playable but by the time teams returned from their dressing rooms for kickoff, the pitch had been soaked through with rain as the ball was no longer able to move along the surface. Kilgore, along with multiple players, admitted postgame that the game should not have been played, but of course, it wasn’t their decision. With the game going ahead, the Americans had to adjust – and adjust they did.

Get stuck into tackles, don’t play a back pass defensively, and play directly in attack. Those were the instructions. The USWNT quickly understood these assignments but the same cannot be said of Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles.

After having an attempted back pass stop still in a puddle and be picked off by Jaedyn Shaw in the opening minutes, Gilles made the same ill-advised decision about 15 minutes later. Her pass, again, stopped in a puddle, and again, was picked off by Jaedyn Shaw. This time the teenager made no mistake slotting home her finish to become the first USWNT player in history to score in her first four starts for the national team.

“I think that the conditions really helped me get my goal. I feel like that was the main way that I got it,” Shaw admitted. “I just saw a big old puddle and just kept running and then chipped it over.”

A splishy-splashy, slip-n-slide game ensued until deep into the second half when Canadian striker Jordyn Huitema turned the game’s focus from rain to drama. Honing in on a cross from Ashley Lawrence, Huitema elevated above USWNT fullback Emily Fox for an equalizing header in the 82nd minute. Extra time, here we come.

Less than ten minutes into the extra period, Sophia Smith snatched the lead back for her side. Aligning with their direct play style on the night, Emily Sonnett repeatedly sent the ball back at Canada each time they attempted a clearance, leading to a battle of Rose’s. The USWNT’s Rose Lavelle somehow rose above Canada’s Jade Rose to win a header into the path of Smith who found herself with space in the box due to Gilles inexplicably shifting to help Rose. Smith made no mistake with her finish for a 2-1 USWNT lead in extra time.

You thought the drama was over? Not even close.

In stoppage time of the second half of extra time, Canada made one last push, sending hopeful crosses into the box. Making amends for her mistakes, Gilles challenged USWNT goalkeeper Naeher for the final cross of the match, winning the ball just in front of the American, and drawing a penalty in the process after a VAR review. 127 minutes into the match, Canada drew level again from the penalty spot through Adriana Leon.

Just as regulation ended, the penalty shootout began with Leon stepping up to the spot against Naeher. This time the American goalkeeper won the battle, saving her first of three penalty kicks in the shootout. In also netting one herself, Naeher conceded as many penalties as she scored in the shootout to earn hero status.

Naeher says she’s new to taking penalty kicks. Teammate Lindsey Horan says that’s nonsense.

“[We have] absolute confidence in her ability to do these things,” Kilgore praised. “We know she’s going to step up.” Having now saved 6 of the 14 on-target penalties she’s faced in competitive shootouts for the USWNT, you see why.

“Honestly, I just tried to stay present in almost like a trance of a state,” Naeher explained her approach to penalties. “Just kind of not thinking at that point and just kind of playing”

Being able to adapt to tough weather conditions and still come out with a win “takes a certain mentality” as Kilgore described postgame but it was the drama that proved to be a true learning experience for the Americans.

“Getting the exposure to penalty kicks in a hard game like that where there’s ups and downs and you have to stay locked in mentally,” Smith prefaced. “I think that’s something that we will learn from and take into big tournaments and I think it’s a really valuable lesson for us.”

Particularly for Smith – who was able to slot home her penalty after failing to do so at this summer’s World Cup – this was an important moment. As the more experienced players can testify, the younger players will benefit from this invaluable experience.

“I think that this is such good preparation for the year that we have coming up with the Olympics just a couple [of] months away,” Alex Morgan pointed out. “The opportunity to even be put in a situation for penalties, for example, for Soph [Smith] to be able to make that penalty now rather than be put in that situation in an Olympics game is huge for these young players to feel the pressure that they wouldn’t otherwise feel if not for this tournament.”

That pressure ramps up one more degree now as the USWNT advances to the inaugural 2024 W Gold Cup Final on Sunday against Brazil where it is thankfully not expected to rain.

“I’m really excited to play them,” Horan set herself up for a weather-based punchline. “But I’m also excited to play a game of football.”


  1. First. It rains in France too and there is no way that the women’s football tournament gets postponed for anything less than nuclear war. There just is no time on the calendar, so playing this game actually has some value as a prep for adversity.

    Second. Had this game been played in Canada it would have been on an evil sexist artificial surface, and hence much more playable and safer given the conditions

  2. So a few things pre-match; clearly no use of a tarp on the pitch, no engineered drainage system, and no way to manually move water off the field? I know it is SanDiego and this type of weather is an anomaly. The match should have been delayed an hour to allow the majority of precipitation to move out of the area( use the color radar available to anyone). Also deploy a crew of twenty to forty to move water off the surface at the 25/28th minute and 60th minutes. Shame on the stadium management for not being proactive!

    Either way the match was played and played out in many obscure uncertainty’s of how the ball moved. The US seemed to react quicker by playing direct and eliminating back passes. After half the Canadians adjusted with bigger sturdier players who could hold the ball with contact. Not surprised the oddity of the match played out to a tie and not sure Canada could complain with that result.

    PK’s was really well suited way to finish this match considering conditions!

    Difficult to breakdown players performances when it really became a match based on rudimentary tactics, focus, poise, and taking advantage of opportunities. The first goal the US gave up was a frantic defense retreat where they lost defensive shape and Fox did not react to recover her defense shape and mark Huitema. Still a great cross and exceptional finish. The extra time tying goal Naeher should have punched the ball rather then basket catch the ball. If she punches the ball game over. Still difficult to criticize her after really grabbing the moment and winning the match for the USWNT

    Really gutsy match by both teams! All of the ladies who played the entire match what warriors to compete under the unkind conditions.

    • Brazil vs Mexico was played before on same field no ability to tarp “before match”. Also delaying would have meant delaying both matches and starting the US match likely after midnight Pacific. Sometimes with tournaments and unusual weather you get games like last night.

  3. Stop with the game shouldn’t have been played nonsense. Hearing this way to mich in modern soccer. Thus is reality and sometimes you won’t have perfect weather conditions. But glad they found a way to win.

    • Yeah, the pearl-clutching was a bit much. Plus it was nice to see the USWNT have to deal with real CONCACAF conditions for a change. A real boost towards true equality!


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