United States 3, Mexico 0

An outstanding performance it was not. But the United States women's soccer team played well enough today, overpowering Mexico, 3-0, in the opening match of the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup before 5,568 at the Rose Bowl.

Midfielder Aly Wagner scored five minutes in and her counterpart Cindy Parlow added a second in the 42nd minute, and forward Shannon MacMillan scored the final goal in the 93rd minute.

While pleased with the win, their 10th consecutive in Women's World Cup qualifying, U.S. Coach April Heinrichs thought her team was capable of more. "Our game fell apart a little bit in the second half," she said.

Striker Mia Hamm, who turned in a solid effort, put it more bluntly -- "We have to play better."

The score remained close primarily because of Mexican goalkeeper Jennifer Molina, who was shelled all night but fended off 22 of 25 shots on goal, making several spectacular saves.

"Whenever we play Mexico," said Heinrichs, "we run into a goalkeeper who has a great night."

The Americans began the game with their midfield and defense dominating their Mexican counterparts. In fact, Mexico managed only a single, 35-yard shot in the first half, and rarely pushed the ball into the United States' side of the field.

The U.S. team got on the scoreboard early. A cross from right fullback Kate Sobrero found midfielder Kristine Lilly, who played the ball back to Wagner. Wagner one-timed a low, hard shot from 18 yards into the lower-left corner of the goal.

With only three minutes remaining in the first half, it was Parlow's turn. A cross from Hamm deflected off the inside leg of Mexico's Martha Moore and past the diving Molina -- right to the unguarded Parlow, who calmly tapped the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead.

In the second half, the United States played more recklessly. Mexico was able to find its way into the final third of the field, but again proved unable to take more than one shot.

The Americans, on the other hand, tested Molina again and again, and eventually, found the goal. Molina saved a shot from Lilly, but deflected the ball to a sprinting MacMillan, who replaced Parlow in the 68th minute. MacMillan buried the ball in the bottom right-hand corner of the net.

Mexico Coach Leonardo Cuellar was happy with his team's performance, a vast improvement over a 7-0 defeat to the U.S. in January.

"We have a very young team," Cuellar said, "probably the youngest team in the tournament. It was a great experience, playing the world champions. I feel that the team can grow from this performance."

The win gave the United States three points, putting it atop Group One with Panama. Earlier in the day, Panama defeated Trinidad and Tobago in the group's other game, 4-2.

Canada, Haiti, Jamaica and Costa Rica round out Group Two. The two finalists of the 16-match tournament will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean in the 2003 Women's World Cup, which will be held in China.

The United States resume play on Tuesday, when it plays Trinidad and Tobago in Fullerton, Calif.

U.S. captain Julie Foudy remains confident that the team will improve its play.

"We've been good at taking each game on its own and not thinking ahead," she said. "Hopefully, we'll have a little bit better game on Tuesday."

Cindy Parlow, right, scores on Mexico's Jennifer Molina during 1st half of U.S. team's victory in first round of Gold Cup.