CARY, N.C. — The United States women’s national team started on the road to the 2019 World Cup in France with its foot on the gas. The U.S. defeated Mexico 6-0 at Sahlen Stadium in its first match of World Cup qualifying during the Concacaf Women’s Championship.
Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan scored a brace each in front of the announced 5,404-person crowd.
The U.S. took just three minutes to go from zero to 60 with a goal from Rapinoe. Midfielder Rose Lavelle put the pressure on Mexico’s back line, passing a ball to Morgan inside the box. Morgan’s initial shot was blocked, but midfielder Lindsey Horan was there to follow up with another look. Finally, Rapinoe tipped in the opening goal.
The score put an immediate crack in the armor of Mexico’s defense, but it held off the U.S. the remainder of the first half — at the price of sacrificing shots on goal. Mexico failed to get a single shot off in the first 45 minutes.
“Our first half was a little disconnected. I thought we gave the ball over a lot,” Rapinoe said. “They came out a little more in the second half that allowed us more space.”
While putting all of their effort into keeping the score at just one, Mexico suffered fatigue. And the U.S. took advantage, scoring five times in the second half.
Mexico was the last Concacaf team to hand the U.S. a loss, 2-1 in the 2011 World Cup qualifiers. Since then, the U.S. has recorded 37 wins and three draws against teams in the region.
USWNT coach Jill Ellis made no surprise changes to her formation Thursday. The squad lined up in the Ellis-approved 4-3-3 with captain Rapinoe and Tobin Heath on the flanks of Morgan up top.
“This formation fits us,” defender Crystal Dunn said. “Anyone playing on the flanks, it suits them because they are good one-on-one and can serve great balls in. Changing to this 4-3-3 has been really great for us.”
Despite the unfamiliar lines and a first half of missed opportunities, the U.S. found a rhythm in the final 45 minutes and the attack caught Mexico sleeping after a fierce half of defending.
Ellis’ lineup allowed the U.S. to overload and exploit the left side of Mexico’s 5-4-1 formation. Four of the five second-half goals were scored from a cross or set piece on the left side.
“We felt so prepared. I don’t think going into it we had a lot of questions,” Ellis said of her formation. “When you play a back-five you have to shift them and overload them at times. That is what we talked about in our attacking at halftime.”
El Tri’s defense stood still as defensive midfielder Julie Ertz cleaned up a crossbar spill. Next, it was time for Morgan’s first. In a familiar, almost scripted header, Morgan finished a Rapinoe corner.
“Set pieces are a big part of our identity as a team,” Heath said. “Leading up to 2015, that is a big reason why we won that tournament. We have continued our execution on that.”
Attacker-turned-left-back Crystal Dunn exposed Mexico’s defense with her lighting speed and lifted an aerial cross for Heath to head in. Rapinoe and Morgan finished the lopsided half with a final goal each. Morgan scored the final goal when center back Becky Sauerbrunn opted to record her sixth career assist instead of going for her first international goal.
“Apparently she was playing left back all of a sudden and she found herself up by the goal line,” Morgan said. “Becky doesn’t have a goal internationally yet, so it would have been great to have her get on the score sheet. But in true Becky-fashion she was completely selfless and got the assist.”
With arguably its toughest opponent in the group taken care of, the Concacaf Women’s Championship defending champion looks toward Sunday’s 5 p.m. match against Panama, which beat Trinidad & Tobago in an earlier match Thursday. Mexico will take on Trinidad & Tobago at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We are going to take it one game at a time” Morgan said. “We know winning a semifinal game is a ticket to the World Cup. We are just going to inch toward that and look to finish off our group games on a high note.”