U.S. Women’s Team Qualifies for Olympic Soccer Tournament

CARSON, Calif. — The United States women’s national team, starting 10 of the 11 players that delivered a victory in the Women’s World Cup final last July, clinched a berth in the Tokyo Olympics with a 4-0 win over Mexico on Friday night.

The Olympic spot was the prize in the teams’ winner-take-all semifinal at their regional qualifying tournament, but perhaps more important, the result positioned the Americans, winners of the past two World Cup titles, to atone for the most humbling chapter in their recent history: an embarrassing quarterfinal exit from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Friday’s job was done early, with goals by Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis in the first 14 minutes that disabused Mexico of any ideas about an upset. Mewis added another goal on a scorching low free kick midway through the second half, and the substitute Christen Press scored the Americans’ fourth in the 72nd minute, five minutes after she had entered the game.

The United States will face Canada, which claimed the region’s other spot in the Tokyo Games with a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in Friday’s first semifinal, in Sunday’s championship game.

Lavelle opened the scoring in the fifth minute, running onto a back-heel pass from Megan Rapinoe and driving at two defenders at the top of the circle. Before the backpedaling Mexican players knew what was happening, Lavelle had pulled a left-footed shot from the top of the circle behind them into the lower right corner.

Mewis doubled the lead less than 10 minutes later, pouncing on a Julie Ertz backheel off a bounding Rapinoe corner and one-timing a finish from near the penalty spot. Barely 15 minutes after kickoff, the game felt over. The United States, which has outscored its four opponents in this tournament by 22-0, and Canada, which has done one better at 23-0, have once again been the class of the region.

Canada’s victory meant that the best player in the country’s women’s soccer history, Christine Sinclair, will head back to the Olympics just a month after her 37th birthday. She can thank her heir apparent, Jordyn Huitema, who is only 18, for the trip.

Huitema’s goal, in the 72nd minute, sent Canada to its fourth straight Olympics. The Games will also be the fourth to include Sinclair, who earlier in the tournament broke Abby Wambach’s international record for goals by a women’s player.

The goal that delivered Canada was at once accidental and clinical. Meeting a driven cross from Kadeisha Buchanan in the goal mouth, Huitema calmly redirected the ball toward the left post with her left foot — only to see it carom directly back to her.

Huitema, who made her senior national team debut as a 15-year-old in 2017, calmly met the ricochet with her right foot and slotted her second chance inside the right post.

The team’s celebrations may have given a hint at their mind-sets about what lies ahead: When the final whistle blew in Canada’s win, its substitutes sprinted off the bench and swallowed their teammates in joyous hugs. When the United States’s victory was assured, its starters and reserves mingled among themselves shaking hands, the emotion barely rising above the goodbyes at the end of a Rotary club meeting. There were smiles and even a little dancing later on as they circled the field thanking fans, but this was — at its core — a get-the-job-done performance.

Canada, the bronze medalist in London in 2012 and again at the Games in 2016, and the United States, the gold medalist in four of the previous Olympic tournaments, became the seventh and eighth nations to claim a place in the 12-team Olympic field. They joined the host, Japan; Brazil; New Zealand; and the three European qualifiers: Great Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Four places remain: two from Asia, one from Africa and a one from an Africa-South Africa playoff in April.

The penultimate round of Asia’s qualifying tournament is currently being played in two groups, in South Korea and Australia. The latter four-team group, which includes the favorites Australia and China, was originally scheduled to play in Wuhan, China, but was moved to Australia last month because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The delegation from China arrived in Brisbane without several of its players, and was immediately quarantined in a hotel.

Despite having to practice in hallways, the Chinese opened with a 6-1 victory against Thailand on Friday.

The Olympic women’s tournament begins July 22, two days before the opening ceremony in Tokyo.