The U.S. women’s national team put on a clinic against Costa Rica in its Olympic qualifying tournament opener on Wednesday, scoring 12 seconds after the opening kickoff through Alex Morgan and going on to win 5–0 in Frisco, Texas.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
The kickoff play finally worked
The U.S. has been trying the same designed play to score off the opening kickoff for a long time now, and it actually worked through a combination of pure execution and poor scouting by the Costa Ricans. Morgan provided the finish on the fastest goal in U.S. history, and two quick follow-up goals—by Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn—put the game out of reach before 20 minutes had passed.
The U.S.’s suffocating pressing in the first half, combined with solid positional play by Morgan Brian and Lindsey Horan, flustered Las Ticas, who should have been better than they displayed. Morgan showed she’s sharp physically and mentally, which is a good omen for the year ahead. Ten more games separate the U.S. from another Olympic gold medal, and this was an ideal start.
Costa Rica was disappointing
For a team that played in the World Cup and was better than expected in 2014 World Cup qualifying, Costa Rica provided less resistance than expected, raising questions over whether it can nose out Mexico for second place in this group. I expected more from Raquel Rodríguez after she led Penn State to the NCAA title, and Shirley Cruz had little impact on the game as well. The U.S. back line wasn’t even challenged, and it made you wonder if Costa Rica decided to play for goal-difference after conceding three early goals. It didn’t work in the end, and now Las Ticas are in a tough spot in this group.
Jill Ellis’s depth chart was intriguing
The U.S. coach made her first subs with Mallory Pugh (17 years old) and Jaelene Hinkle (22) before going to Christen Press with her last sub and leaving Kelley O’Hara on the bench entirely. We’re not on the ground in Texas to ask Ellis, but if that’s a reflection of her depth chart, that would be an interesting development. Then again, Ellis might just be trying to give as many minutes as possible to younger players.
In the big picture, the stories around the U.S. team lately have been about labor strife with U.S. Soccer and Hope Solo saying she wouldn’t go to the Olympics if they started today due to the Zika virus. This game was a reminder that in soccer terms, this U.S. team is firing on all cylinders right now. We’ll see if that continues in the next group game against Mexico on Saturday.