CHICAGO -- The U.S. beat Guatemala 5-0 and took control of its group in the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament, but the big story of the night was the left ankle injury suffered by Alex Morgan, who left the game in the first half. Morgan went down hard after rolling the same ankle that plagued her during a seven-month injury layoff earlier this year.
The initial report from U.S. Soccer was a left ankle sprain. Morgan, who was in clear pain after falling to the turf, was set to get an MRI by Saturday morning.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
1. We finally saw the real U.S. team in the second half
On a night when veterans Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone didn’t play, the U.S. struggled in the first half, scoring only once in the first 45 minutes and showing much of the same disjointed attack that we saw in an underwhelming 1-0 opening-game win against Trinidad and Tobago. The second half for the U.S. was much better. The Americans had a lot more energy and used the full width of the field, opening up the Guatemalans and pouring in the goals. Playing just 48 hours after Game 1, the U.S. made the most of its advantages in fitness and depth against a foe that largely ran out of gas.
2. The U.S.’s skill players did their job
The U.S. often gets criticized for being more about athleticism and speed than soccer skills, but Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe showed off some serious skills in the second half. Heath scored two goals for the first time in her U.S. career, including one on a majestic backward flick in the box, and was a menace down the left flank until she made an intriguing move to left back late. As for Rapinoe, the Tilda Swinton look-alike hit a golazo from outside the box that was every bit the match of Heath’s second for style points. Did Wambach’s absence create the conditions for Heath and Rapinoe to stand out with their skills? Perhaps, though it certainly should be possible for them to do those things with Wambach on the field, too.
3. CONCACAF is getting more competitive
Yes, 5-0 may seem like a one-sided scoreline. But Guatemala, which was down just 1-0 at halftime. looked much better in this game than it did during a 13-0 loss to the U.S. in qualifying for the 2012 Olympics just three years ago. That’s a good sign for women’s soccer in this region, which needs more teams to compete with the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the previous CONCACAF teams to compete in the Women’s World Cup. So far, we’ve seen good soccer in this tournament from a number of teams that could qualify for the WWC. Costa Rica beat Mexico for the first time ever, a deserved 1-0 win. Trinidad and Tobago held the U.S. to a 1-0 scoring margin, and Jamaica and Haiti have had good moments too so far. It’s a reason to be optimistic for the future.
GALLERY: Players to Watch in CONCACAF WWCQs