If there's one thing the U.S. women's team shouldn't have to worry about in Friday's World Cup semifinal qualifier against Mexico, it's overconfidence.
Four years ago the Americans met Mexico under identical circumstances in the semifinals of the regional qualifying tournament, needing only a victory to advance to the World Cup. And Mexico responded with one of the most stunning upsets in women's soccer history, handing the top-ranked U.S. its only loss ever in World Cup qualifying, 2-1.
The U.S. team regrouped in time to sweep a two-game play-in series against Italy, ultimately advancing to the 2011 World Cup, where the Americans lost the final to Japan on penalty kicks.
Qualifying for next summer's Women's World Cup in Canada will be a bit easier since the field has expanded to 24 teams.
As was the case four years ago, both semifinal winners Friday at Chester, Pa. — Trinidad and Tobago meets Costa Rica followed by the U.S.-Mexico — are assured a World Cup berth no matter what happens in Sunday's final. But this year the winner of Sunday's third-place game will also qualify for the tournament in Canada, while the loser of the consolation final can advance as well if it beats Ecuador in a two-leg playoff next month.
For Jill Ellis, the third U.S. coach since the last World Cup, all those possibilities boil down to one certainty: Win and you're in.
"The overall structure of this is the mission to qualify and to win a World Cup," she said. "Regardless of who's at the reins, that's always the end point."
The qualifying tournament four years ago was in Mexico, but this time the U.S. is at home, where it hasn't lost since 2004, a string of 90 matches that includes 8-0 and 4-0 wins over Mexico last month.
The U.S. will be without forward Alex Morgan, who reinjured her left ankle in last week's win over Guatemala. However, it will have Abby Wambach, who ran her record for international goals to 173 with two strikes in Monday's win over Haiti, and goalkeeper Hope Solo, who has yielded one goal since May.
In the other semifinal, Trinidad and Tobago can become the first Caribbean country to qualify for a Women's World Cup with an upset of Costa Rica.