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Wet, wild win over Canada sends U.S. to Gold Cup final

Carmen Mandato/USSF / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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The United States women's national team claimed a 3-1 shootout win over Canada in the semifinals of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup on Wednesday.

The Americans ousted their regional rivals in a bizarre and chaotic match marred by a waterlogged pitch at Snapdragon Stadium, making it nearly impossible for either team to play fluid soccer.

After conceding a VAR-assisted penalty that allowed Canada to tie the contest at two apiece in the 127th minute, U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher recovered and stole the show in the shootout. The veteran netminder stopped three spot-kicks and converted an effort of her own to send the USWNT into the title game of the inaugural tournament.

The United States, ranked No. 2 in the world, will take on Brazil in Sunday's final. The Brazilians, an invited guest to the competition, routed Mexico 3-0 in Wednesday's other semifinal.

The rain started pouring down in San Diego during the earlier game. Roughly 90 minutes after Brazil's victory, water pooled across the turf when the U.S. and Canada took the field.

Omar Vega / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It was abundantly clear very quickly that the playing surface would dictate the game's flow, rendering short, intricate passes useless and forcing both teams to play long balls and look for mistakes from the opposition.

Whether the game should have gone ahead at all was up for debate.

In the opening minutes, referee Katia Garcia went over to the sideline to show someone - presumably the match commissioner responsible for deciding whether to delay the game - that the ball could barely roll on the rain-soaked pitch, getting bogged down in puddles every few feet.

"It is solely at the discretion of the referee as to whether the field is safe and playable," a CONCACAF spokesperson said of the situation, according to Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports.

The game continued, and the conditions directly affected the opening goal.

American teenager Jaedyn Shaw broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, pouncing on an ill-fated back pass from Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles that was stopped in its tracks by the flooded field.

With the opportunistic tally, the 19-year-old Shaw became the only U.S. player to score in each of her first four national team starts.

For the next hour, it seemed that would be the lone marker on a bemusing evening.

But Canada changed its approach in the second half to better account for the conditions, playing more direct balls over the top and putting the U.S. backline under increased pressure. That finally paid off in the 82nd minute when, after one of the only sleek attacking sequences of the entire game, substitute Jordyn Huitema soared to head home a pinpoint cross from Ashley Lawrence and force extra time.

Prolific forward Sophia Smith promptly restored the United States' lead with a close-range strike in the 99th minute. Bev Priestman's squad, playing its first major tournament since former captain Christine Sinclair's retirement, again went searching for an equalizer.

It arrived dramatically.

With the seconds ticking away, Canada launched a hopeful ball into the penalty area. Naeher raced off her line to punch it away but was beaten to the ball by an onrushing Gilles, who took two fists to the face from the American 'keeper.

After Canadian protestations and a brief delay, the Mexican match official went to the monitor to review the incident and pointed to the penalty spot. Adriana Leon duly slotted her effort home to force a shootout.

From there, though, Naeher was nearly flawless.

She thwarted Leon and Huitema, calmly stroked her spot-kick into the bottom corner, and then turned aside Canadian captain Jessie Fleming to send Twila Kilgore's team into the final.

"I'm really proud of the team tonight in such tough conditions against a really tough opponent," Naeher said after the victory. "We'll enjoy this win tonight and rest and recover and get ready for Brazil and try to be ready to come out and execute and build on this performance."

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