Soccer can sometimes stick a team in an unnerving twilight zone where it dominates every facet of the game, yet can’t find a way to put the ball in the net.
Such was the case on Wednesday night for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team in its 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship opener against Trinidad & Tobago at Sporting Park.
The U.S. turned to two trusted sources — Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach — to break the haze and secure a 1-0 victory in front of an estimated crowd of 5,000.
“From our perspective, it was frustrating. Their goalie (Kimika Forbes) stood on her head. She had a fantastic game and kept them in the game until the end,” Wambach said. “We just couldn’t break them down.”
It was little bit of dumb luck, solid goalkeeping and poor finishing that kept the U.S. from breaking through prior to Wambach’s tally in the 55th minute.
Morgan got a run down the left side, deked past Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Kimika Forbes and then lofted a cross to the far post to a wide-open Wambach, who headed the ball home with authority.
It was a rare moment of finishing clarity for a team that generated 29 shots, 12 on target. Trinidad & Tobago, by comparison, finished with five shots, none on target.
“We knew what we were going to be up against in this tournament, with teams bunkering back and making things difficult for us in the 18,” Wambach said. “We just weren’t on our last bits, the final chance, the final pass. We were just a little bit off.”
Wambach said she wasn’t worried about the U.S. getting a goal. She did, however, think that her goal would be followed.
“Overall I think we have things to improve upon, knowing these other teams we’re going to face are going to sit back just like Trinidad did today. We have to fix the things that made it so difficult for us to score goals,” Wambach said.
The match had a decidedly Kansas City feel, beyond just being played at Sporting Park. Defending NWSL champions FC Kansas City were represented by Lauren Holliday and Becky Sauerbrunn in the starting lineup. A third FCKC player, Amy Rodriguez, was subbed on in the 86th minute.
“I love being back in Kansas City. Not only to play at Sporting Park and having familiar faces and fans, just the city in general, it’s nice to be here,” Holliday said. “I’m excited and glad to be here, and hopefully we’ll come back more.”
Trinidad & Tobago started two players — Liana Hinds and Brianna Ryce — that coach Randy Waldrum hadn’t met until a few days earlier.
Waldrum is looking to lead Trinidad & Tobago to its first World Cup appearance. Wednesday’s showing wasn’t a bad start, despite the loss.
“I feel like it’s a six-point group. If we can get six points, it didn’t matter which three games it came from, we will qualify with six points,” Waldrum said. “We didn’t get anything out of tonight, but I felt like we got a little bit of a boost from the confidence standpoint for the players.”
Haiti 1, Guatemala 0
Haiti played a majority of the match a man down after starting goalkeeper Cynthia Chery picked up a red card in the 17th minute.
Geralda Saintilus stopped the ensuing free kick, and Lindsay Zullo scored in the 70th minute to give Haiti a stunning result to start its World Cup qualifying campaign.
The rush for a goal started with a Haiti corner kick, which was headed on net. Guatemala keeper Yoselin Franco made the initial save while falling backward. The ball was popped up, and a wave of humanity, led by Zullo swept it into the net.
“For us, it’s huge. Getting three points and getting a good start, it’s good for the players’ morale,” Haiti manager Leszek Borkowski said. “It’s good for Haiti itself because it gives people something exciting, something to cheer. This event has drawn a lot of attention in Haiti. Hopefully my players will get beyond the stress and nervousness that they felt in the game early on, especially.”
The CONCACAF Women’s Championship continues Thursday at Sporting Park. Jamaica will play Martinique at 5 p.m., followed by Mexico-Costa Rica at 7:30 p.m.