Greatest upset in women's soccer history

November, 6, 2010

The greatest upset in women's soccer history.

With a Women's World Cup spot on the line in the CONCACAF Women's World Cup Qualifying tournament, Mexico completely outplayed the U.S. women's national soccer team from start to finish Friday night, beating the FIFA No. 1-ranked team 2-1 in front of its home crowd in Cancun, Mexico. To qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany, the United States now must win the third-place game Monday -- and beat Italy in a home-and-home playoff series Nov. 20 and Nov. 27. You can watch that game on ESPN2 and on Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

It's the first win ever for Mexico over the U.S., and the United States' first-ever loss in CONCACAF Women's World Cup qualifying.

To put this game in further perspective, the U.S. had never lost to Mexico, going 24-0-1 in those games and winning by a combined score of 106-9. The U.S. had also never lost in World Cup qualifying (21-0-0, combined score of 131-3). And the team was undefeated in its past 35 games (31-0-4). The first time the U.S. played Mexico, a World Cup qualifier in 1991, the U.S. won 12-0.

Upsets in women's soccer are so few and far between, it's hard to even come up with a second-greatest stunner. There really hasn't been one. This is the type of match that shakes up the sport. The type of upset that proves parity has arrived in women's soccer.

The images after the U.S.-Mexico match were remarkable. Mexican players cheering and hugging on the field, dousing their coach with water and celebrating with their fans, while the U.S. players walked off with their heads down and tears in their eyes.

Mexico -- which had just lost 3-0 to fellow World Cup qualifier Canada on November 2 and is ranked 22nd in the world -- came out and played with high energy from the start, intensity the U.S. would not be able to match for most of the game. Mexico's hard work paid off early, as Maribel Dominguez netted the game's first goal in just the third minute amid shaky defense from the Americans' backline of Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler and Heather Mitts.

The U.S. was on its heels for most of the first half, but was able to pull level after a bad clearance in the box that Carli Lloyd knocked home in the 25th minute. The goal was against the run of play, but seemed to be the breakthrough the U.S. needed. Here, it seemed, was supposed to be the rally. It felt like it was only a matter of time before the Americans would score again.

But it never happened. The U.S. never did. Just two minutes later, Veronica Perez sent a header skipping past Nicole Barnhart -- in goal while Hope Solo recovers from shoulder surgery -- and Mexico had a lead it would never relinquish.

Star striker Abby Wambach, who has scored 19 of her 115 goals against Mexico, was a non-factor for most of the game, as the U.S. midfield could not get her the ball. Wambach's best chance -- a point-blank header in the 79th minute -- was saved easily. After a brutal head-to-head collision in midfield in stoppage time, she spent the final seconds of the match on the sideline, with black duct tape around her bleeding head, waving for the referee to let her back into the game. The whistle blew before Wambach could get back into the match.

This is not a U.S. team that has looked invincible of late, however. In a friendly against China on Oct. 6, it took a last-gasp goal (and first-ever goal) from Alex Morgan to squeak out a 1-1 draw. Summer friendlies with Sweden left a lot to be desired.

The backline, with Rampone just returning after the birth of her daughter and Mitts battling injuries this year in Women's Professional Soccer, had not played much together.

The U.S. midfield has always been a concern, and Friday night was no different. Megan Rapinoe, left in the match for the full 90 minutes by U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, didn't have an impact on the flank, as her shots were consistently high and her crosses inconsistent. Heather O'Reilly, always the hardest-working player on the field, was pulled in the 60th minute in favor of Morgan, to add another forward up top with Wambach and Rodriguez. But the U.S. saw very little possession and struggled to string passes together. Lloyd, returning from an ankle injury that forced her to miss most of the WPS season, and Shannon Boxx could not make much of an impact on the game.

But, more than anything, the U.S. simply got outplayed. It couldn't match the intensity of Mexico and win in a hostile environment. The Americans didn't lose this game -- the Mexicans won it.

Yes, the U.S. will in all likelihood win the third-place game against Costa Rica. Yes, the U.S. will probably take care of Italy. But the U.S. was also supposed to roll through this tournament and claim one of the two automatic qualifying bids. The world of women's soccer is just a little bit different now. Nothing can be taken for granted.


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