Kristine Lilly scored the goal that won the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup for the United States on Sunday night as it defeated Canada, 2-1, in overtime, in a lackluster final. However, it was Mexico's Monica Ocampo who stole the show during the soccer doubleheader.
Ocampo, a diminutive left wing with fine dribbling skills and a blazing shot, scored twice as Mexico defeated Jamaica, 3-0, in the earlier game to keep its hopes alive of qualifying for next year's Women's World Cup in China. The U.S. and Canada had already qualified.
"She's only 19 and she was one of the best players on the field today," Mexico Coach Leonardo Cuellar had said of Ocampo on Wednesday night after the U.S. had beaten Mexico, 2-0, in the semifinals.
On Sunday, at the Home Depot Center, Ocampo was even better.
She scored Mexico's first goal on a penalty kick 20 minutes into the game when she blasted a left-foot shot past goalkeeper Paula Jackson. Ocampo had been upended by Jamaica's Alicia Wilson and referee Kari Seitz had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
Maribel Dominguez made it 2-0 less than two minutes later when she beat Jackson after receiving a superb through ball from former UCLA star Iris Mora.
Ocampo closed out the scoring in the 37th minute, taking a first-time pass from Dominguez and again unleashing an unstoppable left-foot shot.
Mexico's victory clinched third place in the tournament and advanced Cuellar's team to a home-and-home series with Asia's third-place finisher, Japan, for a place in the World Cup, to be played in five Chinese cities from Sept. 10 to 30.
Japan overcame Mexico in a similar playoff series during qualifying for the 2003 Women's World Cup, but Mexico has improved significantly since then.
In the nightcap, the U.S., which is 32-3-3 all-time against Canada and has never lost a Gold Cup game (24-0-1), dominated play, especially in the 30-minute overtime period, but was thwarted by some rugged Canadian defense and excellent goalkeeping by Erin Mcleod.
The Americans took the lead 5:26 into the game when Canada's defense, yet to solidify, failed to properly clear the ball while under pressure and had it fall to U.S. midfielder Leslie Osborne, whose well-struck shot beat Mcleod.
The teams traded chances for the rest of the half, but it was Canada that scored next. A free kick was headed out by U.S. defender Marci Miller, but only as far as Randee Hermus, who fired in a shot from about 10 yards.
The goal, coming one minute before the half ended, brought a smile from Canada's coach, Even Pellerud, who coached the team to fourth place at the 2003 World Cup and coached Norway to its 1995 world championship.
Pellerud was less happy four minutes from the end of regulation, however, when he was ejected by referee Virginia Tovar of Mexico for expressing an opinion on the quality of the officiating.
He was not on hand, therefore, when Tovar awarded the U.S. a penalty kick in the final minute of the game. Lilly scored and the tournament, which drew only 6,128 on Wednesday and 6,749 Sunday, was over.
That the U.S. and Canada finished 1-2 was no surprise. Mexico, however, showed that it is gradually closing the gap on both teams. But as Cuellar said, it still has a long way to go.
"It feels sometimes like a boxing match, when you have a featherweight boxing against a heavyweight," he said. "But we're getting there."