Alyssa Naeher can’t believe Sweden scored a third goal against the USA. (Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Network)
By Michael Lewis
World champions? Olympic favorites? Hopes for a fifth gold medal?
The United States never lived up to any of that, potential and hype in their Olympic opening match against Sweden Wednesday.
In fact, the defending Women’s World Cup champions looked downright awful as they slumbered their way to a stunning and embarrassing 3-0 defeat to their nemesis, Sweden, at Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo Wednesday.
It was the worst loss the Americans have suffered in seven Olympic tournaments. In fact, it was only the second group stage loss in U.S. women’s national team history and third in seven Olympic tournaments.
It also was their worst showing at a major international tournament since a 4-0 loss to Brazil in the 2007 World Cup semifinals. It was their first loss since January 2019 – ending a 44-match unbeaten streak.
“Obviously this is not good,” USA forward Megan Rapinoe said. “We got our ass kicked. There’s a lot of stuff we can clean up. Not the way we wanted to start.
“We played a little bit nervous. We played a little bit tight. … This wasn’t ourselves. We beat ourselves a lot.”
Stina Blackstenius scored twice, on other side of halftime and substituute Lina Hurtig added another in the second half for Sweden, which has been a thorn in the USA’s side in major tournaments the last six years. The Swedes played the Americans to a scoreless draw in the 2015 Women’s world Cup and then eliminated the U.S. in the quarterfinals at the Rio Summer Games in 2016.
This result was downright embarrassing for a team with hopes and dreams of becoming the first side to win the World Cup and Olympics in back-to-back competitions.
What went wrong did go wrong for the USA especially in the opening half, when Sweden set the tone. They could never get their footing and seemed to be a step slow on many runs and plays. Even though the Americans had been in Japan for nearly two weeks, they played as they had jet lag. Their passing was awful, giving the ball away at midfield, way too many times.
Combining speed and some physical play, Sweden dominated from the opening kickoff to the final whistle as Vlatko Andonovski suffered his first loss since taking the coaching reins 2019.
The best player for the USA was goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. If a goalkeeper is a team’s best player in thrashing, you know they played poorly.
If there is any consolation to the USA, two teams have been blanked in their Olympics openers, but bounced back to win the gold. In 2000, Norway dropped a 2-0 decision to the USA before besting the Americans in Sydney. In 2008, the USWNT was on the losing end of a similar result, but the Americans went onto capture the gold medal in Beijing.
While the Europeans had a 52-48 edge in possession, it was what they did when they had the ball that mattered. That included seven corner kicks and a 10-3 shot advantage.
They drew first blood on Stina Blackstenius’ goal in the 25th minute before she added her second off a corner kick in the 54th minute. Hurtig added insult to injury with a header in the 72nd minute.
“I just felt thhere were holes everywhere, defensively,” forward Alex Morgan said. “There were a lot of mistakes we made technically as well.”
Andonovski tried to add some fresh legs, bringing in Julie Ertz for Sam Mewis, who had been rated by some websites as the best women’s player in the world, and Carli Lloyd for Morgan at halftime. Little did it help to change the USA’s fortunes.
The closest the USA got to hitting paydirt came late in each half. Rose Lavelle hit the left post with a diving header in the 45th minute and Christen Press clanged another atttempt off the post 35 seconds into second-half added time.
Morgan said that the USA must “learn from [its]mistakes, get our energy and momentum back.”
The Americans need to bounce back against New Zealand Saturday. If they don’t accrue three points, they might be going home after the group stage.
Yes, that sounds incredible to say about the USWNT, but then again, who expected this result Wednesday?