There was a second early within the first half of the United States women’s national team‘s opening match of its Olympic marketing campaign when midfielder Rose Lavelle, dribbling into Sweden‘s half with the ball at her toes, appeared round furiously and put her arms out, as if she was misplaced. Even with out having the ability to hear what she stated in Tokyo’s cavernous Ajinomoto Stadium, it is easy to think about it was one thing alongside the traces of, “The place is everybody?”
That, in a nutshell, was how the USWNT started its 2020 Olympics, trying confused in a 3-0 loss to open Group G.
The defeat was notable, first, as a result of the workforce hardly ever loses. It got here into Wednesday’s match unbeaten in its earlier 44, with 40 of them wins. Its final loss was in January 2019, at a pleasant in France.
To say the reigning Girls’s World Cup champions arrived in Japan as a favourite is maybe an understatement. The U.S. has reached the gold-medal match in 5 of the six Olympics Video games since girls’s soccer grew to become an occasion, and in contrast to among the groups in Tokyo, the USWNT has performed warm-up video games for the months main as much as this amid the pandemic.
However the defeat was additionally notable due to simply how dangerous the loss was. Confused expressions abound as gamers, together with Lavelle, appeared for an open American to cross the ball to however could not discover anybody. As Sweden swarmed, urgent and bossing the midfield, the Individuals appeared rattled and gave the ball away too cheaply.
“It felt like there have been holes in every single place defensively,” striker Alex Morgan stated. “I did not really feel like we have been urgent collectively, after which after we have been on the assault and we might lose the ball, we did not have the numbers across the ball to win it again.”
The hopelessness and confusion wasn’t in spurts, as is wont to occur for even the very best groups typically — fairly, it endured for the complete 90 minutes and the USWNT by no means appeared near waging a comeback. That may be a uncommon feeling in USWNT historical past. The final instance could have been on the 2007 World Cup, the place Brazil pummeled the U.S. 4-0 — however there have been the extenuating circumstances of then-coach Greg Ryan bizarrely benching first-choice goalkeeper Hope Solo for nothing greater than a hunch.
There was no motive for the USWNT to lose as badly because it did Wednesday, however loads of credit score belongs to Sweden, a workforce that over time has turn into the tactical thorn within the USWNT’s facet. In any case, the one Olympics the USWNT crashed out of have been in 2016 when Sweden, taking part in a disciplined, ultra-defensive bunker, knocked the Individuals out within the quarterfinals.
This Sweden was not a bunker-and-counter workforce, nevertheless. This Sweden was out for the jugular, delivering crunching tackles to cease any whiff of American possession, and committing numbers ahead to slice by means of the American protection and strike.
Sweden’s first aim within the twenty fifth minute went seemingly simply as deliberate: The USWNT bought caught within the midfield with nowhere to go and misplaced possession, springing Sweden within the different route. Yellow shirts flew ahead and, earlier than the U.S. even appeared to know what had occurred, Stina Blackstenius headed the ball into the again of the web.
When the USWNT dominates video games, it likes to make use of each inch of the sector, spraying the ball round and utilizing the vast areas to its benefit, and Sweden actually acknowledged that, closing passing traces and choking these areas. That rendered the U.S. midfield a turnover machine. However as a lot as Sweden deserves credit score, the Individuals additionally deserve blame.
“We bought our ass kicked a bit,” Megan Rapinoe stated afterward. “There’s a number of stuff we are able to clear up — lure the ball, cross the ball to your personal workforce might be the primary one.”
In different phrases, the USWNT appeared flummoxed and unprepared for what they confronted Wednesday. It will be straightforward to say that maybe the USWNT was simply overconfident. Perhaps the No. 1-ranked workforce on the earth and the favorites of this event, had anticipated it to be a breeze. Quite the opposite, the USWNT appeared to lack confidence from the opening whistle. That put the Individuals in hassle instantly as a result of their confidence is maybe their deadliest weapon — the mentality that regardless of the rating, they all the time imagine they will win and discover a solution to outwork the opposite workforce.
“We have been a bit tight, a bit nervous — doing dumb stuff like not passing the ball,” Rapinoe stated. “… I feel a number of it was simply us not taking part in free and never being who we’re and never having fun with it.”
If there’s a optimistic spin to placed on the efficiency, it is that a minimum of it occurred within the event’s opener. After 44 video games unbeaten, the USWNT might need wanted a reminder of the ache of dropping.
“We have had an extended string of wins, and we’ve not had a number of video games the place we have needed to come again or something like that,” ahead Christen Press stated. “I feel it was really actually good to have this match.”
Take, as an illustration, the 2008 Olympics. There, the U.S. misplaced 2-0 in its opening match to Norway. It bounced again with out dropping the remainder of the best way and gained gold. Whereas the U.S. does not normally lose in main event, the Individuals do normally have dangerous performances. Through the 2015 World Cup, which the U.S. later gained, calls to fireside then-head coach Jill Ellis over the lackluster performances got here from the media and even former members of the workforce.
On the 2019 World Cup in France — the place on paper the U.S. dominated, scoring throughout the first 12 minutes of each match en path to the ultimate — the round-of-16 match in opposition to Spain was shaky, and errors allowed Spain to attain, making for a surprisingly shut match given Spain’s still-rising standing in girls’s soccer.
However the correct classes will have to be realized, which incorporates by coach Vlatko Andonovski, whose substitutions projected panic and nervousness fairly than the composure that comes from a transparent recreation plan. At halftime, he yanked Morgan, who was the least of the U.S.’s issues as probably the most superior participant on the sector, in favor of Carli Lloyd, who has normally been reserved for late-game minutes. He additionally took off Samantha Mewis for Julie Ertz, the stuck-in defensive midfielder he certainly would’ve most well-liked began Wednesday. In any case, Ertz is named a midfield enforcer who flies in challenges and wins balls. However crucially, Ertz is coming off an harm and hasn’t performed aggressive soccer since Could, and a few rust was evident, making her an unlikely answer in a recreation as tough as this.
The excellent news, a minimum of, is that New Zealand, the USWNT’s subsequent opponent in Group G, isn’t at Sweden’s degree. It is also arduous to think about the USWNT can play any worse, so its Olympic marketing campaign can solely enhance from right here.
“We, like Vlatko stated, bought ourselves into this mess,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn stated. “Now it is our accountability to get ourselves out of it.”