This time, the Trinidad game won't matter quite as much.
As expected, the U.S. women's soccer team had no trouble dispatching Panama in its second group-stage game of World Cup qualifying. Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick in a 5-0 romp at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
The win, combined with Mexico's 4-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago in Sunday's other game, officially gave the Americans a place in next Sunday's semifinals. The group stage finale is Wednesday against Trinidad & Tobago, the nation that denied the U.S. men a place at this year's World Cup in Russia (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and Univision Deportes). Mexico will play Panama for second place in the group, also on Wednesday (5 p.m., Fox Sports 2).
After the U.S.' A-team routed Mexico 6-0 to open group stage play, U.S. coach Jill Ellis gave the B-team top billing against lesser opposition. Nine of the 11 places in the lineup were changed.
Lloyd started at striker, flanked by Christen Press on the left and Mallory Pugh on the right; Samantha Mewis, Morgan Brian and Julie Ertz were the midfield triangle; Casey Short, Hailie Mace, Abby Dahlkemper and Emily Sonnett formed the back line (from left to right); and Ashlyn Harris started in goal.
It was the first senior national team game for Mace, a 21-year-old senior at UCLA. Ertz and Dahlkemper were the only players who also started against Mexico.
Panama's lineup had three teenagers, including 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey. She gave a valiant effort, making 11 saves.
Lloyd said in a postgame interview on Fox that she was "very, very impressed" by Bailey's performance.
"I went over to her a couple times to tell her how good she was tonight," Lloyd said. "She played a fantastic match, and hopefully that gives her a lot of confidence in herself and in Panama. They brought it. They can play. They put the ball down and played, and credit to our team for getting the job done tonight."
That Lloyd played striker was notable. The Delran-born former U.S. captain has been a midfielder for most of her career. As Lloyd has grown older, she has lost some of her dynamism, and a new generation of creators has come along to succeed her. But she hasn't lost her scoring, so Ellis has tried deploying Lloyd at forward as Alex Morgan's backup.
Press, meanwhile, has played striker for most of her career, but has the speed and creativity to be a winger. Expect to see her play that role more often as the World Cup draws nearer.
Here are highlights of the U.S. goals:
5′: Mewis headed in a Press corner kick.
29′: Lloyd scored a very nice goal. She took a feed from Short just inside the 18-yard box, dribbled past three Panama defenders, and shot from 12 yards.
32′: Dahlkemper sprung Press just past the midfield line with a through ball that split two Panama defenders, and Press was off to the races.
48′: Lloyd completed her hat trick by finishing a free kick from Rose Lavelle, who replaced Ertz at halftime. Lloyd might have been a half-step offside, but with the score already a rout, it didn't matter.