Megan Rapinoe celebrates her Olimpico goal. (Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Two iconic U.S. women’s national team players who struggled finishing in the opening five games, finished the Tokyo Olympics and most likely the comeptitive parts of their storied careers in style Thursday.
Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, the two oldest players on the team, each bagged a brace to pace the Americans to a 4-3 triumph over Australia in the bronze medal match in Kashima, Japan, after a rather disappointing Summer Games.
Rapinoe, 36, scored her second Olimpico goal at the Olympics, and Lloyd, 39, recorded a goal in her fourth consecutive Olympics while becoming the USA’s all-time scorer (10 goals) at the Olympic Games.
Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord and Emily Gielnik tallied for the Matildas at an empty Kashima Soccer Stadium.
The U.S. women’s national team will return home with a bronze medal, not the color the defending Women’s World Cup champions had been expecting. The Americans underachieved in the competition, winning only twice and finishing with a rather mediocre mark. Of course, that was much better than their performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics in which they failed to reach the medal round. The USA has won four gold medals and a silver.
“I felt like we just had a good vibe going into the game. We’ve done, as you can imagine, lots of talking and meetings and hashing it all out and doing the autopsy,” Rapinoe said. “But I felt like we just got to a good place.”
Added USWNT captain and center back Becky Sauerbrunn: “It’s very satisfying. I think we all realized we didn’t play the best this entire tournament. So to have the response that we did after a very disappointing semifinal, to show the USA mentality and the resiliency, to put the performance in that we wanted to be playing the entire time, and to finally find it in a game like that — very satisfying.”
In contrast to their first five matches, the USA played a pressing style and a much more open game, which resulted in many more scoring opportunities.
“That was the U.S. mentality,” Lloyd said. “We played well, we strung some really good sequences together, scored some great goals. And I’m extremely proud of the way we persevered, they way we turned things around. We’re going home with a medal, and there’s no greater feeling than that.”
The game seemed to be a mistake-fest as glaring errors by both sides led to goals.
Rapinoe started the scoring in the eighth minute, scoring directly from a corner kick past goalkeeper Teagan Micah for her second Olimpico goal in an Olympic tournament. She accomplished the same feat in the legendary 4-3 semifinal win over Canada at the 2012 London Summer Games.
Australia, in quest of its first medal in the sport, equalized several minutes later as Kerr took advantage of an awful backpass by center back Tierna Davidson and beat goalkeeper Adrianna Franch to the near left side for a 1-1 deadlock. Franch was making her first start after Alyssa Naeher was sidelined from the competition with a knee injury in the semifinal loss to Canada.
Rapinoe restored the USA lead in the 21st minute. This time, the Aussies made a horrible mistake as defender Alanna Kennedy’s poor clearance found the forward on the left side of the box and Rapinoe volleyed it home for a 2-1 lead.
Lloyd got into the action, giving the USWNT some breathing at 3-1 a minute into first-half stoppage time as she buried her attempt, off a nice Lindsey Horan feed, into the far right post.
Six minutes into the second half, Lloyd was celebrating again with her second goal of the match for a 4-1 advantage.
The goals were doubly special for the Delran, N.J. native as she became the first American player to score in four Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016, 2020) and became the all-time USA scorer at the Summer Games with 10 goals. She surpassed Abby Wambach.
Lloyd also played in her 312th international match, surpassing Christie Rampone to move into second place on the all-time list. Kristine Lilly is the leader with 354 games.
That score was needed as former Sky Blue FC player Foord closed the gap to 4-2 three minutes later.
Rapinoe was replaced by Rose Lavelle in the 61st minute, while Lloyd played until the 81st minute, coming off for Alex Morgan.
Gielnik made it interesting for the Aussies as she fired a 25-yard bullet to slice the deficit to 4-3 in the 90th minute.