U.S. forward Abby Wambach, center, crashes into Costa Rica goalkeeper… (Jonathan Hayward / Associated…)
In the end, what matters is that the U.S. women's soccer team is going to the Olympics. What the players won't soon forget is how hard they had to work get there.
The Americans booked their way to London on Friday night with a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament at Vancouver, Canada, a game more suspenseful than most anyone expected.
Tobin Heath scored in the 16th minute to give U.S. all the scoring it needed, and goals by Carli Lloyd (72nd) and Alex Morgan (89th) put the game away late.
But the top-ranked Americans were less crisp than when they were beating teams by a combined 31-0 earlier in the tournament and drawing criticism for running up the score.
Costa Rica is ranked No. 41 in the world, has never qualified for an Olympics or a World Cup and has never scored on the U.S. in eight meetings. Las Ticas proved to be scrappy opponents, however, occasionally frustrating the Americans with physical play and just missing on two solid scoring chances in the first half in the London-or-bust match. As the possibility of an upset lingered deep into the second half, the underdogs gained the rousing support of the Canadian fans at BC Place.
In the end, a speedy, unflappable quartet of American defenders — Kelley O'Hara, Rachel Buehler, Christie Rampone and Amy LePeilbet — combined with goalkeeper Hope Solo to keep Costa Rica out of the net. Solo played despite a slightly pulled right quadriceps that had been bothering her all week.
The U.S. will be the two-time defending champions in London, having taken gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008. It will be the third straight Olympics in which the Americans will be trying to make amends for World Cup disappointment from the previous year. They finished second at last year's World Cup in Germany, losing to Japan in the final.
The victory also puts the Americans into the tournament final Sunday, a bragging-rights-only game against the winner of Friday's late game between Mexico and Canada.
Donovan shines in London
Landon Donovan set up both goals for Everton, which rallied to beat Fulham and Clint Dempsey, 2-1, Friday night in London for a berth in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
With the two biggest stars on the U.S. national team facing each other for the first time in six years, Danny Murphy put Fulham ahead at Goodison Park with a 14th-minute penalty kick that beat American goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Donovan's cross from the right flank was headed in by Denis Stracqualursi in the 27th minute for his first goal for Everton. Again passing the extreme right side, Donovan's cross was headed in by Marouane Fellaini in the 73rd minute.
"Landon's been great since he's been here," Everton assistant manager Steve Round said.
Selig expects expanded playoffs this year
Commissioner Bud Selig expects baseball to expand its playoffs this season.
Players and owners have already agreed to add an additional wild-card team in each league, but are still deciding whether it would take effect this year or in 2013. Selig said there are scheduling issues to be worked out — once they are, the new 10-team format would begin with a one-game playoff.
Right fielder Hunter Pence and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed Friday to a $10.4-million, one-year contract.
Pence hit .314 with 22 homers and a career-high 97 RBIs for Houston and Philadelphia last season, when he made $6.9 million. Outfielder Juan Pierre agreed to a minor league contract with the Phillies.
Kaman on trading block
New Orleans Hornets General Manager Dell Demps says the club has decided to pursue a trade for 7-foot veteran center Chris Kaman.
Kaman was excused from New Orleans' home game against the Orlando Magic on Friday night, and Demps writes in an email that the team and Kaman "mutually decided for a number of reasons that we are not going to play Chris" while trade talks get under way.
Kaman was acquired in a multiplayer trade that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers shortly before the regular season, but has struggled to find a consistent role in New Orleans.
Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks with a broken left ankle. Bogut was hurt Wednesday night against Houston when his foot landed awkwardly on a Rockets player's foot.
Five stakes races Saturday at Santa Anita
There will be five stakes races on a 10-race card at Santa Anita on Saturday as part of Sunshine Millions Day. Three of the stakes are restricted to horses bred in California or Florida.
Teddy's Promise will lead horses in the Grade I $300,000 Santa Monica Stakes for fillies and mares going seven furlongs. She won the Grade I La Brea Stakes. The Grade III $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 11/16 miles includes Grade I Hollywood Starlet winner Killer Graces and runner-up Charm the Maker.
First post is at noon.
— Eric Sondheimer
Vonn wins super-combined
Lindsey Vonn won a World Cup super-combined event at St. Moritz, Switzerland, to extend her lead in the overall standings against second-place Tina Maze.
Maze of Slovenia was 0.41 of a second back and third-place Nicole Hosp of Austria was third.