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Kristie Mewis scored in the 89th minute. (USA TODAY Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

If the U.S. women’s national team has any aspirations of clinching a 2024 Olympic berth in this tournament, the Americans are going to have to play better than they did on Monday night.

An underachieving U.S. side barely solved a determined, 10-player Mexico side and escaped Estadio Universidad with a 1-0 victory in a Concacaf W Championship match at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey, Mexico on Monday night.

Kristie Mewis scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute. Second-half substitute Megan Rapinoe started the scoring sequence with a quick corner kick; the U.S. had 11 in the match. Emily Sonnett eventually headed the ball toward on target, which goalkeeper Iztel Gonzalez tipped into the crossbar. The ball came down and Mewis bundled it home from point-blank range. It appeared Mewis was a tad offside, but after a Video Assistant Referee review, it was ruled a goal.

The Mexicans were forced to play with 10 players for the final 17 minutes of regulation and stoppage time after Jacqueline Ovalle was awarded a red card for a hard tackle on Rose Lavelle in the 73rd minute.

The Americans (3-0-0) will meet Costa Rica, which finished in second place in Group B, in the semifinals on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Canada, which recorded a 2-0 win over the Ticas, will meet Jamaica in the other semifinal encounter that day. The two semifinal winners will meet for a spot in the 2024 Paris Summer Games. The second- and third-place squads will battle for the second Concacaf spot next year.

“Sometimes it’s not just us. sometimes how much the opponent gives you or allows you to be creative for or to make things happen,” USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “I want to give credit to Mexico I thought they were very motivated. They were fighting. I wouldn’t say that they were better than us, but they were definitely making it very hard for us. We had few opportunities early on in the first half, and we didn’t put them away.

“We knew that if we don’t score early in the in the first quarter of the game, that the game will be difficult We saw at the end, it became became really good atmosphere actually I was coaching to a big part of the game was smile on my face because to some degree, we wanted to see that.”

Andonovski admitted this team wasn’t ready for next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“If you asked me if we’re ready to compete in the World Cup tomorrow, we’re probably not ready for it,” he said. “But are we going to be ready in a year? Absolutely. I’m very happy with with the progress of the team, development of the team and the development of the individuals within the team as well. I think that we’re doing a good job and we were moving in the right direction.”

The Mexicans (0-3-0), who completed an abysmal tournament as hosts, needed to defeat the Americans to have any chance of getting an inter-continental playoff berth in New Zealand next year.

Goalkeeper Casey Murphy was credited with the shutout.

After dispatching Haiti and Jamaica, 2-0 and 5-0 in its first two matches, the USA was missing the rhythm and zest from both those encounters.

Before Mewis’ score, the U.S.’s best opportunity came in the 15th minute when Midge Purce’s shot hit the left post. The visitors did force the issue as it accrued four corner kicks in the opening 17 minutes but had nothing to show for it.

Mexico, which lost to the two Caribbean sides in its first two contests, made life tough for the Americans by blocking shots and playing a solid team defense and some consistent goalkeeping by Gonzalez. The USA’s shot selection at times also had a lot to be desired.

Andonovski decided to shake things up in the 63rd minutes, making an unprecedented four substitutions at once.

Rapinoe, who missed the Jamaica match because she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week, replaced Sophia Smith. Rose Lavelle took over for Lindsey Horan, Sofia Huerta came on for Kelley O’Hara and Mewis replaced Andi Sullivan.

The USWNT head coach said it was Rapinoe’s decision to take a quick corner kick that led to the game-winning goal.

“I wish I could say that,” he said. “That was the pure individual creativity and understanding the game and the moment and the situation in the game.

“I think that’s a good example for the younger players that yes, we do have set plays. We do have special plays but sometimes they should believe in themselves. They should believe in their ability and their quality. They’re not on this team because they’re average. They’re on this team because they’re special. And we encourage them to do something special, encourage them to play free and to do things like that.”