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USWNT’s Olympic loss to Sweden should be a wake-up call, but the chase for gold is still ongoing

Vlatko Andonovsky was hired in October 2019 in a position that demands a heck of a near perfection, and before landing in Japan for the start of the 2020 Olympics, that is precisely what he delivered. He has coached the United States Women’s National Team in 23 games, 22 of which ended in victory and not a single one in loss.

None of those games, however, had been in a major tournament. His debut at the top of international football came on Wednesday, at the Olympics against longtime nemesis of the United States, Sweden, and it became the worst day of his tenure: the worst performance from the coach, the worst execution of USWNT players, the worst result. imaginable.

No, that last part is not quite correct.

If you were wise enough not to set your alarm clock to wake up long before dawn, there’s really only you you need to know – and, to be frank, one thing the United States Women’s National Team- United must understand – about Sweden 3-0 victory in the opening game of the Olympic football tournament in Tokyo.

MORE: Play-by-play blog of Sweden’s stunning 3-0 loss to USA

That’s it: the game wasn’t that close.

“We got our ass kicked a bit,” veteran forward Megan Rapinoe said afterward.

“Vlatko said:” We got ourselves into this mess, and now it’s our responsibility to get out of it, “said team captain Becky Sauerbrunn.

The generous nature of the Olympic tournament, which eliminates just four of 12 teams after the group stage, means that the United States still has every chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. There is a Saturday game against New Zealand and then the Group G final against Australia. Another effort in this neighborhood would ruin any plans to win a fifth Olympic gold medal.

“Obviously we got ourselves in a big hole, but we are the only ones who can get through it,” Andonovsky told reporters. “It’s not going to be easy. We have to get more results in the next two games, but the fact that there is still a chance, I know this team is not going to give up.

This statement was based on what he knows of the players on his roster, but the point is that only veteran forwards Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath have ever been in a similar position.

The USWNT have already played 14 majors – the Olympics and the World Cup – and have lost just one opener, a 2-0 loss to Norway at the 2008 Olympics, a tournament that Lloyd s ‘finished with an overtime goal to defeat Brazil and win a gold medal. Their record in the opening games of the tournament was 11-1-2, and they had led the opposition by a 46-12 margin.

There were times in the first half where it looked like Sweden could score 46 in that one game. Sweden had enough clear opportunities to score up to half a dozen more goals. It wasn’t just the result that was disconcerting. It was the performance.

“Sometimes I feel like if we ever lose or tie, or if someone gives us a game, it’s like amazing,” Rapinoe told reporters afterwards. “And that’s really kind of offensive to all the other teams. It’s the highest level and they’re the best teams in the world – Sweden being one of the best teams in the world, certainly in Europe. , if we don’t play well match in and match out, we are not going to win these matches. “

This is the nature of international football, however. It may seem unfair to point out just one result, but in a compact tournament that only happens once every four years, a single match can have extravagant consequences.

Think of Colombia who arrived here in the United States with Carlos Valderrama, Faustino Asprilla and low chances of winning the 1994 World Cup, but absorbed a 3-1 loss to Romania in the opener and failed. never got over it. Or Germany’s supreme confidence after its world championship in 2014, which did not prevent a 1-0 loss to Mexico four years later, which led to an exit from the group stage after just three games. and 10 days.

“We always expect to win every game we play,” said Rapinoe (below). “So, we expected this result tonight?” No. And it is frustrating. And it’s frustrating that it’s Sweden. They found a lot of space on us. I don’t even know – how many goals have we given up all this year? I can’t remember the last time we allowed a goal.

The USWNT generated just three quality scoring opportunities in 90 minutes: a Rose Lavelle header in the first half that slammed into the left post; a quick pass from Rapinoe to Christen Press in the 71st minute that came so quickly Press barely had time to react and steered the ball out of the post, and a shot from Lloyd near the top of the box that was deflected by a defender.

It became evident early in the game that the United States wouldn’t win this tournament without an injury return from defensive midfielder Julie Ertz. Andonovsky had experienced attacking midfielder Lindsey Horan in this role for five pre-Olympic games, but neither of those oppositions were able to exert significant pressure against the United States. Oddly enough, when Andonovski chose to insert Ertz at half-time, he took out Sam Mewis, the only player who had provided a physical presence that slowed down Sweden’s transition play.

The decision not to cast Rapinoe was also curious. She was effectively replaced in the starting lineup by Heath, who had not played a competitive game since December due to injury. Heath was a wreck, creating no danger, relying too much – as she often does – on his dribbling skills, returning the ball too often.

There was also the first real display of discomfort in the goal of Alyssa Naeher, who was undecided on the cross heading for Sweden’s second goal and overwhelmed at the post on the third.

“I think we still did enough to be really in the game. We are finishing a few more opportunities and here we are. A few passes here or there, ”Rapinoe said. “I don’t think it’s ‘Oh my God, the team was so nervous we couldn’t do anything.'”

It sounds like the kind of insurance a fighter concocts after being knocked out, as it’s the only obstacle to realizing that another human has just separated him from consciousness – and the only way to bring the courage to go back up. in a ring.

Sometimes, however, it does work.

Or “reclaiming the title belt” wouldn’t be one thing.

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