Carli Lloyd, who scored the game-winning goal in consecutive gold medal wins for the USWNT, cannot believe the Americans lost in the semifinals. (Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports)
For many women’s national teams, winning a Olympic bronze medal would be considered an achievement.
For the U.S. women, it was considered a failure.
That’s how great their expectations are.
What do you expect from a team that has as many lofty goals as the Brazilian men’s national side? The South American power’s supporters expect their heroes to win every competition in which they participate.
Ditto for the American women.
After all, the U.S. women’s national team has earned an unprecedented four Women’s World Cup titles and as many Olympic gold medals, plus a silver and that bronze.
The USA was trying to become the first women’s side to win back-to-back world championships and Olympic tournaments but fell short of the goal and the gold (the Tokyo Summer Olympics were delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
In the bronze medal match, two iconic U.S. women’s national team players who struggled finishing in the opening five games, finished the Tokyo Olympics in style on Aug. 5.
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.
“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, the way we turned things around. We’re going home with a medal, and there’s no greater feeling than that.”
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 got off to a stumbling start, losing to nemesis Sweden, 3-0, in its Group G opener. The squad rebounded with a 6-1 win over New Zealand before completing the group stage in second place after a scoreless draw with the Aussies.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s team got past the Netherlands, 4-2 in a shootout after playing to a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, however, the Americans met their match as Canada emerged victorious in that encounter, 1-0, on Jessie Fleming’s 75th-minute penalty kick. The Canadians secured their way to the gold medal match, which they won, while the USA was relegated to fighting for the bronze medal.
“It’s not the color we want, but there’s still a medal on the line so that’s a huge thing,” Rapinoe said, adding about the third-place match: “We want to win that game but yeah this sucks.”
“I feel like we haven’t had our joy, just hasn’t flowed for us. It hasn’t been easy. I think we’ve tried to find it. It’s not for lack of effort or anyone not giving everything they have.”
For the first time in a major tournament – Women’s World Cup or Olympics – that the team was shut out in three matches.
“You can see everything is all the way out there every single game, but it just didn’t click for us,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t know if it was just roster rotations a lot. It’s a tough tournament trying to save people. But our bench is deep. I can’t quite put my finger on it, I’ve tried I’ve been, you know, thinking about the whole tournament we just didn’t have that juice.”
The average age of the team was 29.7 years, and the average age of the forwards hovered around 33. While those players such as Carli Lloyd (39) and Rapinoe (36) are talented, age can catch up to goal-scorers even if they lose a half a step. At the international level, that can be devastating.
“I just think the players have a lot to look at ourselves,” Rapinoe said.
After the Summer Games, Lloyd announced her retirement from soccer – club and country.
Rapinoe apparently will continue forward in 2022.
For the team’s final two matches of the year, Andonovski called in a younger team as he needs to find some fresh and talented legs for the roster.
Next summer, Concacaf qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand/Australia will be held.
So, it will be an opportunity for a USWNT, perhaps a younger one, to return to the winner’s circle.