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USWNT seemed misplaced, confused as Sweden finish unbeaten run

There was a second early within the first half of the USA girls’s nationwide crew’s opening match of its Olympic marketing campaign when midfielder Rose Lavelle, dribbling into Sweden’s half with the ball at her ft, seemed round furiously and put her palms out, as if she was misplaced. Even with out with the ability to hear what she mentioned in Tokyo’s cavernous Ajinomoto Stadium, it is simple to think about it was one thing alongside the traces of, “Where is everyone?”

That, in a nutshell, was how the USWNT started its 2020 Olympics, wanting confused in a 3-0 loss to open Group G play.

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The defeat was notable, first, as a result of the crew hardly ever loses. It got here into Wednesday’s match unbeaten in its earlier 44, with 40 of them wins. Its final loss was in January 2019, at a pleasant in France.

To say the reigning Girls’s World Cup champions arrived in Japan as a favourite is probably an understatement. The U.S. has reached the gold-medal match in 5 of the six Olympics since girls’s soccer grew to become an occasion, and in contrast to a number of the groups in Tokyo, the USWNT has performed warm-up video games for the months main as much as this amid the pandemic.

However the defeat was additionally notable due to simply how unhealthy the loss was. Confused expressions abounded as gamers, together with Lavelle, seemed for an open American to cross the ball to however could not discover anybody. As Sweden swarmed, urgent and bossing the midfield, the People seemed rattled and gave the ball away too cheaply.

“It felt like there were holes everywhere defensively,” striker Alex Morgan mentioned. “I didn’t feel like we were pressing together, and then when we were on the attack and we’d lose the ball, we didn’t have the numbers around the ball to win it back.”

The hopelessness and confusion wasn’t in spurts, as is wont to occur for even one of the best groups typically — reasonably, it endured for the complete 90 minutes and the USWNT by no means seemed near waging a comeback. That may be a uncommon feeling in USWNT historical past. The final instance might need been on the 2007 World Cup, the place Brazil pummeled the U.S. 4-0 — however there have been the extenuating circumstances of then-coach Greg Ryan bizarrely benching first-choice goalkeeper Hope Solo on nothing greater than a hunch.

There was no cause for the USWNT to lose as badly because it did Wednesday, however loads of credit score belongs to Sweden, a crew that over time has turn out to be the tactical thorn within the USWNT’s facet. In spite of everything, the one Olympics the USWNT crashed out of have been in 2016 when Sweden, taking part in a disciplined, ultra-defensive bunker, knocked the People out within the quarterfinals.

This Sweden was not a bunker-and-counter crew, nonetheless. This Sweden was out for the jugular, delivering crunching tackles to cease any whiff of American possession and committing numbers ahead to slice via the American protection and strike.

Sweden’s first objective, within the twenty fifth minute, went seemingly simply as deliberate: the USWNT bought caught within the midfield with nowhere to go and misplaced possession, springing Sweden within the different course. Yellow shirts flew ahead and, earlier than the U.S. even appeared to know what had occurred, Stina Blackstenius headed the ball into the again of the web.

When the USWNT dominates video games, it likes to make use of each inch of the sphere, spraying the ball round and utilizing the broad areas to its benefit, and Sweden actually acknowledged that, closing passing traces and choking these areas. That rendered the U.S. midfield a turnover machine. However as a lot as Sweden deserves credit score, the People additionally deserve blame.

“We got our ass kicked a bit,” Megan Rapinoe mentioned afterward. “There’s a lot of stuff we can clean up — trap the ball, pass the ball to your own team is probably the first one.”



Ali Krieger breaks down the USWNT’s 3-0 loss to Sweden and its potential impression transferring ahead on the Olympics.

In different phrases, the USWNT seemed flummoxed and unprepared for what it confronted Wednesday. It might be straightforward to say that maybe the USWNT was simply overconfident. Perhaps the No. 1-ranked crew on the earth and the favourite on this match had anticipated it to be a breeze. Quite the opposite, the USWNT appeared to lack confidence from the opening whistle. That put the People in hassle instantly as a result of their confidence is probably their deadliest weapon — the mentality that irrespective of the rating, they at all times consider they will win and discover a option to outwork the opposite crew.

“We were a little tight, a little nervous — doing dumb stuff like not passing the ball,” Rapinoe mentioned. “… I think a lot of it was just us not playing free and not being who we are and not enjoying it.”

If there’s a optimistic spin to placed on the efficiency, it is that no less than it occurred within the match’s opener. After 44 video games unbeaten, the USWNT might need wanted a reminder of the ache of shedding.

“We’ve had a long string of wins, and we haven’t had a lot of games where we’ve had to come back or anything like that,” ahead Christen Press mentioned. “I think it was actually really good to have this match.”

Take, as an illustration, the 2008 Olympics. There, the U.S. misplaced 2-0 in its opening match to Norway. It bounced again with out shedding the remainder of the way in which and received gold. Whereas the U.S. would not normally lose in main tournaments, the People do normally have unhealthy performances. Through the 2015 World Cup, which the U.S. later received, calls to fireside then-head coach Jill Ellis over the lackluster performances got here from the media and even from former members of the crew.

On the 2019 World Cup in France — the place on paper the U.S. dominated, scoring inside the first 12 minutes of each match en path to the ultimate — the round-of-16 match towards Spain was shaky, and errors allowed Spain to attain, making for a surprisingly shut match given Spain’s still-rising standing in girls’s soccer.

However the correct classes will must be realized, which incorporates by coach Vlatko Andonovski, whose substitutions projected panic and nervousness reasonably than the composure that comes from a transparent recreation plan. At halftime, he yanked Morgan, who was the least of the U.S.’s issues as essentially the most superior participant on the sphere, in favor of Carli Lloyd, who has normally been reserved for late-game minutes. He additionally took off Samantha Mewis for Julie Ertz, the stuck-in defensive midfielder he absolutely would’ve most popular to have began Wednesday. In spite of everything, Ertz is named a midfield enforcer who flies in challenges and wins balls. However crucially, Ertz is coming off an harm and hasn’t performed aggressive soccer since Could, and a few rust was evident, making her an unlikely answer in a recreation as troublesome as this.

The excellent news, no less than, is that New Zealand, the USWNT’s subsequent opponent in Group G, isn’t at Sweden’s stage. It is also laborious to think about the USWNT can play any worse, so its Olympic marketing campaign can solely enhance from right here.

“We, like Vlatko said, got ourselves into this mess,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn mentioned. “Now it’s our responsibility to get ourselves out of it.”

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