Naeher plays hero role as USWNT swim into the CONCACAF W Gold Cup final

Despite a pitch that resembled a pool, the USWNT edged rivals Canada in a chaotic Wednesday night affair thanks to the brilliance of Alyssa Naeher in the shootout.

Canada v United States: Semifinals - 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup
Canada v United States: Semifinals - 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup / Carmen Mandato/USSF/GettyImages

We'll remember this one for quite some time. The United States against Canada and ... well, water. Amid a literal monsoon, the USWNT and Canada battled for the right to compete in the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup final.

After a 1-1 draw in regulation, and a 2-2 draw following extra time, the Red, White, and Blue escaped as the victors behind the heroics of veteran Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. The 35-year-old shot-stopper looked dialed in, securing revenge from last summer's World Cup by saving not one, not two, but three penalties while converting a shot of her own.

It was a statement from Naeher. No matter how much change should occur in the field, there is only one No. 1 option between the sticks for this summer and the Olympics. Her elite performance after extra time only added to her storied legacy which already includes two Women's World Cups and six SheBelieves Cup titles.

From the moment you saw that first whistle blow, it was evident we were not going to see much football on Wednesday night. While the conditions improved as the game went along, the waterlogged pitch stole all the headlines. That wasn't supposed to be the case. These were two of the top 10 nations according to FIFA in the world of women's football.

Passing the ball was impossible. Carrying it, well forget about it. Trinity Rodman tried in the first half, but the water acted as an extra Canadian defender. It was yet another major semifinal in the last few months at Snapdragon where the field conditions played their role. Not in a positive way either. Both sides had a pass accuracy below 45 percent, forcing each keeper into saves on four occasions.

The defensive strategy, for the majority of the match, was to smash the ball out of bounds. Throw the tactics out the window, you could not read into those at all. It was all about taking advantage of those small moments and making intelligent decisions that did not allow the weather to put your outfit in a poor position in the defensive third.

"Probably not," USWNT interim leader Kilgore said regarding if the game should have gone forward. "But those decisions aren't my decisions and if the referees make those decisions, and the game goes on, it's our job to figure out how to win."

The women's football universe was pleading for CONCACAF to put an end to the semifinal before someone on either team left the pitch with an injury. Casey Stoney, the San Diego Wave FC coach petitioned, among others, to put player safety before all else. CONCACAF even had the former two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Lauren Holiday active for the first time on "X" since November of last year. Another legend, Julie Foudy begged for the federation to stop the match minutes after the start, stating, "Why isn't CONCACAF calling this match? Play it tomorrow. Someone is going to get hurt."

At halftime on CBS, rules expert Christina Unkel spoke on the decision-making process, stating, "Technically, and practically by law it is ultimately in the ultimate decision of the referee to make that decision. That being said, practically speaking, there is a match commissioner at each of these CONCACAF matches ... Those of us who have been on that side ... that is almost out of our control when it comes to these types of competitions."

A CONCACAF spokesperson said, "It is solely at the discretion of the referee as to whether the field is safe and playable." If you're confused, well you're not alone. We all were watching this match. Should it have been played? Not at all. Nevertheless, we went on. For an entire 120 minutes. Without much stoppage of play.

Jaedyn Shaw took advantage of the conditions that slowed a Vanessa Gilles back pass becoming the first USWNT player to convert a chance in each of her first four starts. The connection between Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence forced the fixture into extra time. The grit of Rose Lavelle to win an aerial duel set up Sophia Smith to break the deadlock in the 99', but an Adriana Leon penalty in the waning seconds canceled it out.

Shaw summed it up well in the post-match when telling the story of what she thought of the evening in southern California.

"Pure comedy, that's what that was," remarked the USWNT's budding star. "Not sure if that was the most entertaining soccer people have had, but I think it was quite hysterical for me, at least for the first five minutes when I faceplanted into a puddle, so yeah that was awesome"

Time to take a deep breath and prepare for the final. Per The Weather Channel, Sunday night is slated to be 48 degrees Fahrenheit and cloudy with an under 20 percent chance for rain.

Brazil cruised past Mexico in the first game of the Snapdragon doubleheader, setting up a rematch of the 2011 Women's World Cup quarterfinal with the USWNT. The contest is slated to take place on Sunday evening.