February 10, 2016
An in-depth look at Alex Morgan's score that set the tone of the USA win
By Michael Lewis
|Alex Morgan: "It was executed perfectly. Just a great way to start the tournament."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
FRISCO, Texas -- Costa Rica kept it as close as it could against the United States.
Then came the opening kickoff.
And all hell broke loose.
Only 12 seconds into the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship match, the United States women were celebrating one of the greatest if not fastest goal scored in their history and a puzzled Costa Rican side was trying to figure out just what went wrong at Toyota Stadium.
Striker Alex Morgan had the honor of igniting the Americans to a 5-0 Group A romp as they seek to reach the Olympics for the sixth consecutive time and extend their gold medal streak to four in a row.
"We always see it coming. Then along the way, something goes wrong," said Morgan, the game MVP with two goals, said of the 12-second goal. "But this time nothing went wrong. It was executed perfectly. Just a great way to start the tournament."
"Boom!" USA coach Jill Ellis said. "It was a perfect start."
It turned out to be the fastest goal scored in CONCACAF Olympic women's qualifying history. That record was held by Morgan's former partner in scoring crime, Abby Wambach, who tallied 35 seconds into a qualifier against the Dominican Republic on Jan. 20, 2012. The goal was believed to have been the fastest goal in U.S. women's soccer history.
As it turned out, there were more American players on the pitch who did not touch the ball on that play than did as six field players had a quick touch on the ball.
At 7:30 p.m. CT, Jamaican referee Cardella Samuels whistled to signify the start of the match.
Midfielder Crystal Dunn, who finished with a goal and assist, started what looked like a rather innocent opening kickoff, much like what transpires in the rest of the world.
She tapped the ball to her right to Tobin Heath, who passed the ball back to Morgan Brian on the right side. Brian spotted Lindsey Horan, who sent the ball forward to Carli Lloyd down the right flank. The 2015 FIFA Women's World Player of the year headed it to an onrushing Morgan, who fired a 12-yard volley into the lower right corner past a stunned goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz.
And believe it or not, it was a planned play.
"It's obviously something that we've worked on," Ellis said. "We've done it before. It terms of execution, yeah, it was perfect. The ball Horan played in was perfect. Carli exactly was in the spot she needed to be in. That's how we kind of how we kind of drew it up. It was a perfect start."
Well, a perfect start for one side, a disastrous one for the other.
Costa Rica head coach Amelia Valverde said her two central defenders were not lined up together. That allowed the USA, particularly Morgan, to find some room in the penalty area.
The Central Americans were never the same. They were clearly rattled. They experienced problems clearing the ball out of their zone and gave up corner kick after corner kick as they strived to catch their collective breaths.
"The goal didn't just disrupt our defense, it disrupted our whole team," Valverde said.
And the rout was on as the USA was relentless on attack.
Melissa Herrera took down Dunn just inside the penalty area. Lloyd slotted her ensuing penalty kick into the lower left corner for her 83rd international goal and ninth Olympic qualifying score for a 2-0 lead in the ninth minute.
Dunn, a Rockville Centre, N.Y. native, found the back of the net on the quarter hour, putting in a scramble of a rebound of her own shot, tucking the ball into the lower left side past defender Carol Sanchez, who had fallen down in the goalmouth.
While there were still 75 minutes to be played, the game was essentially over. The USA had imposed its will on a Costa Rican side that has serious intentions of qualifying for its first Olympics ("It would be the biggest achievement of women's football in Costa Rica," Valverde said Tuesday) after participating in its first Women’s World Cup last summer.
Their dreams of reaching Rio may have suffered a major blow with the five-goal defeat, with a Monday showdown with Mexico here. The Mexicans got off on the right foot with a 6-0 win over Puerto Rico in the opening match of the doubleheader.
"Scoring that in 12 seconds was amazing for us," Dunn said. "Just to start the tournament off with such a key goal for us, it's important that we keep them on their heels. It's important that we come out every single game. We don't go into any game overconfident. It's going to be hard and challenging every single game."
Maybe, but the USA made it more difficult and much more of a challenge for Costa Rica.
On Saturday, the Americans will be Mexico's headache from the opening kickoff – quite literally.