Soccer-U.S. prepare for the unexpected ahead of World Cup qualifiers

FILE PHOTO: Jul 10, 2019; New York, NY, USA; United States women's national soccer team forward Megan Rapinoe (15) celebrates with the trophy and her team mates at New York City Hall after the ticker-tape parade for the United States women's national soccer team down the canyon of heroes in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Back-to-back women's world champions the United States take their first step toward the 2023 tournament on Monday, playing Haiti in their CONCACAF W Championship group stage opener.

The eight-team tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, will see the top four finishers qualify for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the overall winner for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Mexico and Jamaica also feature in Group A, while Olympic champions Canada play Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago in Group B.

The four-times World Cup winners are out for revenge after a disappointing bronze finish at last year's Tokyo Games, with pride on the line for the perennial favourites.

Last month the U.S. selected a mix of veteran talent - including 2019 Ballon d'Or winner Megan Rapinoe, forward Alex Morgan and captain Becky Sauerbrunn - and relative newcomers, like National Women's Soccer League Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman, to their squad.

"I'm still getting to know a couple of players," Morgan told reporters after the U.S. beat Colombia 2-0 in their second of two friendlies on Tuesday. "They all bring a little something different."

The U.S. won courtesy of an own goal from Colombian left back Manuela Vanegas, with American defender Kelley O'Hara adding to the advantage in the second half.

"We know we're going to have all sorts of things thrown at us in qualifiers," said Morgan. "We have to expect the unexpected."

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said the performance was not the best the U.S. had to offer.

"It was physical and very tight and it's good for us to prepare for it," he told reporters.

"The biggest takeaway was that we do have a very good team and we found a way to score goals in different ways and even though today I would say was not our best performance we still managed to score goals and get off the field successfully."

The CONCACAF W Championship begins Monday.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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