The switch in tactics has been a topic of contention at this tournament, and the USWNT will be disappointed that they failed to take advantage of a Canada team that was far from its best. The USWNT played a very attacking game, deliberately inviting pressure higher up the pitch in order to get the ball in dangerous areas. But this proved to be a risky strategy, and as soon as the Canadians started to open up their defensive shape, the USWNT could no longer find a way through.
For the first time in 18 years, the US women’s national soccer team failed to reach the Olympic Games, as Canada defeated the Americans 2-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the Olympic semifinals. The US had been leading in the tie until the 90th minute, when a disputed penalty decision led to the tie. It was only the second time in Olympic history that the US had lost the deciding match on penalties, following the crushing quarterfinal loss to France in 2008.
The USWNT coach said it all when he said that the team had no chemistry after the disappointing loss to Canada on Saturday but that should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment. The USWNT will still need to win all their remaining matches if they want to make it to the Olympics. If they don’t, they will still go home with a medal and that is something that they can celebrate regardless of the result.. Read more about is soccer in the olympics and let us know what you think.
No one knew which U.S. women’s national team would show up for the Olympic semifinal versus Canada. Was it going to be the one who, after a 2-2 draw, showed zeal and persistence to win a penalty shootout against the Netherlands? Was it going to be the squad that had been thrashed 3-0 by Sweden in the tournament opener?
Unfortunately for American fans who woke up early Monday to watch, it was the latter, and the U.S. lost 1-0. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, though: This subpar version of the USWNT is the one that has appeared for nearly the entire tournament. With the exception of breakout performances by Lynn Williams and Alyssa Naeher against the Netherlands, the USWNT never looked remotely like the team that won a World Cup just two years ago.
Canada performed precisely how the USWNT had predicted. It was rough and nasty, and it aimed to shut off the areas where the USWNT enjoys playing. The Canadian diamond midfield, in particular, was able to outrun and overpower the USWNT’s center three. However, the Americans made things much simpler for Canada. They were stale in their off-the-ball movement, seldom creating outlets, and when they did attempt to move the ball, they did it sloppily.
In the second half, the United States was generally the more threatening side, producing an expected-goals figure that should have been adequate, but it took much too long for it to get into the game. The United States didn’t get its first shot on target until the 65th minute.
Tierna Davidson fouled Deanne Rose in the box to give Canada the lead, which was ironic given that Davidson had been one of the USWNT’s most reliable players throughout the tournament. Abby Dahlkemper would have started if she had not struggled in her prior games.
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To say Canada’s penalty went against the flow of play is an understatement. By that time, Canada had hardly reached the USWNT’s final third and had no real scoring opportunities. But Canada’s game plan didn’t call for them to attack a much; all they had to do was keep the USWNT at bay and hold on, which they did.
If the Americans had progressed or gone to penalties, Naeher’s unlucky injury in the 20th minute might have been a big issue for them — she virtually carried the team in their quarterfinal against the Netherlands — but it didn’t matter in the end. The USWNT failed to score goals in Japan, despite its offensive ability and so-called embarrassment of riches up front. The focus is now on Vlatko Andonovski, the head coach of the United States.
Remember that the women’s Olympic soccer competition is a forgiving one: many of the greatest teams aren’t competing, placing third in the group stage was enough to progress, and finishing anywhere in the top three earned a medal, which is a measure of achievement. However, the USWNT’s history and expectations require that they finish first in their group and advance to the gold medal match, neither of which occurred.
That might be forgiven if there was a reason behind it. Jill Ellis had recently won a World Cup and decided to start changing over her roster right away to give players experience before the next World Cup when she led the USWNT to its worst-ever result at the Olympics in 2016. Despite dominating their group, they were defeated on penalties by Sweden in the quarterfinals following a tense back-and-forth battle.
But Andonovski brought a run-of-the-mill lineup of players who had just won the 2019 World Cup, and they looked nothing like their previous selves. Not only did the USWNT’s results fall short of expectations, but so did their performances, with the Americans being shut out three times and winning just once in regulation time.
There will be plenty of time to evaluate this terrible performance. Was the roster, as some critics said, overly old? Were the USWNT’s tactics outdated and out of step with the women’s game’s evolution? Were the players caught off guard? Perhaps, and Andonovski would be held responsible for all of them.
But, more importantly, this USWNT seemed to be completely bereft of chemistry. The players were not in sync. They weren’t hostile in any way. They weren’t having a good time. They weren’t what the USWNT has been for the most of the team’s existence.
The USWNT lost to Canada in the semifinals. Getty Images/Francois Nel
When asked why the USWNT didn’t seem like itself throughout the tournament, Andonovski looked as perplexed as the rest of the audience.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think, first and foremost, we came out and competed hard; the players gave it their all and tried their hardest, and I suppose we’ll have to go back and dig a little deeper to figure out what went wrong or why things turned out the way they did. So, in order to figure out everything, we’ll have to dig very deep.”
Megan Rapinoe stepped in at that moment.
“If I could simply say anything,” she added, “I just believe the players have a lot to think about.” “It’s not like we’re blaming each other because we didn’t play well, but we need to perform better, period. We don’t have any energy since the ball is bouncing off our shins and we aren’t making open passes or doing basic tasks.”
“We can go into great detail about analyzing, and I’m sure we will, but at the end of the day, there’s all the planning and tactics, and then there’s everything else, and that’s what we were missing. The ‘everything else’ doesn’t have a name, but it’s simply getting it done from the players, from all of us.”
Rapinoe makes an excellent point, but it is also Andonovski’s responsibility to ensure that the players are psychologically prepared and to react appropriately if they aren’t. He selected the rosters and line-ups that were expected to perform. But in that first defeat to Sweden, he appeared just as shaken as the players, and the USWNT has never looked the same since.
If Andonovski was the incorrect choice, Kate Markgraf, the general manager who made the decision, will be scrutinized. Was choosing a coach with no international experience a mistake? Was the search comprehensive enough? Were there enough candidates to choose from?
Of course, the USWNT still has a chance to earn a bronze medal, but even if they do, it will have a little effect on the subsequent repercussions.
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