Thursday August 20th, 2015

The United States women's national team thumped Costa Rica, 7–2, on Wednesday night despite an 84-minute first-half lightning delay in Chattanooga, Tenn. The U.S. defeated the same opponent 8–0 on Sunday in Pittsburgh, and the teams traveled 600 miles for a rematch three days later.

Again, the U.S. opened the scoring within the first 10 minutes. Carli Lloyd rocketed home a free kick from 30 yards in the seventh minute, and Heather O’Reilly added a second just before the lengthy weather delay. After play resumed, Abby Wambach scored the third goal of the game in the 18th minute off a cross from the end line into the penalty area.

Planet Futbol
Watch: USWNT’s Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly score twice vs. Costa Rica

Two minutes later, Lloyd scored again, this time off a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe. O’Reilly scored her fourth goal in the past two games in the 23rd minute. The U.S. made it 6–0 on an own goal by Costa Rica's Katherine Alvarado, before scoring one itself when Cristin Granados beat Hope Solo just before the end of the first half.

Karla Villalobos scored Costa Rica’s second in the 69th minute before Alex Morgan answered for the U.S. in the 81st to give the match its final score. Morgan scored in her first appearance since minor surgery after the World Cup.

Here are three bigger-picture thoughts after the U.S. women’s win over Costa Rica on Wednesday night:

Victory tour not the most worthy use of World Cup momentum

It speaks to the growing maturity of the women’s game that before and during what was inevitably going to be another heavy U.S. victory over Costa Rica, talk on social media centered around whether a celebratory tour is the best way to capitalize on winning a World Cup. The added attention could have at least been shared better with the domestic National Women’s Soccer League.

Every player on the U.S. roster came from a team in the NWSL, which is in the midst of its playoff push. During previous incarnations of women’s professional leagues, the focus was on getting more fans to those games—in fact, it was the 1999 World Cup win that kickstarted the Women's United Soccer Association. The U.S.’s last victory tour came after the 2012 Summer Olympics gold-medal win, when no pro league existed.

The financial sustainability of the NWSL, partly subsidized by U.S. Soccer, and its general image could have used the marketing boost of having the best players available for important games that aren’t being overshadowed by largely meaningless friendlies. After a couple failed attempts at a pro league in the U.S., the NWSL was supposed to be the well-planned answer, but failing to exploit the women’s game’s momentum after the U.S.’s World Cup victory feels like a missed opportunity.

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Talent divide in CONCACAF is still very wide

It’s dangerous to draw wide-sweeping conclusions from any single game or even two games, but if one can be taken from the latest set against Costa Rica, it’s that the talent gap in CONCACAF is still very large. The U.S. is top of that heap because of the resources it has always poured into women’s soccer, and even second-best Canada hasn’t come all that close in recent years.

Costa Rica qualified for its first World Cup in 2015, and only captain Shirley Cruz and goalkeeper Yirlania Arroyo play professionally outside their homeland from the squad that went to Canada. Neither of them participated in these matches against the U.S., which fall outside the FIFA international calendar, meaning Cruz couldn’t get away from preseason commitments at Paris Saint-Germain.

Especially in Cruz’s absence, the differences against a first-choice U.S. squad only became more obvious. After Wednesday, Las Ticas are now 0–12 all-time against the U.S.—Granados’s goal marked the country’s first-ever against the U.S.—and its best results so far were two 3–0 losses.

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Tougher tests coming against Australia and Brazil

Now that the opening set of games against Costa Rica passed with a combined 15–2 scoreline in the U.S.’s favor, the team moves more toward preparing for Olympic qualifiers by playing Australia and Brazil. Australia is up first in a similar fashion, playing two games stateside within days of each other on Sept. 17 and 20, before Brazil does the same on Oct. 21 and 25.

The Matildas kept the U.S. close in their opening group match of the 2015 World Cup, and the official Australian FA website wasn’t all that impressed with the Americans while simultaneously piling praise on its own team despite a 3–1 U.S. win. They won’t be World Cup games, but Australia and Brazil should provide a much better measuring stick for the U.S.

Brazil has always been a tough opponent for the Americans, and it has its entire squad living together in a residency program until the nation hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Brazilians also won the Pan Am Games by beating Colombia 4–0 in the final, and they play another tough opponent in France just a couple days before taking on the U.S. in Seattle.

In other words, if you’ve been disappointed by the U.S.’s domination the last two games, your appetite for competition should be closer to sated over the next four.

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