USWNT defeats Puerto Rico to win Group A in Olympic qualifying

The United States women’s national team routed Puerto Rico, 10–0, on Monday to win Group A in Olympic qualifying and advance to the semifinals
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The United States women knew they only needed a draw to win Group A in Olympic qualifying before their match against Puerto Rico began on Monday. Still, the Americans showed no mercy, winning by a 10–0 margin.

It took just six minutes for the U.S. to score its first goal, avoiding a repeat of the frustrating 1–0 win over Mexico in the second game of the tournament. Mallory Pugh found Crystal Dunn in the penalty area after blowing past a defender on the left flank, and Dunn finished without trouble.

Pugh then drew a penalty with another mazy dribble in the 18th minute despite appearing simply to trip over her own feet. Carli Lloyd’s shot hit the crossbar in the upper righthand corner before bouncing over the goal line.

It was left back Jaelene Hinkle who tore down the left in the 21st minute before sending a cross in that Dunn eventually put home for her second of the game. The Americans scored again just before halftime through Kelley O’Hara cutting inside from right back, and second-half goals from a deflection off a Puerto Rican defender, Christen Press, Dunn (three of them) and Samantha Mewis capped the rout.

Here are three thoughts on the game and the U.S.’s upcoming quest to win the tournament:

An expected win in expected fashion

That was about what we expected to see from the U.S. after a difficult victory against Mexico. The Americans spent most of the game in the attacking half, putting constant pressure on Puerto Rico’s goal and breaking down another low-block defense, albeit much more easily this time.

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Five-goal scorer Dunn and Pugh, the 17-year-old making her first national-team start, put in the most impressive individual performances. Pugh was a constant terror down the flanks, also cutting inside on the dribble and with her off-the-ball runs to create two of the U.S.’s goals. She slipped a couple difficult passes through the back line to teammates and generally looked confident in the environment.

The U.S. made eight changes to its starting lineup from the previous games, moving players out of position to search for some versatility that could be important with a short roster of 18 going to the Olympics in August. As such, Ali Krieger took a turn at center back and Lloyd found herself deeper in midfield again, where she started the 2015 World Cup.

Group stage passes without serious incident

At no time has the U.S.’s play suggested it can’t win this tournament. Even against Mexico, the U.S. always looked likely to win, despite its struggle to break down the opposition’s defense. The U.S. also showed an important ability in that game, to win without playing perfectly.

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The end product was a flawless defensive record and a plus-16 goal difference, as well as the simplest possible matchup in the semifinals. The U.S.’s recent dominance continued as a result, and a 1–0 loss to China in Abby Wambach’s final game remains its only defeat in the last 29 games.

The U.S. will also have its full complement of players available for the knockout round, as Tobin Heath and Julie Johnston’s yellow cards are wiped after they didn’t play against Puerto Rico to avoid the possibility of suspension.

Moving forward to the semifinals

The U.S. has never lost a match in Olympic qualifying. The closest it came was taking Canada to penalty kicks after an extra-time goal each way in the 2008 tournament final, which the Americans eventually won, 6–5. The two continental rivals could face off again in the final, but both would have qualified for Rio already at that point.

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Instead, the decisive match will be against either Guyana or Trinidad and Tobago, who play each other on Tuesday to decide the second-placed team in Group B. The U.S. defeated Trinidad, 6–0, in a Victory Tour friendly in December 2015, while Guyana is ranked 89th by FIFA.

In other words, it shouldn’t be a problem to qualify for Rio after the way the U.S. has played its first three games. The difficult part of qualifying should be over. Now, the focus turns to winning the tournament.