Article by Leanne Elston
Ahead of the USWNT’s match against Costa Rica, it was announced that Pia Sundhage, coach for the US women since 2007, will be returning to her native Sweden to pursue opportunities there. Sundhage, whose 88-6-10 record over five years included two Olympic gold medals and second place in a World Cup, leaves big shoes to fill for her successor.
Known for her cheerful personality and penchant for breaking into song, Sundhage emanated positivity and was extremely well-liked. She lead the US to immense success and leaves on a high note after this summer’s Olympic tournament. She told US Soccer that coaching the team has been an honor but that it is time to move on.
In less sad news, the USWNT’s gold medal victory tour began with an 8-0 win over Costa Rica. The game was played in Abby Wambach’s hometown of Rochester, NY in front of a sold-out 13,208 crowd.
The US last played Costa Rica in January of this year during Olympic qualifying, a 3-0 win courtesy of goals from Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan. This time it was goals from Megan Rapinoe (2), Wambach (2), Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Carli Lloyd, and Heather O’Reilly that saw the US cruise to victory.
The US asserted their dominance early in the match, playing mostly in Costa Rica’s half and with plenty of space. A clever flick from Wambach in the 6th minute found Rapinoe, but Rapinoe’s near-post shot was saved by Costa Rican goalkeeper Miranda, who despite the 8-0 scoreline made some important, impressive saves throughout the game.
Alex Morgan would put the ball into the net in the 12th minute, but the flag was up for offside. Wambach had made the pass to Morgan but was fouled in the process, resulting in a US free kick right on the edge of the area. The free kick ended up giving the US the 1-0 lead anyway as Rapinoe’s ball took a slight deflection and then bounced off the crossbar into the net.
In the 18th minute it looked like Wambach would surely make it 2-0 as she connected well at close range with a cross from Tobin Heath, but Miranda made another of many clutch saves. Wambach would have her first goal of the afternoon, however, in the 24th minute. Excellent service from center back Rachel Buehler found Wambach in the box, and Miranda couldn’t save this classic Wambach header. The crowd went wild for their hometown hero, and Wambach ran immediately over to the sideline and jumped on Pia Sundhage in celebration.
Wambach notched her second goal in the 31st minute, another header, off of Rapinoe’s corner kick, prompting Arlo White to declare, “She’s a beast in the air, Abby Wambach!” While Wambach wouldn’t bag a hat trick, she would move closer to surpassing Mia Hamm’s record of 158 goals for the USWNT (Wambach now has 145).
Alex Morgan joined the goal-scoring party on 38 minutes, muscling past her defender and skillfully setting up her own shot, which she rifled past the goalkeeper. Then, in the 44th minute, Rapinoe bagged her brace. She picked up a loose ball at the top of the box and got a quick shot off. Miranda came close to saving it and perhaps should have, but the ball rolled slowly over the line to put the US ahead 5-0 going into halftime.
The second half began with Costa Rica gaining a little more possession as the US took their foot off the gas pedal a bit. The US made their first substitutions in the 54th minute with Amy Rodriguez coming in for Rapinoe and Jill Loyden taking Hope Solo’s place in goal. Loyden made a fantastic save at close range when Grenados had a rare opportunity to get Costa Rica on the scoreboard in the 67th minute. Making herself as big as possible, Loyden managed to preserve the US clean sheet.
Wambach finished her game after 71 minutes to plenty of applause and cheering from the crowd. Sydney Leroux, her replacement, didn’t waste any time getting involved in the action. She made an excellent diagonal run onto a ball in the 77th minute and coolly finished to up the score to 6-0 and ignite the US attack even more.
To cap a confident and dominating performance, Heather O’Reilly slotted home goal number eight in the 88th minute. Leroux made another great run and took a shot from a tough angle that rebounded off the keeper. Leroux passed the rebound across the face of goal, and O’Reilly easily knocked it into the net.
With their eight goals, the US kick off their victory tour (and now Pia Sundhage’s goodbye tour) in stellar fashion. Catch the next USWNT matches on September 16 and September 19 when they take on Australia twice. The matches will be on NBC and ESPN2/ESPN3, respectively.