USWNT World Cup qualification came easily, but is still an accomplishment

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Though the U.S. rolled through the Concacaf tournament, booking a spot in France is an achievement

The World Cup champion will be defending its title.

The United States made it look easy, thrashing Jamaica 6-0 Sunday night. Despite the lopsided scoreline, it's the second closest game the Americans have played in qualification after 6-0, 5-0 and 7-0 victories in the group stage. Even so, it's not a given. In 2010, host Mexico shocked the U.S. and forced the Americans to win in the third-place game and a playoff against Italy to continue their streak of making every World Cup since the women's tournament was established in 1991.

This time, there were far fewer scary moments. The U.S. wasn't tested, but it did what it needed to do to and got where it expected to be without any fuss. Even the loser of Sunday's match gets another chance to secure direct qualification in the third-place game and the loser of that game goes into a playoff against Argentina.

Despite the easy path for the U.S. and the safety net built in for Concacaf teams who make it this far, locking up the spot in France without any drama is an accomplishment for the U.S. Other teams struggled far more in their qualifying campaigns, and U.S. fans will need no reminding that you still have to qualify for the tournament even if you expect to be there after the men's side fell short in its quest for a spot in Russia.

Unlike Concacaf qualification for the men's World Cup, the Women's Championship is more a sprint than a marathon. The U.S. needed only to dominate for two weeks to book its spot in France. While this is the only game action opponents like Panama, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago see during the cycle, the Americans had been testing themselves against the rest of the world's elite teams in the Tournament of Nations, the SheBelieves Cup and in friendly matches. It was in those tournaments that the team's full tactics were tested, that the defense had to deal with a challenge beyond a forward getting on the end of a long ball or two.

"I have confidence in that we’ve had a really tough schedule this year. We won SheBelieves, we won Tournament of Nations and those were top-ranked teams and the defense did do well in a lot of those games," Sauerbrunn said. "We were found out in a few but then we quickly worked on those things to kind of shore things up."

The U.S. has to balance playing in those games against the types of teams they'll face in the latter rounds of the World Cup with the knowledge that there will be no World Cup if victories aren't secured in Concacaf play.

That said, the U.S. hasn't always rolled through qualification. There were the difficulties in 2009 and a one-goal win over Trinidad and Tobago four years later. Those wobbles in the past made the U.S. go into the tournament looking to do exactly what it did and demolish every team in front of it.

"Historically we have struggled against some of these teams in the past. When we play Mexico in qualification tournaments, it’s usually 1-0 games. We’ve struggled against Trinidad and Tobago and it’s only a 1-0 game," Sauerbrunn said. "I think we’re playing very well in this qualification tournament, better than we have in past qualification tournaments, but we’ve never had a problem knowing that each game was, especially this game, punching our ticket to France."

Now that the ticket is punched, fans will eagerly be watching as the team prepares for another run at the top prize.

 

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