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Global Feb 19, 2016

Brazil bound: U.S. Women book Olympic berth with walkover win vs. Trinidad & Tobago

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HOUSTON – There would be no surprises at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday night as the reigning Women’s World Cup champions met an underfunded, outclassed Caribbean foe with a place in the 2016 Summer Olympics on the line.

Trinidad & Tobago were no match for the buzzsaw that is the U.S. Women’s National Team at present, as Alex Morgan netted a hat trick and goalkeeper Hope Solo was a bystander in a 5-0 romp that sends the defending gold medalists to Rio de Janeiro – and sets up a tasty meeting with rivals Canada in Sunday’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament final.

+READ: Border brawl: U.S., Canada women set for another “bloodbath” as rivalry resumes in CONCACAF Oly final

The United States took an early lead as their wide midfielders connected in the 12th minute after sustained pressure on the beleaguered T&T defense.

Handed a surprise start, Mallory Pugh was tormenting Soca Princesses right back Khadidra Debesette at will along the U.S. left, and the 17-year-old skipped clear yet again and cut back an inviting low cross into space near the penalty spot, where Tobin Heath latched onto it and stroked a confident finish past goalkeeper Kimika Forbes for a 1-0 advantage.

Trinidad & Tobago already looked disconsolate, with many of their players showing little impetus to keep possession or seek outlets against the withering USWNT pressure. Pugh broke clear and rounded Forbes, but desperate recovery defending saw her cutback poked clear, and Morgan saw two clear looks at goal blocked well by the embattled netminder, as did Carli Lloyd.

The inevitable breakthrough arrived just past the half-hour mark, off a combination between right back Kelley O’Hara and Lloyd, who thumped a header downward into Morgan’s path for a simple tap-in at the right post: 2-0 Yanks.

The reigning world champions could’ve easily netted a half-dozen, but they settled for three before heading into the locker room at halftime – though the third was cheaply gifted by the otherwise solid Forbes. Lloyd rose well to meet a Morgan Brian corner kick in the 43rd minute, yet directed her header right at T&T’s ‘keeper, only for Forbes to allow the ball to slip underneath her and dribble across the goal line.

The one-way traffic resumed after the break, but the final touch eluded the USWNT over and over again despite their utter domination.

After myriad chances went begging, the persistent Morgan – who turned in a consummate lone striker’s performance both on and off the ball – struck twice in three minutes to bag a well-deserved hat trick.

First USA’s No. 13 followed up her own rebound with a lofted finish in the 71st after her initial header clanged off the woodwork. And moments later, she tapped home a delicately lofted back-post service from Brian to run the score to 5-0, sparking screams from the adoring fans who’d been shouting for her since well before kickoff.

Both Canada and the U.S. are headed to Brazil, but that will do little to dim the intensity of the latest installment of their border rivalry on Sunday afternoon. It promises to be the best match of a tournament marked by all too many routs.

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