CHESTER, Pa. (AP) – Abby Wambach has been concerned recently about overthinking headers.
She seemed to have it all worked out on Sunday night when she scored four goals — three with her head — in a 6-0 victory over Costa Rica that gave the World Cup-bound U.S. national team their fifth CONCACAF Women's Championship title.
"Thankfully, today my teammates put me in positions where I really couldn't think," she said afterward. "I was set up to be successful."
The U.S. women had already secured a trip to next year's World Cup in Canada with a victory over Mexico in the semifinals of the eight-team, four-city tournament.
Wambach scored on a header in the fourth minute, and fed Carli Lloyd one in the 17th to put the United States up 2-0. It was Lloyd's fifth goal of the tournament.
Wambach scored with her head again off a cross from Lloyd in the 35th minute and added another header in the 41st, also with the assist from Lloyd.
She added her fourth, this time a chip, in the 71st minute. It was her second career four-goal game; she scored five goals in a match against Ireland 10 years ago.
"I think her focus is crazy good. She's really locked down and working on every facet of her game," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said, adding with a smile: "We did some extra heading with her because she thought her timing was slightly off. I think she did all right tonight."
Wambach now has 18 goals in World Cup qualifying, breaking Michelle Akers' team record (17). Wambach already has the career record for goals with 177, and she leads the team with 14 goals this year.
It was the first time a single player has scored four goals in a CONCACAF women's championship title match.
"All you can do when Abby Wambach is playing that is pray — pray that the ball doesn't get to her," said Costa Rica coach Avedissian Garabet.
Sydney Leroux scored in the 73rd minute for the final margin.
Lloyd also scored a pair of goals in the 3-0 semifinal victory over Mexico on Friday night at PPL Park to send the United States to its seventh-straight World Cup. Costa Rica earned its country's first Women's World Cup appearance by beating Trinidad and Tobago on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in its semifinal match.
The top three finishers in the championship for the North, Central American and Caribbean region earned World Cup bids: Mexico secured a berth with a 4-2 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the third-place match earlier on Sunday.
Trinidad and Tobago will still have a chance with a two-leg series against Ecuador starting next month.
The Trinidad and Tobago team became sentimental favorites of the CONCACAF event when they arrived in Dallas to train two weeks ago with only about $500. Coach Randy Waldrum, who volunteers his services, went to Twitter to plea for help. The response overwhelmed him.
"It was really emotional for me that first day, just the outpouring. It is hard to put into words," said Waldrum, who is head coach of the NWSL's Houston Dash.
Mexico has offered to help Trinidad and Tobago train at altitude for the matches against Ecuador.
The U.S. team has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the past five years and was the favorite going into the eight-team CONCACAF tournament. The women swept the group stage to advance to the semifinal against Mexico.
Costa Rica, the first Central American team to qualify for the World Cup, had not dropped a match in the qualifying tournament either until the final against the United States.
The group stage wasn't without adversity for the United States. Forward Alex Morgan sprained her left ankle during a win over Guatemala and will miss four-to-six weeks. Morgan injured the same ankle last October and was sidelined seven months.
Four years ago, the U.S. women were also favored and expected to have an easy run through qualifying, but Mexico pulled off the upset in the semifinal. The 2-1 loss in Cancun ultimately forced the United States into a two-game playoff against Italy which the team won 2-0 on aggregate.
At the World Cup in Germany the next year the United States fell to Japan in the final on penalty kicks.
Wambach says she's at about 60 percent as she prepares to help the team go for its first World Cup title since 1999.
"It is a process, and in the seven, eight months till the World Cup, I just want to be continually, gradually climbing, hopefully not coming across any setbacks like injury," she said. "But the reality is that it's a long seven months. There's a lot of stress and a lot of responsibility and pressure that goes into it. For me I'm happy with the way this tournament turned out for our team. Got a little bit of fitness under my belt."