VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The sun started to shine here Thursday for the first time this week, and I am certain this is not a coincidence. I think the soccer gods are so pleased with the dominance of the Canadian and U.S. women's soccer teams here at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, they pulled away the clouds. And I am not alone ... my 5-year-old thinks so, as well, proved by this recent conversation:
Izzy: "Mommy, you know when it rains it is because a VERY BIG GOD up there is crying." (as she pointed to the sky)
Me: "Hmm, maybe. Where did you learn that? School?"
Izzy: "No, I just know these things."
With 31 goals and a first-place finish atop its group, the United States is in the optimal position to carry that momentum into its semifinal match versus Costa Rica on Friday night. The equation is pretty simple now: WIN THIS GAME AND YOU GET TO GO TO THE OLYMPICS.
The U.S. team will be the clear favorite in this semifinal; but, as we saw 14 months ago in World Cup qualifying, you have only one chance to get it right. And Costa Rica knows this semifinal is like starting from scratch; those 31 American goals do not carry over.
Here are my five keys for the U.S. team in the semis:
The 31 goals do not carry over, but the confidence does. There is a swagger to this group, and a confidence that runs deep. Players coming off the bench are not just contributing, they are impressing (Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux both scored five goals as subs who came in at halftime).
2. GO, GO, GO (in honor of Ricky Martin, but mostly for Alexi Lalas)
Costa Rica does not have the speed or the athleticism to stay with the United States if it continues to attack aggressively with numbers. Outside midfields Heather O'Reilly and Rodriguez have done well getting forward, so Abby Wambach is not left as the lone striker in the 4-2-3-1 system. Their movement encourages outside backs to join in the party, as well. Alé, alé, alé!
3. Fast start
The Americans need to continue their wonderful trend of starting games with pace, fire and feistiness. Just as it scored two goals versus Mexico in the first 10 minutes, the U.S. has punished teams in the first 15-20 minutes of all three games here so far.
4. Play big
The field at BC Place is huge. The U.S. will want to spread out the game offensively by playing in a big shape with wide outside backs and midfielders. Team USA is fitter and faster than Costa Rica, so keeping it large plays to its strengths.
5. Laugh out loud
This team is having fun, laughing and enjoying each other, and that is a great sign for any team, no matter what sport you play. The key is to stay loose, aggressive on offense and enjoy the moment. All three go hand in hand.
Laughter permitted. London awaits.