HOUSTON (AP) — Lindsey Horan felt her breakthrough goal put the United States at ease.
Horan scored on a header in the 53rd minute, Tobin Heath tacked on another goal eight minutes later and the United States beat Canada 2-0 Sunday in the final match at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
“I’m so glad that we got that goal,” Horan said about her big play set up by defender Becky Sauerbrunn. “I think it made us a little more comfortable in the match and it’s always good to get that first goal obviously, so I’m really happy about that.”
Both teams had already claimed the region’s two spots in the Rio Olympics this summer with semifinal victories. Alex Morgan scored three goals in a 5-0 U.S. victory Friday over Trinidad and Tobago, while Christine Sinclair scored a pair of goals in Canada’s 3-1 win over Costa Rica.
The United States has won the past three gold medals and four overall since women’s soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996. Canada, the bronze medalists in the 2012 London Games, will be making its third straight trip to the Olympics.
The U.S. went with the same lineup it used for the semifinals, starting 17-year-old Mallory Pugh, who is headed to UCLA in the fall. It was the third start of the tournament for Pugh, the youngest player to start for the U.S. in a qualifier.
Canada coach John Herdman rested several of his usual starters, including Sinclair, Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt, and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Matheson, Schmidt and Sinclair all came in as subs in the second half. Melissa Tancredi wore the captain’s armband.
Herdman said afterward the plan was to hold the United States and then bring in the “flair” players for a late push. But Horan stepped up before the substitutions could be made.
Sinclair had been nursing a calf injury throughout the tournament, but nonetheless surpassed Mia Hamm for second on the career scoring list. Sinclair sits at 161 goals, behind Abby Wambach’s 184.
“Bringing Schmidt, Matheson and Sinc on at the same time, we thought that was going to be the game-changing moment, a thing Canada hadn’t tried before against the U.S.,” he said. “But three minutes, that’s as far as it was, and we wilted and broke. It’s a shame.”
Herdman caused a bit of a stir when he tossed his runner-up medal into the crowd following the match. He said he hoped maybe it would inspire someone.
“I don’t play this game for medals,” he said.
Carli Lloyd’s headers in the 13th and 23rd minutes were off and the Canadians were surprisingly adept at stopping the U.S. attack in the first half.
The match was physical, as goalkeeper Hope Solo had predicted: Co-captain Lloyd endured a kick to the back and was pulled to the ground with about five minutes to go before the break.
The United States finally punched through with Horan’s header that was misjudged by Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. Sauerbrunn, playing in her 100th match for the national team, laughed about the rarity of the assist.
“I think it was my 50th cap against Canada, I had an assist,” Sauerbrunn said with a smile. “So it’s been a while.”
Horan’s teammate on the Portland Thorns, Heath, added a goal in the 61st minute on an assist from Pugh.
“Canada had a plan and it was obviously very direct,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “I think we just stayed with it and were persistent in in trying to play. And then I think we started to move the ball very well. I think we deserved the win tonight.”
The U.S. team looks very different — and younger — than the group that won the Women’s World Cup last summer in Canada. Several players, including Wambach and Lauren Holiday, retired from the team at the end of the year. Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are taking time off because they are both expecting. And Megan Rapinoe is recovering from knee surgery.
In addition to Pugh, Horan is just 21 and also a newcomer to the team after playing professionally in France.
Ellis also is working with smaller rosters that the 23 she took to Canada. The qualifying roster was set at 20, and the Olympic roster this summer in Brazil will be limited to 18.
The United States has never dropped a game in Olympic qualifying, going 18-0-1.
At the Olympics four years ago, the United States beat Canada 4-3 in a contentious semifinal. Morgan scored the winning goal in the 123rd minute after the United States tied it late in regulation on a penalty kick following two controversial calls that went against Canada.