VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In the end, what matters is that the United States women’s soccer team is going to the Olympics. What the players won’t soon forget is how hard they had to work get there.
The Americans booked their way to London on Friday night with a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, a game more suspenseful than most anyone expected.
Tobin Heath scored in the 16th minute to give U.S. all the scoring it needed, and goals by Carli Lloyd (72nd) and Alex Morgan (89th) put the game away late.
But the top-ranked Americans were less crisp than when they were beating teams by a combined 31-0 earlier in the tournament and drawing criticism for running up the score.
Costa Rica is ranked No. 41 in the world, has never qualified for an Olympics or a World Cup and has never scored on the U.S. in eight meetings.
Las Ticas proved to be scrappy opponents, however, occasionally frustrating the Americans with physical play and just missing on two solid scoring chances in the first half in the London-or-bust match.
As the possibility of an upset lingered deep into the second half, the underdogs gained the rousing support of the Canadian fans at BC Place.
In the end, a speedy, unflappable quartet of American defenders – Kelley O’Hara, Rachel Buehler, Christie Rampone and Amy LePeilbet – combined with goalkeeper Hope Solo to keep Costa Rica out of the net.
Solo played despite a slightly pulled right quadriceps that had been bothering her all week.
The U.S. will be the two-time defending champions in London, having taken gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008.
It will be the third consecutive Olympics in which the Americans will be trying to make amends for World Cup disappointment from the previous year.
They finished second at last year’s World Cup that was played in Germany, losing to Japan in the final.
The victory also puts the Americans into the tournament final Sunday.
It will be a bragging-rights-only game against the winner of Friday’s late game between Mexico and Canada.