September 25, 2022

MONTERREY, Mexico — Shortly after a 5-0 win over Jamaica on Thursday, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team returned to their hotel for a reunion and, before long, a low-key celebration.

As the Americans entered their high-end digs, Megan Rapinoe was waiting for them. Excused from the Concacaf W Championship game, the star striker had returned from Washington after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House. She greeted her 22 teammates with hugs.

Players and staff then watched as Haiti defeated Mexico, 3-0 – a result that clinched a 2023 World Cup berth for the top-seeded United States.

With four spots to come from this eight-team regional competition, there was no doubt the Americans (2-0-0) would qualify for next summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand. They did it in just two group matches.

A once highly anticipated clash with Mexico (0-2-0) next Monday has lost its luster. Instead, the game between Jamaica (1-1-0) and Haiti (1-1-0) will decide the other Group A place in the World Cup.

This tournament will also award an automatic berth to the 2024 Olympics, but that will come down to the tournament final on July 18. (A second place will be determined next year.) Canada (1-0-0), Costa Rica (1- 0-0), Panama (0-1-0) and Trinidad and Tobago (0-1- 0) make up group B.

Thursday, the quadruple world champions hit the mark. Three days after veteran Alex Morgan provided a two-goal cushion against Haiti, 21-year-old Sophia Smith did the same.

Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis and Trinity Rodman, 20, scored in the second half on the third anniversary of the US World Cup in France, the fourth on the program since FIFA globalized women’s football in 1991.

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The Americans were better Thursday at the Estadio BBVA than they were in Monday’s 3-0 win over Haiti at the Estadio Universitario. They set the terms and did not back down. Smith scored in the fifth and eighth minutes.

On the first strike, she used a clever touch at speed to dodge Deneisha Blackwood before applying a cheeky finish. Better positioned to use her left foot, she opted for the outside of her right foot, sending an angled offer across the net.

“It was sick,” Lavelle marveled.

Three minutes later, Smith beat goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer on Sophia Huerta’s long ball, driving it towards the target. Jamaican defender Allyson Swaby cleared the ball as it crossed the goal line. Initially play continued, but the assistant referee scored a goal – a decision confirmed by the video replay.

Smith, the second-youngest on the team behind Rodman, took his career tally to eight goals in 18 appearances.

“I always play a learning role with older players and I know my place,” she said. “But at the same time, I’m very confident with where I am despite my age.”

USA coach Vlatko Andonovski said that for Smith, being a full-time starter at his age on the best team in the world “is not easy. It carries a lot of weight in that she wants to be the best every time she steps onto the pitch. She’s a perfectionist. She wants to score one goal, two goals.

Jamaican coach Lorne Donaldson, a staple of Denver’s youth football scene, coached Smith and American forward Mallory Pugh for years.

“They are like a family; they are still family,” he said. “We want [Smith] half a chance, she’ll take it. I expect no less from her.

The Reggae Girlz were overwhelmed and in a bad mood.

“We played sh—y,” Donaldson said. “You’re not going to play world champions and play so badly and expect something to come out of it. We weren’t good.

Her favorite player, Manchester City striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, didn’t play a role after scoring in Monday’s 1-0 win over Mexico.

The American central defense of Naomi Girma and Alana Cook (15 appearances combined) remained unfazed.

“I was very happy that we didn’t allow them to be dangerous,” Andonovski said. “Nothing scared us at any time.”

The Americans didn’t let go, but offside calls canceled out two apparent goals.

Assessing the attack, Andonovski said: “I would just like to see them be a bit more clinical with the finishing touches.”

He then smiled and added, “And stay close.”

Lavelle stretched the lead in the 59th minute, when Ashley Sanchez crossed from close range for his 21st career goal.

Mewis converted an 83rd-minute penalty after Margaret Purce came off. Three minutes later, Pugh’s cross connected with Rodman for an easy finish from close range and his second international goal.

“We have such a great group, and every practice we push ourselves really hard,” Rodman said. “And as soon as we get off the [practice] on the pitch, we’re best friends again, but on the pitch, we kill each other.

The Americans remained perfect against Jamaica: 5-0-0 with a differential of 31-0.

“It was definitely a better game for us,” Lavelle said. “We want to keep building. The tournament is not over. It’s just going to keep getting harder from here. It was a good game to score goals – a good confidence booster.

Remarks: The US Soccer Federation is scheduling two friendlies for the women’s team in each of the three FIFA international windows: Aug. 29-Sept. Oct. 6, 3-11 and Nov. 7-15. First and last window matches will be played at US venues, while venues for October matches have not been determined. …

Earnie Stewart has signed a contract extension to remain the USSF athletic director until 2026, people familiar with the deal have said. His previous pact was due to expire in December. Stewart, a former United States World Cup striker, joined the federation in 2018 as managing director of the men’s national team, then moved into a wider role a year later.