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World Cup qualifying: USA looks confident in 6-0 win over Mexico

Free-flowing, creative possession and fun, interesting attacking plays? It’s more likely than you think!

United States v Mexico: Group A - CONCACAF Women’s Championship Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Starting XI: Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Alyssa Naeher

It was a hot start for the United States as they opened up their World Cup qualifying campaign against Mexico with a third-minute goal from Megan Rapinoe.

But if they started off red hot, they cooled off over the rest of the first half. That’s not to say they did badly at all - they had flurries of nice one- and two-touch passing all through the midfield and Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan were clearly ready to bring the sauce. But as much as they both managed to take out Mexico’s midfield, Mexico’s defense committed to swarming any approach to their 18-yard box, particularly looking to congest any look from Tobin Heath from out wide.

Julie Ertz was also in the center of the park for the US, but where Lavelle and Horan were working on a nice uptempo beat, Ertz was killing the vibe. She worked hard at ballwinning, but then couldn’t pick out the wide pass, or wouldn’t release early enough to take advantage of having numbers up high. Often she looked to her centerbacks so they could recycle the ball to Horan and have her start the team out from deep.

Out wide, Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn had some limited flank play action. They both had good picks on Mexico’s wide attackers as they stepped up to keep pressure in Mexico’s end, but were subdued in pushing deeper. O’Hara had more chances on her side, sometimes trying to overlap with Heath and stretch out Mexico’s back line, but Mexico really worked hard and stayed mostly disciplined to cut off any exploits from the right side. Sure they gave up a lot of corner kicks, but they gritted it out on the set pieces too. The one time Lavelle’s corner found Horan rising, the header looked mistimed and Horan flicked the ball well wide of the post.

It was that determination and relentless work rate from Mexico that kept the scoreline at 1-0 throughout the half, despite the clear hunger from Rapinoe, Lavelle, Heath, Morgan, and Horan to get the ball on frame. Lavelle managed to dink the ball off the post in the 26’ and Rapinoe had a shot saved in the 37’ with a critical deflection from Mexico’s GK, Bianca Henninger. Lavelle was also doing her best to pry the back line open, sending some nice sharp passes through for Morgan that opened up gaps here and there. But Mexico recovered each time, and the half ended at 1-0.

The second half started off almost the same as the first, with an early goal, this time from Julie Ertz. Ertz was in position to clean up a loose ball in the box and she made it 2-0 in the 46’. But if anyone watching thought things might repeat themselves with an early goal followed by a tense half of blocked shots, the United States blew that thought right out of the water.

Alex Morgan got the rout truly started in the 57’ with a header off a Rapinoe corner kick. She made the run, left her defender flapping in the wind, and put the ball into a fairly open net to make it 3-0.

Then Rapinoe set up Dunn for the overlapping run with a backheel in the 61’; Dunn took off to the deep left flank, put in the cross, and found Heath for a bullet header to make it 4-0.

Then came the first sub of the night in the 66’, with Carli Lloyd coming on for Rose Lavelle. Ostensibly it was like for like, but Lloyd pushed higher into the front line with Alex Morgan to twin her presence in the box and add another big target, as if a rapidly tiring Mexico didn’t already have enough to deal with. Emily Sonett also came in for Kelley O’Hara, allowing O’Hara a rest as she returns from a long rehab after a series of injuries. O’Hara had said to press before the game that she was fully fit, but it seems wise to not push her to 90 minutes if you don’t have to, and Ellis definitely didn’t have to.

The middle of the field lost a little bit of texture with Lloyd on, but Horan stayed deeper and looked to bypass Mexico with direct balls to Lloyd and Morgan to compensate. Mexico also couldn’t handle Lloyd’s fresh legs any time she picked up the ball in space and made a dash for the box, and she nearly managed to slip through off a give-and-go with Rapinoe.

Rapinoe got her brace in the 70’, taking advantage of a ball popping loose from Lloyd’s challenge on Henninger as Mexico failed to clear a corner kick, and the scoreline was 5-0.

The final US sub came on in the 77’ with Mal Pugh on for Heath. Heath had a scrappy night, battling up and down the right side with two and sometimes three players always trying to body her off the ball or try to take a bite out of her legs. Pugh had a couple of threatening moments late, looking to Horan to spring her runs into the box.

The last goal was in the 80’ as Morgan got a brace of her own, this time when Becky Sauerbrunn got to take a holiday from center backing and make a deep flank run up the left into the space left behind by Mexico’s exhausted defense. She picked up the ball as it was tackled away from Morgan and gave it right back to her for the one-time finish, making it 6-0.

The best part of the goal was Alex Morgan grinning in confused exhilaration at Sauerbrunn after she scores, asking “Where’d you come from?!”

Then it was just a matter of shutting down the rest of the game. Dunn pressed higher into midfield, Pugh had a nice shot deflected away, and the final whistle blew. It was a fine, confident statement from the United States, who played a creative, free-flowing game for much of the night. The midfield stuttered here and there, mainly around Ertz, and it’s hard to say how the back line did without any real tests, but at the same time when it’s a World Cup qualifier, it’s probably best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. This was supposed to be the hardest game of the group and there were some general pre-game ideas that Mexico would create more chances than they did. But the US pretty much ran circles around their midfield, and so they now look to face Panama on Sunday riding high on a definitive win.