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Familiar Formula Sends USWNT Back to Olympics

Early goals and set-piece proficiency have been hallmarks of the USWNT, and they were again vs. Mexico in a do-or-die qualifying match for the 2020 Olympics.

CARSON, Calif. — The U.S. women’s national team punched a ticket for the 2020 Olympics on Friday night with a 4-0 victory against Mexico. The U.S. scored twice in the opening 14 minutes with goals by Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis and never looked back.

Mewis scored a second in the 67th minute, while Christen Press capped the scoring six minutes later.

The U.S. will face Canada–which will also go to the Olympics after a 1-0 win over Costa Rica–in the final of Concacaf's qualifying tournament on Sunday.

Here are three thoughts on the game:

The U.S.’s precision on set plays was fantastic

The two goals scored by Mewis on Friday revealed a team and a coaching staff that has been working hard on the practice field to get things right on set pieces. 

Mewis’s first strike came off a play in which Megan Rapinoe hit a low corner kick that was deliberately dummied by near-post runner Julie Ertz so that it fell right into the path of Mewis, who banged it home. (You could tell by the boisterous reactions of the players and coach Vlatko Andonovski that it was something they had planned.) 

The same was the case on Mewis’s second, in which Rapinoe ran over a free kick, leaving it to Mewis to launch a missile past keeper Emily Alvarado into the net. 

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You saw the precision in other moments, too, like when Rapinoe dragged a misdirection free kick over to Crystal Dunn, whose shot was just wide. Give Andonovski and his staff credit for this stuff. It matters.

Christen Press is making a great case to start 

The speedy winger has been on fire of late, and she scored in her sixth straight game–every one in Andonovski's tenure as coach–with a lightning run where her first shot was blocked but she got to the rebound and dinked it over Alvarado to give the U.S. a 4-0 lead. 

Press did it on Friday in a substitute’s role, which makes you wonder how close she is to earning a spot in Andonovski’s first-choice starting lineup. Press breaking through would likely require Megan Rapinoe or Tobin Heath to make way, and they’re two of the most accomplished U.S. players. But you get the sense that Andonovski will make any move if he feels like it’s the right thing for the team. The SheBelieves Cup in March will be an intriguing indicator of whom he thinks should be first-choice up front.

Rose Lavelle was feeling it 

Lavelle’s fifth-minute goal looked similar to the one she scored in the World Cup final against the Netherlands; she slashed her way through the middle of the field, found open space and lasered a diagonal shot past the keeper. 

The 24-year-old U.S. midfielder just moves a little differently than anyone else on the field, especially when she has the ball, and that unpredictability and skill are a joy to watch when she’s on. Not everything came off for Lavelle on Friday, but there were still moments that stood out, like when she corkscrewed out of trouble in her own half and got the break moving in the other direction downfield. 

What’s fascinating about Lavelle is that she has the chance to become the best player in the world, and while she’s not there yet, the pursuit of that status will be awfully fun to follow.