FRISCO, Texas — The U.S. women’s national team has forged a reputation of never giving up.
So when Carli Lloyd had her penalty kick saved in the 80th minute Saturday, the captain didn’t despair or panic.
Seconds after Mexico goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago blocked her attempt, the 2015 FIFA’s Women’s Player of the Year pounced on the rebound and tapped it into the goal. It turned out to be the only score of the 1-0 Group A win in the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying competition before 16,412 at Toyota Stadium.
“Carli just made it exciting,” USA coach Jill Ellis said of the PK.
Lloyd also made sure the world champions clinched a berth in the semifinals, set for Houston on Friday. The semifinal winners will book a spot to Rio.
While walking to their bus, the USA players looked a bit worn and didn’t appear to be in a celebratory mood. They had survived a physical Mexican team that was backed with a disciplined defense that at times placed every player behind the ball.
“That’s what happens when you play against a very compact, bunkered team,” Lloyd said. “They were organized. They came to play. It’s one of those games where you have to move on, learn from it, get better and take care of Puerto Rico. At least we’re in the semis. That’s what we came here to do.”
The Americans (2-0-0, 6 points) on Monday can clinch the group title with a win over Puerto Rico (0-2-0, 0), which has been outscored 15-0, including Saturday’s 9-0 loss to Costa Rica (1-1-0, 3).
As fate would have had it, Lloyd, the goal-scoring star of the last two Olympic gold-medal wins, had an opportunity to put her team one step closer to Rio to win an unprecedented fifth gold in six tries.
Referee Melissa Borjas had just whistled midfielder Karla Nieto for a handball in the penalty area.
Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar, whose team fell to 1-1-0, did not challenge the call. “It’s the decision of the referee and you have to live with those things,” he said.
Lloyd fired her shot to the left that Santiago blocked with her chest. An alert Lloyd raced in and slotted the ball home.
“Another big moment. Just made sure I was mentally focused, ready to kick it,” she said. “I guess you can’t make all of them all of the time. Luckily the rebound came right back to me.”
Ellis admitted her team’s speed of play was not up to par. It certainly wasn’t close to what the USA displayed when it scored 12 seconds into its 5-0 romp over Costa Rica Wednesday.
“When you dwell on the ball and take a couple of touches it kind of starts to become the theme within the group,” Lloyd said. “We can move the ball quicker. It will definitely help. It will shift their defense. Not to worry. This is the early stages. We’ve had matches like this before, where it’s frustrating. We walk away with a win, but know we all can put in a better effort.”