With 15 minutes left in the CONCACAF Championship game, the U.S. U20 Women’s National team found itself in unfamiliar territory.
“For this year, it was the first time we found ourselves down,” head coach Steve Swanson told TopDrawerSoccer.com.
Swanson’s group trailed Canada 0-1 with the minutes quickly ticking away late in the second half after conceding an early goal to Oregon State and Canuck forward Jenna Richardson.
Despite the untried situation, Swanson remained confident in his group even though the shots were not finding the back of the net.
“I thought we played some of our best soccer in the first half,” Swanson said. “I certainly wasn’t discouraged. I thought we were very capable of coming back.”
As the coach began looking for answers on the bench, his pregame strategy was thrown completely out the window.
So the coach turned to UNC forward Kealia Ohai with his last substitution, and switched the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3.
“[Ohai] really gave us a spark off the bench,” Swanson said. “She is real dynamic player. She created two half chances and Maya [Hayes] and Chi [Ubogagu] made the most of them.”
Ohai was credited with assists in the 79th and 89th minute, as the Tar Heel sophomore provided the little extra to push Swanson’s team past Canada with a chaotic final ten minutes to overturn the one-goal deficit.
“I certainly would have liked to get that first one a lot sooner that we did,” Swanson said with a chuckle. “It was a credit to our team that they kept their head in it.”
The coach also recognized the depth of the team for the success it enjoyed down in Panama, especially in the final.
“We went there with the goal to win the tournament and qualify for the World Cup in Japan,” the coach said. “I think we are excited to come out of the qualifying having met those two goals. It was a great experience for us.”
Part of this group also overcame another stigma with this event, as six players from the 2010 U17 CONCACAF Championship team, which failed to qualify for the World Cup, received some vengeance.
“As I told them, it might have been on our minds too much,” Swanson said. “Hopefully it is behind us now. It is a good lesson to the players.”
Now the coach turns his attention to the World Cup, which is set to begin in mid-August in Japan.
“We have two camps – one in April, one in May – that we will use as preparation,” Swanson said. “Then we will take a tour of Japan in June, and play two games against the Japan U20 women’s national team there. We will have a pre-World Cup training cup then the World Cup.”
In the limited history of the event, the U.S. and Germany are the only nations to ever lift the title, but Swanson did not want to recognize the title as favorites heading into the event.
“The World Cup is about peaking at the right time,” Swanson said. “We feel positively now, and we also have a lot of work to do before heading to Japan. We are really working hard to be the best team we can be.”
U.S. CONCACAF Championship Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (2): 1-Bryane Heaberlin (North Carolina; St. Petersburg, Fla.), 18-Abby Smith (Dallas Texans; Dallas, Texas)
DEFENDERS (6): 19-Stephanie Amack (Mustang Blast; Pleasanton, Calif.), 17-Olivia Brannon (Virginia; Troy, Mich.) 4-Crystal Dunn (North Carolina; Rockville Centre, N.Y.), 5-Kassey Kallman (Florida State; Woodbury, Minn.), 2-Mollie Pathman (Duke; Durham, N.C.), 3-Cari Roccaro (Albertson Fury; East Islip, N.Y.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): 6-Morgan Brian (Virginia; St. Simons Island, Ga.), 12-Vanessa DiBernardo (Illinois; Naperville, Ill.), 8-Julie Johnston (Santa Clara; Mesa, Ariz.), 16-Sarah Killion (UCLA; Fort Wayne, Ind.), 10-Mandy Laddish (Notre Dame; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), 15-Samantha Mewis (UCLA; Hanson, Mass.)
FORWARDS (6): 13-Micaela Capelle (Portland; Gresham, Ore.), 20-Maya Hayes (Penn State; West Orange, N.J.), 11-Lindsey Horan (Colorado Rush; Golden, Colo.), 7-Kealia Ohai (North Carolina; Draper, Utah), 14-Katie Stengel (Wake Forest; Melbourne, Fla.), 9-Chioma Ubogagu (Stanford; Coppell, Texas)