The US women’s national team kicked off their Concacaf Olympic qualifying campaign with a 4-0 win over Haiti in Houston on Tuesday night, an expected result, but hardly a vintage performance for the defending world champions.

A very early empty-net finish from Christen Press gave the overwhelming favorites a dream start and later tallies by Lynn Williams, Lindsey Horan and Carli Lloyd provided a comfortable margin of victory in the end. (Find match details on Concacaf’s website.)

Yet rust was evident in the USWNT’s first competitive match under new coach Vlatko Andonovski, who will no doubt have plenty of lessons to impart when this game film gets analyzed. Here’s a few observations on the rainy result at BBVA Stadium.

The USWNT got bailed out

This game was just 1-0 at halftime, a fairly shocking turn of events given this was FIFA’s No. 1-ranked team in the world vs. No. 68 – and it should have been 1-1.

Haiti stunned the US backline with a 19th-minute corner-kick delivery that skipped right past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and her static back line and nestled inside the far post, only for Jamaican referee Odette Hamilton to wave off the goal for what appeared to be an offside flag – even though offside does not apply on corners.

As best we can tell, it was a blown call, plain and simple, and it was a massive blow for the underdogs, who already had the steepest of tasks just to keep this one close. And it may renew some old doubts about Naeher’s command of her penalty box.

The Chicago Red Stars ‘keeper is a reserved personality by the traditional norms of her position, and at times in her USWNT career that’s left her looking passive when it comes to communicating and claiming deliveries into the goalmouth. She stood tall when it counted most during the Women’s World Cup last summer, but the door might have opened just a bit for reserves Adrianna Franch or Ashlyn Harris to stake a claim to the No. 1 job.

Soft spots

The USWNT remain a behemoth, a fearsome juggernaut whose confidence, quality and reputation amounts to a one-goal lead before a ball is kicked in most of their games. But like Spain in the WWC round of 16, Haiti offered a few glimpses of a potential blueprint to knock them off.

The short version:

  • Get stuck in, and chop up the game’s flow where necessary
  • Keep an organized team shape for 90-plus minutes
  • Work quickly and precisely in transition, particularly in the spaces left behind by the Americans’ marauding fullbacks

Unfortunately for Haiti, their squad is young and few of their players are fully professional, so they tired markedly over the game’s final half-hour or so, allowing the USWNT machine to churn through them by the by. And their counterattacks weren’t quite sharp or coordinated enough to make the favorites pay.

Perhaps someone like Canada or Mexico can put these lessons to work in this tournament’s all-important semifinal round, though.

The night’s winners and… not-winners

Andonovski’s starting lineup was in all likelihood not his first-choice XI. With as many as five games across three time zones in 13 day, this event requires rotation and he’s got ample depth to work with. That made Tuesday a key opportunity for several players hungry to prove their worth for more minutes.

With a goal and an assist and plenty of direct, incisive work down the right flank, Williams – one of only two players on this Olympic roster who did not take part in the WWC – made the most of her chance. Press was also impactful, while mainstays like Julie Johnston Ertz, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe (the latter a calming influence, and deliverer of two dimes, in 28-plus substitute minutes) underlined their continuing importance.

Surprisingly, however, the iconic veteran Lloyd fell short of her own high standards, especially in the wake of some outspoken comments leading up to the match in which she made clear her simmering frustrations about being a supersub over the past year or so under former coach Jill Ellis.

Yes, Lloyd found the net late on with a diving shouldered finish. But on balance she was wasteful in front of goal, failing to make the most of her looks, missing the target with several efforts and not looking entirely comfortable in the No. 9 role. While she’ll surely get further chances to impress, this was not an outing to disprove Ellis’ calculation that she’s best utilized as a game-changer off the bench.

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