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USWNT opens Olympic qualifying with a rusty 4-0 victory

The USWNT didn’t play anywhere close to their best, but still did more than enough to overcome a feisty Haiti.

United States v Haiti: Group A - 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The United States did not turn in a vintage performance, often struggling to perform even fairly simple tasks. But, they were able to hold off Haiti in a 4-0 victory Tuesday night in Houston. An early goal kept the pressure from building too much, even as the first half performance left a lot to be desired. Things turned around after the break, however, and eventually they cemented things with a few goals in the final twenty minutes as Haiti began to tire.

This was the first competitive match in the job for Vlatko Andonovski, who took over the job last fall. He stuck fairly closely to the lineup that served Jill Ellis so well in 2019. The only significant change was the addition of Lynn Williams, who was not taken to France for the Women’s World Cup last summer, to the starting lineup.

That proved to be a fateful switch, as Williams quickly helped open the scoring in just the second minute. She gained the ball, turned, lost her shoe, but continued undaunted toward the endline. Her cross went over the heads of everyone in front of goal and found an unmarked Christen Press at the far post who easily knocked it in.

However, they were unable to follow up on that initial goal, with the next half hour showing clear signs of rust. Multiple players struggled to connect their passes, even seeming to panic a bit under light defensive pressure. It was also not the free-flowing performance the US would have hoped for. It culminated in the 18th minute when Haiti actually put the ball in the net directly off a corner. The play was whistled off, apparently for offside, even though the law is very clear that players may be offside when receiving a corner kick. But without replay, Haiti’s protests were in vain.

Still, it was a disastrous bit of defending from the US, who failed to get a head or hand on the ball, simply watching it go straight into the goal.

The US did manage to create a few more decent chances over the rest of the half, though most came from corner kicks, with very little being generated in open play. Carli Lloyd was inches from making it 2-0 in the final minute of the half, after a looping cross was touched on by Williams. But her shot went just wide, to maintain the tight margin going into the break.

Things did change noticeably after the break. The US looked far more composed and creative. It didn’t produce an immediate goal like the first half, but the quality of play definitely ticked upward. In the opening few minutes, Lloyd wasted a good chance after Press rolled her the ball. Then, in quick succession, Lavelle carved out space for a shot at the edge of the box, Lloyd found herself in a tussle on the penalty spot, and Williams had time to send in a bouncing cross-cum-shot toward the back post. The next clear chance came in the 59th minute when Press took down a long ball, dribbled into the box, held the ball as she turned, and unleashed a shot toward the far corner. It took a good stop from Kerly Théus to keep things at 1-0.

The first substitution came in the 62nd minute, with Megan Rapinoe coming on for Press. One of her first contributions was a corner kick in the 67th minute which traveled straight to the head of Lynn Williams standing directly in front of goal. With no one challenging her, Williams calmly leaned back against the keeper and nodded the ball straight down the middle of the goal to make it 2-0.

Lavelle almost followed two minutes later with a rocket of a shot, but it was well saved.

In the 71st minute, the US made their second substitution, bringing on Lindsey Horan for Rose Lavelle. Once again, the substitute made an immediate impression as Horan found herself unmarked and calmly nodded a cross from Rapinoe just far enough off the keeper to allow it to bundle over the line, taking the scoreline to 3-0.

The final USWNT substitution came in the 81st minute, with Emily Sonnett entering in place of Kelley O’Hara. After O’Hara’s injury issues in 2019, they will certainly be happy to have gotten a solid 80 minutes from her.

The final minutes were interrupted by a fair number of injury breaks and other delays, quite possibly driven by the intense work Haiti had put in over the opening 45 to keep the US off their game. But in the waning moments of injury time, the US put the icing on the cake with a wonderful sequence of play from Williams to Rapinoe to Julie Ertz to Carli Lloyd that made it 4-0.

In the end, both teams will probably feel reasonably satisfied. The US got a fairly comfortable victory, while Haiti kept the scoreline somewhat reasonable.

What were your thoughts about this performance? A worrying sign of rustiness and imprecision? Or a decent start after a long break? Have your say in the comments below.