The chasm between women's soccer elite and developing programs has narrowed some in recent years, but in many embarrassing cases, the division remains as wide as oceans, even in a World Cup.
REIMS, France - The chasm between women's soccer elite and developing programs has narrowed some in recent years, but in many embarrassing cases, the division remains as wide as oceans, even in a World Cup.
That gap was on full and frightening display Tuesday as the U.S. national team began its quest for a second consecutive trophy with a 13-0 demolition of Thailand - the most lopsided victory in World Cup history.
And it could have been worse.
Alex Morgan tied the program record with five goals, and Rose Lavelle and Samantha Mewis scored two apiece as the top-ranked Americans surpassed Germany's 11-0 rout of Argentina in 2007.
Michelle Akers is the only other American to post five goals in a World Cup match (in 1991).
This match never figured to be competitive, what with the United States seeking its fourth championship and the Thais playing their fourth World Cup match ever.
Once the Americans found their groove - it didn't take long - they were relentless and ruthless before 18,591 witnesses at Stade Auguste-Delaune.
A 3-0 halftime lead turned into a seven-goal margin nine minutes into the second half. Lindsey Horan, Megan Rapinoe, Mallory Pugh and Carli Lloyd also scored for the United States, which has won seven consecutive matches, the past five without conceding a goal.
Morgan's third goal, a 17-yard shot after using clever footwork in tight space, exceeded the previous U.S. team scoring mark in a World Cup of 7-0 against Taiwan in the 1991 quarterfinals.
Chile - a first-time entry that gave Sweden fits Tuesday before falling, 2-0 - will brace for the United States on Sunday in Paris. A U.S. victory would secure passage to the round of 16.
Tuesday's late-starting match (9 p.m. local) provided ample time for thousands of U.S. supporters, of all ages, to explore Reims' charming city center. Adorned in jerseys and patriotic garb, they gathered on Place Drouet-d'Erlon, a pedestrian street lined with brasseries and cafes.
A short stroll took visitors to Reims Cathedral, where, on many summer nights, a spectacular light show was projected onto the 13th-century structure.
As game time approached, ticket-holders streamed over small bridges crossing Canal de l'Aisne a la Marne and descended on the stadium, which is home to a French first-tier men's club.
With a vast majority of the crowd backing them, the Americans took the field with all of the expected starters, except one: Center back Becky Sauerbrunn was held out for precautionary reasons because of what team officials described as a mild quadriceps injury.
She is in the running to start Sunday at Parc des Princes.
In Sauerbrunn's absence, defensive midfielder Julie Ertz dropped back into former position and paired with Abby Dahlemper. Ertz's slot was filled by Mewis, who figured to start at times in this tournament.
Dahlkemper and Mewis were among six U.S. starters making their World Cup debuts, though given their extensive service, there was no fear of jitters.
With a pronounced height advantage, the United States showed at kickoff it would throw players forward. Looking more like an NFL team than a soccer unit, seven players bolted off the center stripe.
Thailand defended admirably for a dozen minutes - a Morgan goal was also disallowed because she was offside - before relenting to pressure.
Rapinoe's cross from the end line was redirected to Kelley O'Hara a the top of the box. The right back surged past one player before chipping a cross to Morgan in a pocket between two defenders.
Under no pressure, Morgan angled a header into the left corner.
Eight minutes passed before the next goal, a play that began in the U.S. end and ended with a strike from distance.
O'Hara launched a long ball to Morgan, who settled it with her back to the goal and slipped a pass ahead to Lavelle for a left-footed, 23-yard smash that eluded diving goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying.
Horan got into the act in the 32nd minute. After getting fouled at the edge of the penalty area, Tobin Heath drove a free kick to the edge six-yard box. Mewis could not control it, but the carom fell to Horan for an easy finish into the top of the net.
Thailand had two meaningful possessions in the attacking end, neither of which threatened Alyssa Naeher. At the other end, blocked shots and ignored pleas for penalty kicks kept the score respectable.
The Americans needed fewer than five minutes of the second half to extend the lead. Rapinoe set up Mewis for a wicked, 17-yard blast that caromed off a defender.
The barrage had begun. In a three-minute span, Morgan side-volleyed from the door step, Mewis put away Lavelle's deflected shot and Lavelle one-timed an 11-yarder.
Heath and Lavelle made way for Lloyd and Christen Press. If she could, Ellis would have substituted her entire team. But with just three changes allowed - and two world-class attackers entering - the pressure was not going to dissipate.
Morgan completed the hat trick, Rapinoe scored in transition on an assist from Pugh, Morgan ripped in two more and Lloyd added one.