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Why the USWNT had to keep fighting for all 90 minutes against Thailand

The Americans have played down to the level of their competition too often. This was a welcome change.

Maybe you’re wondering if the United States women’s national team really had to hang 13 goals on Thailand. It felt pretty rude.

But the seriousness with which the USWNT treated the game was probably a welcome change for fans who are wondering if the team is ready to win this World Cup.

The USWNT often has a problem with playing down to the level of its opponents and not finding its highest level against teams that it’s capable of beating by huge scorelines. The Americans sleepwalked through big chunks of recent friendlies against South Africa and Mexico, and disappointed in a pair of 1-0 wins over Scotland and Portugal to close out 2018 as well.

At the 2015 World Cup, the USWNT looked unimpressive in a 1-0 win over Nigeria to close out its group stage, struggled through its next two games against Colombia and China, and never hit top gear until the final. At the 2016 Olympics, the USWNT drew Colombia in its final group stage game before getting knocked out of the tournament three days later.

USWNT head coach Jill Ellis probably knows her team needed quite a bit of good luck to win the 2015 World Cup. Its showing at the Olympics proved that a team with the right tactics could slow down the American attack quite easily. If you don’t come into the first game of a tournament with the right attitude, you might not find your top level before you get knocked out.

”I think a World Cup, it is about competing, it is about peaking, it is about priming your players ready for the next game,” Ellis told reporters in Reims after the match. She continued, “it is about mentality, it is also about confidence, and so getting off on the right foot is important.”

That, not setting a high goal differential, is why the USWNT played like it was 0-0 to the final whistle. It’s why Ellis and assistant Tony Gustavsson were calling players over to the sideline to make tactical adjustments and yelling instructions all game, well after the result was settled. It’s why Ellis made the substitutions that she’d have made if the USWNT was tied and chasing a goal.

The USWNT has learned that it can’t ease up against easy opponents, then flip a switch and start playing its best a few days later. It needs to treat every second of every game like it matters and get into a knockout game mindset before the knockout games start. And it’s especially important for the players who are participating in their first World Cup — like Rose Lavelle, who the USWNT is banking on being a key player — to get off to a strong start.

This team does not have time to think about what’s right, or classy, or good for the game. All the players and staff are thinking about is what they have to do to win the World Cup.