Sandy • As send-offs go, it was about to be somewhere between the $5 graduation gift and the drunken best man’s wedding toast.
Then Amy Rodriguez came along.
The substitute midfielder pounced on a loose ball pingponging around the box, firing home the winning goal for the top-ranked U.S. women’s national team in the 85th minute to deliver a 2-1 victory over Canada at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday that spared the Americans — on the scoreline, at least — an underwhelming result in front of 16,805 fans in their last game on home soil before heading to the London Olympics.
“It was so close to the end line, I was like, ‘How could you miss this?’” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “Don’t miss. That would be bad.”
The Americans extended their unbeaten streak against seventh-ranked Canada to 26 games — they’re 22-0-4 in that span — but not with tons of their usual flair in the 93-degree heat. They threatened consistently, and created plenty of chances, but nevertheless were on the verge of failing to score on their own for only the second time all year against a team they defeated 4-0 on the road in January.
“We feel pretty good,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “Still, we want to play a little bit better, I think possess a little bit better. But I think we had a lot of chances, and that’s good. We need to put those away in London.”
Rapinoe was easily the star of the game, marauding up and down the flanks all day long.
It was her cross whipped into the box that led to an own-goal off the leg of Canadian defender Carmelina Moscato in the 15th minute, and her service that led to Rodriguez’s winner and triggered a “snow-angel” celebration on the grass with her teammates.
In between, though, Canada’s Melissa Tancredi got loose down the left side and beat goalkeeper Hope Solo off the bottom of the crossbar in the 57th minute, and the Americans were fortunate not to be trailing at that point — considering Solo had to scramble to just barely save a deflected shot against the far post in first-half stoppage time.
“Granted, we’re winning games, and we’re scoring goals,” Solo said. “But for me, it’s about keeping the ball out of the net. It’s our job. … And right now, it’s not happening.”
The Americans haven’t kept a clean sheet in four games, despite a seven-game unbeaten streak and 14-1-1 record this year. Until the Canada game, they had not won when scoring fewer than twice themselves, managing only a 1-0 loss and a 1-1 draw against reigning Women’s World Cup champion Japan.
Still, most players and coach Pia Sundhage were encouraged by the performance, and said they were ready to pursue their third straight Olympic gold medal in London.
Sundhage acknowledged a lackluster second half on account of four substitutions - star forward Alex Morgan came off in the 51st minute after suffering a knee injury - but said she was “really proud” of her players to effectively switching to an aggressive 3-4-3 formation late in the game to chase the winning goal.
“Canada’s a physical team, and they’re a good team,” forward Abby Wambach said. “They pose some problems for us. I felt like today we created a lot of chances … and that’s the last thing that comes. We hope to not turn that thing on until the first game against France [at the Olympics]. I’m pleased with the way we played, and I’m pleased with the game management at the end.”