Mallory Swanson has fired the United States to a year-starting 4-0 win over New Zealand to begin their campaign for a third straight Women's World Cup title.
The world No.1 Americans kicked off their 2023 campaign on Wednesday in New Zealand, where they will play their World Cup group games at the co-hosted tournament with Australia.
A raucous and record Wellington crowd of 12,508 greeted the Football Ferns, who were heavy underdogs but managed to keep the US out until half-time.
In the second half, Swanson scored a double while Alex Morgan and Lynn Williams also got their names on the scoresheet to ensure they finished with a scoreline their dominance merited.
Swanson said "the energy was a little bit low" in the first half, an assessment coach Vlatko Andonovski shared.
"They're coming off a long break, the players are on off season. They haven't played games. They haven't even trained in a team environment," he said.
"We did a very good job, especially at the beginning of the second half and we turned the game around."
The Americans decided to tour New Zealand this month to prepare for the World Cup, which kicks off in July.
While the US were able to select a full-strength side as their domestic league is in off season, New Zealand were denied the same as the friendlies fall outside the FIFA window for international matches.
That made the task for Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova all the harder, forced to select uncapped players and start her midfielder captain Ali Riley at centre-back.
Grace Neville earned a first cap, starting at right back, while Grace Wisnewski became the 200th capped Football Fern when she came off the bench.
The Kiwis performed admirably in the first half to hold the notoriously ruthless visitors at bay.
When Margaret Purce nutmegged Ashleigh Ward to run into the box, New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler produced a world-class save to deny Lindsey Horan with her trailing foot.
As the US chances tallied up, Nayler was lucky to preserve her first-half clean sheet.
She saw Purce's long range curler hit the post and bounce clear and was beaten by a free kick from Swanson - in her first international game without her maiden name of Pugh - only for Horan to be flagged offside.
After the break the US cut loose.
The injection of substitute Trinity Rodman proved crucial as the winger provided a fine cross for Swanson to rise above Riley and head home on 52 minutes.
Within 10 minutes, the score was 3-0, as Rose Lavelle's brilliant back-heel released two-time World Cup winner Morgan to fire low past Nayler, and Ashley Sanchez played through Swanson for her double.
The creative Rodman played provider again on 75 minutes, finding fit-again Williams to complete the rout.
Despite the loss, Klimkova lauded the opportunity for her young and inexperienced side ahead of the World Cup.
"It's such a unique year for us. We will play in six months, the World Cup at home, so we are taking any opportunity when we can play games," she said.
"You know how much it means for the players, for the staff to actually play with the crowd that is behind them."
The two-match series concludes at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday.