CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — After the United States’ path to the World Cup hit a snag four years ago, Carli Lloyd was happy to help send the team through smoothly this time.
Lloyd scored a pair of goals in a 3-0 semifinal victory over Mexico on Friday night, securing the United States a trip to next year’s World Cup and a spot in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship title match Sunday.
The U.S. women will face Costa Rica, which earned its first World Cup appearance by beating Trinidad and Tobago on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in the earlier match at PPL Park.
The top three finishers in the championship for the North, Central American and Caribbean region earn World Cup bids and the fourth-place finisher will have another chance in a match against Ecuador next month.
In 2010, Mexico surprised the United States in CONCACAF qualifying, forcing the team to wait to earn its ticket to Germany.
“I can kind of breathe now,” Lloyd said. “I think obviously four years ago we went through a little bit of a rocky qualifying, so we didn’t want that to happen this time. So it just feels really good to have that one over. But we’ve got one more and we want to win that one, so we’ve got to refocus our attention on Sunday’s game.”
Mexico will play Trinidad and Tobago in the third-place match on Sunday.
“They have so many weapons, they have so many tools,” Mexico coach Leo Cuellar said about the U.S. team. “Very hard to prepare a game against them.”
Lloyd scored in the eighth minute on a header off a bouncing cross from Tobin Heath to give the United States the early lead. She added a goal on a penalty kick in the 30th minute.
“It was a world-class serve by Tobin. She whipped it in and those are the things I’ve kind of been working on my own, getting inside the box, working on my heading. It was great to get that one,” Lloyd said. “Then, Tobin again took somebody on inside the box, got a PK called and I put it home. But overall it was a great performance and a great team win.”
Christen Press put the United States up 3-0, scoring scored into an empty net in the 56th minute after working around goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar.
Christie Rampone celebrated her 300th international appearance. She’s just the second player to reach the milestone after Kristine Lilly with 352.
Rampone said this team is still developing as it heads toward going into the World Cup, scheduled next year in six Canadian cities. The field for soccer’s premier tournament is expanding to 24 teams for 2015.
“It’s about getting better each and every game,” Rampone said. “And I think we’re doing that.”
The United States continues to adjust to a new style of play under coach Jill Ellis, who took over in May following the dismissal of Tom Sermanni.
The U.S. team has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the past five years and was the easy favorite going into the eight-team CONCACAF tournament. The women swept the group stage to advance to the semifinal against Mexico.
Costa Rica, the first Central American team to qualify for the World Cup, has not dropped a match in the qualifying tournament, either.
“I want to give thanks to the whole team for the sacrifice we all made, and to our country — which had so much desire to qualify for a Women’s World Cup. When I was in goal, I felt the whole country behind me,” goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz said through a translator after the victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
The group stage wasn’t without adversity for the United States, however. Forward Alex Morgan sprained her left ankle during a win over Guatemala and will miss four-to-six weeks. Morgan injured the same ankle last October and was sidelined seven months.
Four years ago, the US women were also favored and expected to have an easy run through qualifying, but Mexico pulled off the upset in the semifinal.
The 2-1 loss in Cancun ultimately forced the United States into a two-game playoff against Italy which the team won 2-0 on aggregate. At the World Cup in Germany the next year, the United States fell to Japan in the final on penalty kicks.
Mexico lost in the CONCACAF tournament opener to Costa Rica, and finished second in its group going into the semifinal.
Known by the nickname Las Tri, Mexico was the runner-up at the 2010 CONCACAF championship, and did not advance out of the group stage at the World Cup.
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