Humiliation: USWNT embarrassed in Olympic opener as Sweden sweep aside tournament favourites
The world champions put in a dismal performance as they began the tournament in Japan, as they were outplayed in every facet of the game
The U.S. women’s national team went into their Olympic opener against Sweden as overwhelming favourites to claim the gold medal in Tokyo.
But Wednesday's shock 3-0 defeat saw them put in a display that verged from embarrassing to surreal.
For the first time since January 2019, the USWNT lost a game. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski lost for the first time in his tenure, in what was his first game at a major tournament.
It was, in truth, never close.
The USWNT were outplayed, out-thought and outmaneuvered. They were sloppy, wasteful, disorganized and looked nothing like what they have been for years: the best team in the world.
If there is any consolation for the U.S. it is that they could hardly play worse in the rest of the tournament, which is far from over.
Easier opponents are ahead, and a forgiving group stage should give them a boost moving forward.
But it is clear that something needs to change.
Here are three takeaways from the USWNT's first defeat in 44 games....
Ertz is desperately needed
Julie Ertz has been out with a knee injury since May, and the linchpin defensive midfielder’s absence in the first half could not have been more noticeable in Tokyo.
Sweden exploited their opponents in transition, oftentimes bypassing the U.S. midfield trio as if they were not there.
Lindsey Horan had held up well in Ertz’s spot in the team’s recent friendlies, but Sweden is an entirely different caliber of opponent and they took advantage of Horan’s limitations at the position.
Andonovski was forced to bring Ertz on at half-time, removing Sam Mewis and moving Horan further forward. Ertz immediately helped clean things up in the middle, but the damage had been done, and she could do nothing as Stina Blackstenius scored Sweden’s second from a corner kick. Lina Hurtig then added a third to compound the USWNT’s misery.
The U.S. desperately needs someone to maintain some positional integrity at the No.6 and break up attacks. Against the best competition at these Olympics, it is clear there is no substitute for Ertz.
Sweden shows how to exploit the USWNT
If any teams were wondering exactly how to beat the previously dominant U.S., they can wonder no more, as Sweden and head coach Peter Gerhardsson showed exactly where the USWNT’s limitations lie.
Sweden ruthlessly attacked down the left side of the U.S. defense, going at left-back Crystal Dunn.
That strategy paid off on their opener, as Dunn gave Sofia Jakobsson plenty of time to pick out Blackstenius for a near-post header. Dunn was exposed again on Sweden’s third, as Hurtig converted a cross from the right flank.
The Swedes also exposed the lack of speed on the U.S. back line, bursting forward from midfield while also playing balls over the top.
The USWNT typically uses a suffocating press to make opponents uncomfortable, but Sweden completely turned the tables on Wednesday, giving the U.S. – who usually are afforded time and space by tentative opponents – no time to breathe.
Every time the U.S. saw a passing lane open going forward, it seemed to close just as fast.
It must also be noted that as well as Sweden did in deafeating the U.S., Andonovski's side was pretty effective at beating themselves too. Rarely has the USWNT committed so many unforced turnovers, missed so many markers and been so disorganized all over the field.
All is not lost
The last time the U.S. lost a game, they went 44 straight without losing in the aftermath, including a dominant run to the 2019 World Cup title.
It may not be two-and-a-half years until the USWNT loses again, but they still have every chance of taking home the gold in Japan.
The U.S. will face formidable, but weaker opponents in Australia and New Zealand to close out the group stage, and progression is still highly likely due to eight of the 12 teams in the women’s tournament reaching the quarterfinals.
Andonovski will have plenty of adjustments to make, however. There is no excuse for a performance like Wednesday’s, but if there ever was a time for it, then it would be the tournament opener.
The USWNT’s margin of error is, however, now a little slimmer. Another display like the one against Sweden could see them shockingly crash out without a medal for a second straight Olympics.
For more on the USWNT's chances at the Olympics and to hear from guests such as Hope Solo, subscribe to Goal's new podcast, 'All Of Us: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show', wherever you listen to your podcasts.
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