USWNT all but ensures World Cup qualification with big win over Mexico

Alex Morgan celebrates one of her two goals in the United States women’s national team’s rout of Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. (Getty)
Alex Morgan celebrates one of her two goals in the United States women’s national team’s rout of Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. (Getty)

CARY, N.C. — At 7:30 ET on Thursday night, the United States women’s national team had not yet begun World Cup qualifying.

A little after 9:30, it had all but secured its spot at next summer’s tournament in France.

The U.S. women overwhelmed, overpowered and outpaced Mexico on the opening night of the CONCACAF championship. The score was 6-0. The match was every bit that lopsided. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan each scored twice. Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath got one apiece. And any doubt over the outcome of the qualification campaign was erased.

Here are three takeaways, plus some additional notes, from the U.S. rout:

1. Why the U.S. win all but ensures qualification

The Americans’ only realistic route to a qualifying failure was a group exit. And the only realistic route to a group exit was a loss to Mexico, Group A’s second-favorite. That scenario is now gone.

The U.S., at the very least, would now have to lose to either Panama or Trinidad and Tobago in their final two group games Sunday and Wednesday. Not only has the USWNT never lost to either; it has never lost a qualifier to a non-Mexico opponent (and has only lost to the Mexicans once).

It will, therefore, almost surely get out of the group. It would then need just one victory from its two knockout-round games, likely against Costa Rica and Mexico (again). Even if it were to lose both, it would be heavily favored in a two-leg intercontinental playoff against Argentina.

So, in short … go ahead and book those flights to and hotels in France.

2. Midfield balance

For the fourth game in a row, Rose Lavelle started in midfield for the U.S. alongside Ertz. In three of the four, Lindsey Horan has been in the middle of the park with them. That, right there, is quite clearly head coach Jill Ellis’ preferred midfield.

And the balance, at least against an opponent of Mexico’s caliber, appears to be spot on. Lavelle plays as the most advanced of the three on the right. Horan gets forward plenty as well, but also drops into a deep left position while attack-minded left back Crystal Dunn gets forward down the wing.

More defensive steel might eventually be required and desired. And Ellis certainly has other options – Sam Mewis and Morgan Brian chief among them. But the U.S., in its current alignment, is rolling.

3. Set Pieces

The U.S. doesn’t need set pieces to be a dominant team in CONCACAF. It might, though, need to make good use of dead-ball opportunities to repeat as world champs. Thursday, in that department, was very promising …

The USWNT’s set-piece threat is equal parts physical superiority and play design. “We actually went back and looked at what we’d done before World Cup [qualifying]. We track and log every practice. The past eight months, we’ve spent a lot of time on the [run of] play, and less time on our set pieces. Coming into this tournament, we did amp that up a little bit, in terms of our set-piece focus.”

And, well, it showed, in the form of three goals and at least a few other big chances. Set pieces are an important team-wide asset.

Other notes

– Rapinoe captained the team for the first time since 2015 (her 100th cap), and just the second time in her USWNT career. She’ll be one of three captains going forward. The other two are Carli Lloyd and Morgan.

Pinoe, when asked what it felt like to wear the armband: “A little tight, actually.”

On a more serious note: “It’s good. Obviously it’s a great honor to have the backing of the staff and most importantly my teammates. Hopefully I can do them proud and be a good leader. I’m definitely one of many leaders on this team. There’s quite a few of the older group that are leaders on this team, and we all kind of do different things. So I’ll just play my part.”

– The attendance for the second match of the doubleheader was 5,404. The empty seats weren’t surprising, considering the USWNT has frequented Cary, and considering they play twice more at the same stadium over the coming week.

– In the first Group A game of the day, Panama beat Trinidad and Tobago 3-0, and could pose a threat to Mexico given the margins of the two games and the goal differential tiebreaker.

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.