Carli Lloyd, who scored the game-winning goal in consecutive gold medal wins for the USWNT, could not believe the Americans lost in the semifinals. (Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Canada wiped away years of frustration and avenged a pair of knockout round defeats in previous Olympics to register a 1-0 victory over the U.S. women’s national team in the Olympics semifinals in Saitama, Japan Monday.
Jessica Fleming converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to lift the Canadians to the historic result as they reached the gold medal match for the first time and the Americans failed in their quest to become the first team to win the Women’s World Cup and Olympics back-to-back.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup champions were relegated to the bronze medal match for the first time in what has to be considered the second poorest performance for the team at the Summer Games after the 2016 team failed to reach the medal round at the Rio Olympics.
It was the Maple Leafs’ first win against the USA in two decades, snapping a 37-game winless streak against the USA. The last time the Americans lost to their neighbors to the north was a 3-1 decision in Columbus, Ohio Nov. 11, 2000.
Incredible as this might sound, the USA was shutout for the third time in the tournament, a first and a stunning statistic for a team that is renowned for its attack.
The deciding goal was scored against the run of play after VAR was used to determine that USWNT center back Tiernan Davidson had fouled Deanne Rose in the penalty area.
On the subsequent penalty, Fleming converted, powering a shot to the right past goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who replaced the injured Alyssa Naeher in the first half.
The Canadians did everything they could to stifle what was essentially toothless USA attack.
The first half was nothing to write home about.
In fact, there was a lot of nothing for both sides in the opening 45 minutes.
Both teams struggled to put anything together offensively.
The USWNT uncharacteristically kept losing the ball at midfield and Canada couldn’t do enough to make anything concrete out of it to do anything with the ball.
In fact, the big highlight of the half turned out to be an apparent knee injury to Naeher.
Naeher, the hero of the quarterfinal win over Denmark with her two shootout save and a penalty kick stop in regulation, went up to catch a right-wing cross in the 20th minute and fell on her knee. U.S. Soccer trainers worked on her knee for five minutes before Naeher said she was ok to continue.
Then, after taking a goal kick, Naeher fell to the ground in apparent pain and was lifted for Franch. There was a considerable drop off in interenational experience. Naeher, one of the heroes of the 2019 WWC triumph, has 78 caps, while Franch has seven.
The game remained a dull affair until U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski decided to put in veterans Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press to liven up the attack. It worked, but the trio or the team, for that matter, did not find the back of the net.
Instead, it was Canada against the run of play on a penalty kick.