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Three Takeaways From USWNT’s World Cup Opener

The Americans are off to a roaring start after a record-breaking 13-0 win over Thailand. The competition will only intensify, but if they maintain their imaginative, freewheeling attack, they might be the team to beat in France.

USA v Thailand: Group F - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

At one point in the United States’ opening match at the 2019 World Cup, the Americans tallied four goals in seven minutes. They also scored three before that high-scoring run, and another six after.

Do the math—it might take a while, which is unusual for a soccer scoreline—and you’ll reach 13 total goals. The USWNT began its tournament play with a 13-0 win over a hopelessly outmatched Thailand team, giving it the largest victory in World Cup history. Here are three takeaways from the carnage:

1. The U.S. took care of business, as expected.

Perhaps such a lopsided final score wasn’t the expectation, but an easy U.S. win was. Entering Tuesday’s match, since the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. had gone 30-0-0 against teams now ranked outside FIFA’s top 10, with an average of 4.2 goals scored to 0.3 goals allowed. In their lone match against Thailand in that stretch, the Americans won 9-0.

So anything short of a blowout would have registered as an underwhelming performance—but the blowout began early. Alex Morgan opened the scoring in the 12th minute, using her noggin to redirect a Kelley O’Hara cross, and Rose Lavelle lasered a left-footed shot in the 20th minute to double the lead. Lindsey Horan then finished the first-half scoring with a sure-footed hoof off a Tobin Heath free kick.

And then the second half began, and the considerately spaced drizzle grew to a deluge. The list is so lengthy we only have time for bullet points:

  • Sam Mewis scored in the 50th minute.
  • Morgan added another in the 53rd.
  • Mewis doubled her total in the 54th.
  • Lavelle scored again in the 56th.
  • Morgan completed her hat trick in the 74th.
  • Megan Rapinoe joined the fun in the 79th.
  • Morgan came back for four in the 81st.
  • Mallory Pugh scored her first career World Cup goal in the 84th.
  • Morgan found the net again in the 87th.
  • And Carli Lloyd added a final stoppage-time goal, for good measure.

Thailand, meanwhile, didn’t take its first shot until the 29th minute and finished the match with just two shots all game; the U.S., for comparison, had 40 (20 on target). Any number from a match that ends 13-0 should look equally disparate, but this map of attacking-third passes—of which the U.S. completed 227 and Thailand completed just 13—particularly tells the story of Tuesday’s contest.

The U.S. may never have an easier time on such an important stage again; Thailand tried to hold firm behind the ball but couldn’t help but submit to the Americans’ offensive pressure before long. Morgan scored as many goals in this one game—five—as she had scored in all her club games since the start of the 2018 season combined.

2. The U.S. showed variety in the attack.

One of the strongest complaints about recent iterations of the U.S. team focuses on its tendency to grow single-minded on offense. In the group’s elimination against Sweden at the 2016 Olympics, for instance, crosses weren’t working but crosses kept coming, and the U.S. couldn’t muster more than a single goal.

If there is anything to take away from this match, it’s that the U.S. displayed impressive creativity on offense, coupled with an aggressive pace from the opening kickoff that allowed for plenty of threatening chances. Without much of a worry from the Thai frontline, fullbacks O’Hara and Crystal Dunn were free to stream up the sidelines, while the starting midfield trio of Lavelle, Horan, and Mewis dictated tempo to keep waves of pressure on the final third.

And the goals came from all angles, with all manner of buildup. They scored with crosses, like with Morgan’s first. They scored with set pieces, like with Horan’s goal. They scored with direct attacks down the middle of the field and from cuts in off the wing. Morgan herself scored with both feet and her head. They found goals with forwards, midfielders, and almost a defender, too, when Dunn nearly scored off a free kick near the end of the first half.

That ease of scoring won’t translate to the third group-stage match against Sweden, and it certainly won’t linger into the knockout rounds. But if the U.S. maintains Tuesday’s imaginative, freewheeling style throughout the tournament, goals should come much easier than if they bog down in forcing a particular line of attack.

3. The U.S. and France are in a class of their own.

The U.S.’s result looks more meaningful when compared to the relative struggles other favorites exhibited in their first respective matches. Germany beat China by a mere 1-0 score, and star forward Dzsenifer Marozsán might miss the rest of the tournament due to a broken toe. England, Canada, and the Netherlands also won by a single goal; Japan tied one of the tournament’s weakest sides, Argentina; and Australia lost to Italy in the lone true upset thus far. Those six powers combined to score six goals—less than half the USWNT’s output alone.

Of the World Cup’s leading contenders, then, the U.S. and France—which already ranked first and second, respectively, in FiveThirtyEight’s pre-tournament ratings—did the most to affirm their standing. The quality of opposition helped, but so did the two teams’ play. The two favorites fittingly bookended the first set of games: Host France routed South Korea, 4-0, in the tournament’s opener, while the U.S. finished the initial wave with a record-setting margin of victory.

Barring an intervening upset, the U.S. and France seem headed for a magnificent quarterfinal clash, and nothing from the teams’ openers gave reason to doubt that destiny. From the Americans’ perspective, no team has ever enjoyed a better start to a World Cup. No team has ever enjoyed a more dominant victory, period. Just give the Golden Boot to Morgan now.