Home Uncategorized USWNT’s humbling Olympic loss to Sweden should be wakeup call, but chase...

USWNT’s humbling Olympic loss to Sweden should be wakeup call, but chase for gold is still on

16
0

Vlatko Andonovski was hired in October 2019 to a position that demands damned near close to perfection, and prior to landing in Japan for the start of the 2020 Olympics, that is precisely what he delivered. He coached the United States women’s national team in 23 games, with 22 of those ending in victory and not a single one in defeat.

None of those games, however, had been in a major tournament. His debut at the highest level of international soccer came Wednesday, in the Olympic Games against longtime U.S. nemesis Sweden, and it became the worst day of his tenure: the worst performance by the coach, the worst execution by the USWNT players, the worst result imaginable.

No, that last part isn’t quite right.

If you were wise enough not to set your alarm to rouse you out of bed well before dawn, there really is only you thing you must know – and, to be frank, one thing the United States women’s national team must understand – about Sweden’s 3-0 victory in the opening game of the Olympic soccer tournament in Tokyo.

MORE: Play-by-play blog of Sweden’s stunning 3-0 rout of USA

It’s this: The game wasn’t nearly so close.

“We got our ass kicked a little bit,” veteran forward Megan Rapinoe said afterward.

“Vlatko said, ‘We got ourselves into this mess, and now it’s our responsiblity to get ourselves out of it,” team captain Becky Sauerbrunn said.

The generous nature of the Olympic tournament, which eliminates only four teams out of 12 after the group stage, means the U.S. still has every opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals. There is a game Saturday against New Zealand and then the Group G finale against Australia. Another effort in this neighborhood would wreck any plans of winning a fifth Olympic gold medal.

“Obviously, we put ourselves in a big hole, but we’re the only one that can get ourselves out of it,” Andonovski told reporters. “It’s not going to be easy. We have to get other results in the next two games, but the fact that there’s still a chance – I know this team is not going to give up.”

This declaration was based on what he knows about the players on his roster, but the fact is only veteran forwards Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath ever have been in a similar position.

The USWNT played 14 prior major tournaments – Olympics and World Cup – and only has lost an opener once, 2-0 defeat against Norway in the 2008 Olympics, a tournament Lloyd ended with an extra time goal to defeat Brazil and claim a gold medal. Their record in tournament openers was 11-1-2, and they had outscored the opposition by a 46-12 margin.

There were times in the first half when it looked like Sweden might score 46 in this game alone. Sweden had enough clear, beckoning opportunities to score as many as a half-dozen more goals. It wasn’t just the result that was disconcerting. It was the performance.

“Sometimes, I feel like that if ever we lose or tie, or anyone gives us a game, it’s like unbelievable,” Rapinoe told reporters afterward. “And that really is kind of offensive to every other team. This is the highest level and these are the best teams in the world — Sweden being one of the best teams ever in the world, certainly in Europe. So if we don’t play well game in and game out, we’re not going to win these games.”

This is the nature of international soccer, though. It may feel unjust to emphasize a single result, but in a compact tournament that arrives only once every four years, a single game can contain extravagant consequences.

Think of Colombia arriving here in the U.S. with Carlos Valderrama, Faustino Asprilla and short odds to win the 1994 World Cup but absorbing a 3-1 opening game loss to Romania and never recovering. Or the supreme confidence of Germany following its World Cup championship in 2014, which did not prevent a 1-0 opening defeat to Mexico four years later, that led to a group-stage exit after just three games and 10 days.

“We always expect to win every game that we play,” Rapinoe (below) said. “So did we expect this result tonight? No. And It’s frustrating. And it’s frustrating that it’s Sweden. They found a lot of space on us. I don’t even know — how many goals have we given up this whole year? I can’t remember the last time we gave up a goal.”

The USWNT generated only three quality scoring chances in 90 minutes: a header from Rose Lavelle in the first half that smashed into the left post; a quick pass from Rapinoe to Christen Press in the 71st minute that arrived so quickly Press barely had time to react and directed the ball off the post, and a Lloyd shot from near the top of the box that was deflected by a defender.

It became apparent early in the game the U.S. will not win this tournament without a return from injury of defensive midfielder Julie Ertz. Andonovski had experimented with attacking midfielder Lindsey Horan in this role during five pre-Olympic games, but none of that opposition was able to mount significant pressure against the U.S. Sweden rolled through the midfield like Derrick Henry in a peewee football game. Oddly, when Andonovski chose to insert Ertz at halftime, he removed Sam Mewis, the only player who had provided a physical presence that slowed Sweden’s transition game.

The decision not to start Rapinoe also was curious. She was effectively replaced in the starting lineup by Heath, who hadn’t played a competitive game since December because of injury. Heath was a wreck, creating no danger, overly relying – as she often does – on her dribbling skills, turning over the ball way too often.

There also was the first true display of discomfort in goal from Alyssa Naeher, who was indecisive on the cross that was headed in for Sweden’s second goal and overwhelmed at the post on the third.

“I think we still did enough to be very much in the game. We finish a couple more chances and we’re right there. A couple of passes here or there,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t think it’s, ‘Oh my God, the team was so nervous we couldn’t do anything.’“

This sounds like the sort of self-assurance a fighter concocts after being KO’d, because it is the only barrier to the realization that another human has just separated him or her from consciousness – and the only way to muster the courage to climb back into a ring.

Sometimes, though, it works.

Or “reclaimed the title belt” would not be a thing.



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here