Puddles, absurd conditions mar (and aid) USWNT's wild win over Canada

The U.S. women's national team beat Canada on penalties Wednesday night in a wild W Gold Cup semifinal that, by any reasonable measure, should not have been played.

Torrential rain soaked Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego. Standing water covered the field, and turned the first half into a farce. The ball wouldn't roll. Passes couldn't travel more than 10 yards.

One of those passes, from Canada's Vanessa Gilles, gifted the USWNT an opening goal and punctuated the absurdity. It hit a puddle at the top of the Canadian penalty box, and all but stopped on a dime. U.S. forward Jaedyn Shaw pounced.

Canada equalized late in the second half. U.S. forward Sophia Smith answered in extra time. That, it seemed, was plenty of drama for one drenched night, enough narrative for even this rich regional rivalry. Smith dropped to her knees in relief, as if World Cup demons had been banished.

But then, in stoppage time of extra time, U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher punched and missed at a cross, colliding instead with Gilles. After a minutes-long video review, Canada was awarded a penalty, which Adriana Leon converted in the 127th minute to level the match at 2-2.

In the shootout, Naeher redeemed herself. She saved one Canadian penalty, then a second. She scored one of her own, then saved a third to seal a wild win.

The pressing question, though, for all 120-plus minutes, was why the game hadn't been delayed or called off in the first place.

"This is so insane," former USWNT star Julie Foudy wrote on X during the first half. "STOP THE MATCH."

When asked afterward whether it should've been played, USWNT coach Twila Kilgore said: "Probably not."

Canada coach Bev Priestman added: "It’s obvious that the game was unplayable."

The referee, Katia Garcia, seemed to consider that possibility. After several minutes of slipping and sliding and splashing, Garcia paused the game, picked up the ball and jogged over toward the sideline, where the fourth official and match commissioner were stationed. Garcia rolled the ball. It stopped cold on the drowning surface. Garcia held up her hands, as if to say: We're really going to do this?

But then she picked up the ball and instructed players to resume.

Soon, they resorted to kicking and chasing, to middle school soccer, if that.

Trinity Rodman chased down a Canadian mistake, but overran the ball — because she couldn't push it through a likely inch-deep puddle.

Lindsey Horan tried to play a long ball; she kicked standing water instead.

And she was visibly frustrated. "It’s not a day that you can play football," Horan later said. "It’s really unfortunate."

Most, if not all players got soaked and spent stoppages trying to wring out their waterlogged, mud-splotched jerseys.

Nearly every single footstep brought rainwater splashing up into the fray, inhibiting anybody who tried to dribble.

Both teams completed less than half of their first-half passes.

"We put in a lot of work on the game plan, and then Minute 1, you throw it out the window," Priestman said.

Onlookers, meanwhile, worried about the participants. San Diego Wave head coach Casey Stoney tweeted at tournament organizers: "Player safety?????"

"Call the game," former USWNT midfielder Lauren Holiday wrote on X. "Don’t wait another minute."

The game, though, was never even suspended. It's unclear who, exactly, made the decision to play on, or what criteria was used to make the decision.

A spokesman for Concacaf — the North and Central American soccer governing body, which runs the Gold Cup — told Yahoo Sports in a statement: “It is solely at the discretion of the referee as to whether the field is safe and playable."

Multiple referees, however, explained that the decision is often made in conjunction with the match commissioner — or even by the match commissioner and other Concacaf officials.

Christina Unkel, a former ref who worked at the highest levels of American and international soccer, said on the CBS Sports broadcast: "Practically speaking ... that [decision] is almost out of our control when it comes to these types of competitions."

Rain seemed to relent at halftime. Stadium staffers wielding brooms rushed to push some of the standing water toward sidelines. The second half was slightly less farcical, though still extremely messy — and delayed for a few minutes by technical problems with the referee communication systems.

It was also relatively even, and in the 82nd minute, Canada got the equalizer it probably deserved. Jordyn Huitema overpowered Emily Fox at the back post. Her header left Naeher helpless.

In extra time, with the field somewhat less inundated, the U.S. recovered. Rose Lavelle flicked a header into the path of Smith, a fellow second-half substitute. Smith picked out the corner of the net.

Canada's late penalty nullified it. But Naeher's shootout saves sent the USWNT to Sunday's final, where it'll meet Brazil (8:15 p.m. ET, Paramount+, ESPN Deportes).

The players will remember Wednesday night with incredulity. They will bookmark it as a preposterous chapter in the rivalry.

They'll also have to forget it. They learned almost nothing tactically or technically — because, as CBS color analyst Lori Lindsey casually noted during extra time, "not much soccer has been played."

But psychologically, it was significant.

"This is two big mentality games back to back," Kilgore said, referencing a resurgent quarterfinal win over Colombia. "And that's a statement, regardless of how the game was played or how it ended up."