Scotland scored three tries, including a penalty try, and kept their line intact, but the New Zealander who has charge of the side through to the next World Cup knows what work he has to do if he aims to forge a team capable of challenging a team with more weapons than the United States
"There was initiative all over the park, that was important," Cotter said.
"The first line break was from the loosehead prop, that is important. Everyone was putting their hand up and trying to get the team going forward.
"Initiative is an important thing. In this game I was pleased that even though there were mistakes, there was still an intention to keep playing and keep putting pressure on the opposition even though we had crept in front."
No coach in history has ever seen a perfect game from his players, but Cotter was not trying to hide from the fact that this was scrappier than most.
The ball, made greasy by the hot, humid conditions and the sweat being rubbed off on it, was tricky for both sides and part of Scotland's handling problems came down to the greater ambition they were showing.
Despite that, he was in no doubts about where to go next in training.
"We will come back to basics, we will come back to simple things and doing them well," he said. "We will come back to kick offs and making sure we get out of our half with the least pressure.
"We can improve our lineout, improve our defence, improve everything. That was our first run together and we can take something from it.
"The win will give us confidence and confidence is important going into the game against Canada."
Among the positives, though, was that four of the six uncapped players in the squad got on for a run and all put in an impressive shift - even Alex Allan, the prop who has been out of favour at Edinburgh all season and is moving to Glasgow simply in the hope of game time.
For all that, the pick was probably Finn Russell, the fly-half, who played with the calm assurance of a seasoned veteran and was one of those to earn praise from Greig Laidlaw, the captain.
"He is a confident lad, a calm head on him in an important position," Laidlaw said.
"He showed that - he put in a little chip towards the end of the game and he kicked for touch well. He made his tackles, he played well in his first run out but I knew he would because he has had a good first season with Glasgow.
"It was good for him to get a couple of early touches and settle into the game."
Cotter will now face a wait to confirm the severity of several injuries from during the match. Geoff Cross hurt his ribs, Jim Hamilton turned an ankle and Duncan Taylor pulled a calf muscle.
There were plenty of knocks to other players but none that looked likely to rule them out of the second Test against Canada in Toronto on Saturday.