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Andrew Das

Sophia Smith scored two goals in the 3-0 U.S. win over Vietnam.Credit…Andrew Cornaga/Associated Press

For more than an hour, the United States sailed shots high and spun them wide. The shots skied over the crossbar and curled wide of each post. Occasionally, Vietnam’s goalkeeper would swat one away, or welcome another happily into her arms.

Three of the shots went in the Vietnam net, however, and at the World Cup, that is all that matters. Sophia Smith, a 22-year-old forward playing in her first World Cup match, got the first two, and Lindsey Horan, a veteran midfielder entrusted only weeks ago with the captain’s armband, had the third.

Alex Morgan could have had one, too, but her first-half penalty kick was saved — a moment that was perhaps symbolic of a day that will be remembered more for the goals that were almost scored than the ones that were.

Sharpness, efficiency, ruthlessness: Those are all discussions for later. On a chilly afternoon in Auckland, the main takeaway for the United States was that it had opened this World Cup just as it left the last one: with a victory.

Vietnam surely knew that things might have gone much worse. At a pregame news conference at Eden Park on the eve of the game, a reporter from Vietnam took the microphone, introduced himself and asked about a certain match from the 2019 World Cup.

“What do you expect from the Vietnam team tomorrow?” he asked Vlatko Andonovski, the U.S. coach. “Are you going to crush us like against Thailand four years ago?”

It was, in all honesty, a fair question. Every soccer fan, every player, every coach knows what happened in a similar shark-vs.-minnow spot: a 13-0 victory by the United States against an overmatched Thailand team that evoked emotions that morphed from respect to awe to backlash over 90 stunningly noncompetitive minutes. Many of those people, and perhaps even some of the players on both teams, may have been expecting something similar against Vietnam.

As the room broke into laughter at the question, Andonovski flashed a quick smile, spoke graciously about respect, and admitted, “They will fight and make it as hard as possible for us.” He could not say it, but another 13-0 would be fine with him. In a group stage when goal difference can matter quite a bit, the more goals, the better.

Maybe those goals are coming. Maybe some of the chances created against Vietnam will be goals against the Netherlands and Portugal, the Americans’ next two opponents in Group E. Maybe the United States will learn from this match, from a win that could have been bigger but was, for one day, just big enough.

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