It was a year ago to the day that a U.S. national team faced Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup qualifier it was expected to win, instead suffering a humiliating and humbling defeat for the ages. The women's national team made sure there would be no such repeat. Not even remotely close.
Alex Morgan's ninth-minute goal set the tone for a night of one-way traffic, and after the U.S. hit the post four times, the floodgates opened en route to a 7-0 rout that capped a perfect 3-0-0 run through Group A. Morgan and Rose Lavelle each scored twice, while Lindsey Horan, Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath also scored in a third straight dominant showing in Cary, N.C.
The win advances the U.S. to Sunday's Concacaf Women's Championship semifinals in Frisco, Texas, where it will play the Group B runner-up with a ticket to the 2019 World Cup in France on the line. The losers of both semifinals will drop to the third-place game, where the winner will also go to the World Cup and the loser will head to an intercontinental playoff against Argentina for a final berth in next summer's showcase.
Here are three thoughts on the USA's latest qualifying rout:
A first job done
The U.S. was expected to be dominant in this group of overmatched foes, and it did not disappoint.
After a 6-0 win over Mexico and 5-0 win over Panama, the 7-0 triumph capped a flawless three-match run that featured 18 goals scored, none conceded and, perhaps most importantly, no injuries. The score could've been considerably more lopsided Wednesday if not for the posts, crossbar and early heroics from Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Saundra Baron. At one point late in the first half, it looked like the U.S. would only go into the break up 1-0, despite an overwhelming edge in possession and shots. But the dam broke over the final five minutes of the half, with Lavelle scoring twice and Dunn adding one more for good measure, eliminating any hope T&T would've had at keeping it close.
There's no question the competition hasn't been remotely near the USA's standard, and the differences among the tiers in Concacaf are quite stark. That's nothing new. It's likely the U.S. won't face any semblance of a test until the final of the Concacaf Women's Championship, by which point the World Cup ticket will already be secure. It's not arrogance or taking anything for granted, and the U.S. will have to keep its focus in Sunday's decisive match, but it's just the state of the field. There's a reason the U.S. has scheduled such loaded fields for their non-official tournaments over the last three years. One set of matches gets the U.S. to the World Cup, another actually prepares the U.S. for what it might see when it gets there.
Ellis reverts back in her lineup choice
After making nine changes for the second group game against Panama, U.S. manager Jill Ellis reverted back to the lineup she deployed against Mexico. Provided the U.S. takes care of business in the semifinals–or in the even of disaster the third-place game–and qualifies for the World Cup, it could well be the lineup she uses on the first day of group play in France.
There's balance from front to back and side to side, a pair of marauding fullbacks (Dunn, Kelley O'Hara) complementing steady central defenders (Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper) and a midfield (Horan, Lavelle, Julie Ertz) capable of controlling the tempo, circulating the ball and finding its wingers (Megan Rapinoe, Heath) to create opportunities. Then there's the 29-year-old Morgan, who is in fine form, with 21 goals scored in her last 22 U.S. matches. The U.S. women were deserving champions in 2015, but this edition, which is now 21-0-3 in its last 24 matches, appears to be a more dynamic, versatile and deep bunch.
What comes next
Barring an absurd set of circumstances, the U.S. will avoid Canada in the semifinals and face either Costa Rica or Jamaica.
Canada currently leads Group B with six points and has a vastly superior +7 goal differential over Costa Rica and an even more superior +15 edge over Jamaica, who are level on three points. Jamaica gets to face Cuba, which has yet to score and conceded 20 times in two matches, while Costa Rica must face Canada in their respective group finales. Wins from both figure to send Costa Rica through, while a Costa Rica draw or loss would likely send Jamaica to the semis and a round that will determine two of the region's three automatic berths.
Either way, the U.S. will be heavily favored to finish the job. The U.S. is more familiar with Costa Rica of the two, last playing Las Ticas in a sendoff to the 2016 Olympics. The Americans won that match 4-0 to improve to 14-0-0 all-time against the Central American nation.