USWNT underwhelmed in bronze-medal Olympic run, so what comes next for ageing Americans?

One of the biggest disappointments of the Rio Olympics has been the American women’s soccer team’s performance. The team—led by USWNT mainstay Carli Lloyd and former USWNT coach Jill Ellis—was the clear favorite heading into the tournament, but failed to live up to expectations, losing to Sweden in the semifinals and then to Norway in the bronze-medal match. The team’s performance has left many wondering what comes next for the ageing Americans, who are now expected to retire soon after the 2016 Rio Olympics, as several members were injured prior to the Olympics.

The United States women’s soccer team is the darlings of the Olympic games these days, but their storyline is a familiar one: aging stars retire, and the young ones struggle to replace them. The USWNT has three players in double digits in age: Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo are 31, and 31-year-old Megan Rapinoe is the only player in the starting lineup who is younger than 28. That trio, with a few others, has dominated US soccer for years, but as it ages, the team’s performance has declined.

The the US women’s soccer team scored a handsome bronze medal in the Olympic tournament in Rio last month. At first blush, that seems pretty impressive, but not when you consider just how many other nations have won more medals than that since this country hosted the 2008 Olympic Games.. Read more about is soccer in the olympics and let us know what you think.

The United States women’s national team will depart the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze medal and a final performance that resembled what we all anticipated from the world’s top-ranked squad.

The bronze-medal game in Japan was the first in which some players took the initiative and played the fiery, spicy style of soccer that the gifted and confident Americans are renowned for. Perhaps if it was late, it may have been enough to convince many commentators, fans, and even U.S. officials. Executives in soccer should keep their hands away from the emergency button.

Even while a bronze medal is still an accomplishment to be proud of, it is a setback for the Americans, who had hoped to reach the final of any big event. Furthermore, the USWNT’s previous games in the tournament cannot be overlooked; issues that need attention have surfaced.

So, after a tournament that finished on a high note but will be remembered as mediocre at best, what’s next for the USWNT?

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Is it worth it for Andonovski to retain his job?

Coach Vlatko Andonovski of the United States came in Japan with no international tournament experience — as a player, an assistant coach, or a head coach — yet he frequently coached as if he had. His replacements seemed to have less to do with what was going on on the field and more to do with preplanned rotations, which may have led to a lack of team cohesion. When the USWNT was being overwhelmed or kept at bay, Andonovski’s words at hydration break huddles or halftimes didn’t seem to make a difference.

The USWNT’s third-place performance at the Olympics, on the other hand, is unlikely to have altered many people’s views about Andonovski. For many who questioned his employment at the outset, a bronze medal and lackluster performance served as additional evidence that he is not fit for international competition. Those who praised his hiring have probably seen enough to want to see how he manages the team’s transition, and they’ll blame his problems on senior players who will be phased out anyhow.

After all, it’s not like Andonovski overlooked anything apparent; many of the USWNT’s issues at these Olympics seemed to strike out of nowhere. The main pre-tournament criticism — if not the only one — was that Andonovski chose an outdated roster, but such nitpicking ignored the fact that the USWNT’s older players are still capable of playing like world-beaters, as they demonstrated in the bronze-medal game with moments of individual brilliance. In the midst of a pandemic, chances to scout fresh players were similarly restricted, thus Andonovski could only do so much.

Andonovski was recruited by Kate Markgraf, U.S. Soccer’s general manager in charge of the women’s program, because she believed he would help the USWNT develop, and it’s not unexpected if she still believes so. However, even if the U.S. Soccer’s top brass agreed that they needed a coach with greater international experience, but who could replace him and when might the new coach begin? With the Olympics moved back a year, time is a more valuable commodity, and the 2023 World Cup is approaching quicker than it seems. It’s possible that a stronger coach prospect will not emerge until after the World Cup.

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Unless Markgraf is afraid of losing her position, we haven’t seen U.S. It’s unknown what it would take for soccer’s new CEO, board president, and general managers to dismiss anybody, therefore it’s uncertain what it would take — then U.S. Soccer will most likely retain Andonovski on board since he has learnt from his errors throughout the competition. It won’t be apparent if it was the correct decision until 2023.

Turning the page on the roster of the United States Women’s National Team

Carli Lloyd is known for never giving up, and she is the kind to exercise even while she is on vacation. She remained on the field after her teammates had dispersed and did sprints following the semifinal defeat to Canada. She said it was to be ready for the bronze-medal game, in which she went on to score two goals, one of which was the game-winner.

The 39-year-old seems to be the kind of player who would strive to break a record similar to Formiga’s. But, more recently, she’s been talking about preparing for the next stage of her life. It’s time to come to a halt at some point. Lloyd, 36-year-old Megan Rapinoe, and 36-year-old Becky Sauerbrunn are all potential retirement candidates, so some roster change is anticipated.

Then there will be more difficult choices to make. By the time the 2023 World Cup arrives, Tobin Heath will be 35 years old. Kelley O’Hara will be 35 this year. Alex Morgan and Christen Press are both 34 years old. They’ve showed no indications of slowing down, and there haven’t been any young people willing to take their place. However, a poor Olympics, both in terms of performance and in terms of the ultimate outcome, may encourage the coach to start thinking forward.

Talented strikers like Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Hatch, as well as midfielders like Catarina Macario, Jael Howell, Andi Sullivan, and Brianna Pinto, and defenders like Emily Fox and, if played there, Midge Purce and Hailie Mace, are waiting in the wings.

Will Megan Rapinoe and Catarina Macario, for example, carry the torch to the next generation of USWNT stars? Getty Images/Elsa

After the 2016 Olympics, Jill Ellis was chastised for releasing veterans and starting young players in their first camps with the USWNT; many of the newcomers didn’t stay around, and it wasn’t how the USWNT typically operated. It was never easy to earn a starting position, and players like Morgan and Sydney Leroux were confined to super-sub duties long after it was clear they would become key starts.

However, given how complacency crept in during the Olympics, it’s obvious that even if the veterans retain their places on the squad, they need real roster competition and the feeling of having to battle for their spots. Young players can only make their cases if they are given a genuine opportunity to play for the USWNT and grow in that atmosphere.

Not all of the pool’s young players will make it. Some may need more time, while others will never be able to compete at the senior level with the USWNT. But, before 2023, now is the moment to obtain some answers and start the regeneration process.

The USWNT is in dire need of tactical advancement.

The USWNT’s quarterfinal loss to Sweden at the 2016 Olympics marked the team’s fastest departure from a major event, and an embarrassment for Ellis, who had won a World Cup the year before. Worse, Ellis knew precisely how Sweden would handle the situation ahead of time.

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She remarked the day before the game, “They’ll park the bus.” “They’ll sit as low as they can and then seek to transition, trying to finish the game off that way and not giving up room; I expect them to play a 4-5-1 and be extremely tight.”

Despite the fact that she predicted it, the USWNT was unable to defeat it.

Ellis got obsessed with finding methods to get around teams that bunker against the US after that defeat, and he experimented for years. After all, poor teams often employed the bunker against the USWNT as a last resort, and her squad was generally able to overcome it. However, when a strong side like Sweden stuck to that approach, a new and more tactically astute blueprint for defeating the USWNT developed.

At times, Ellis’ tinkering was obnoxious. For example, a three-back formation experiment in 2017 ended in a 3-0 defeat against France, the USWNT’s worst loss in a decade at the time. But, in the end, she found her answers, and the United States Women’s National Team won the 2019 World Cup.

When Andonovski came in Japan, Sweden surprised him with something new: the players pushed hard — it was the anti-bunker — and the USWNT was unable to break away. Andonovski and the USWNT had spent months practicing how to break through low defensive blocks, which was the technique they were most accustomed to seeing, and they seemed stunned by Sweden’s aggressive press, especially since Sweden was bold enough to execute it in the midst of a big tournament.

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Kathleen McNamee discusses how the United States Women’s National Team may gain from the Olympics despite not winning gold.

Now is the time for the USWNT to adapt, and fast. Sweden established the new pattern, and teams will no longer bow down to the Americans. Unlike in the past, opponents will not automatically play cautiously against the USWNT in tournaments now that the reverse has been shown to work so effectively.

How that development should take shape will require the same clumsy experimenting Ellis did, and it will be largely determined by the kinds of players the coach brings in. The system should be tailored to the greatest players in the United States, and while switching strategies, it’s simple to create new issues while attempting to resolve old ones.

For example, is the USWNT’s 4-3-3 formation adequate to dominate the midfield, or should it switch to a four-man system? Is it better to play a flat 4-4-2 or a diamond midfield? Will the USWNT have the full-backs to provide the required width if Andonovski attempts a diamond midfield, which is fundamentally a narrower formation than the team currently uses? These questions may go on indefinitely — one response leads to the next — but the United States can only discover the best strategy that balances all variables by conducting focused and determined on-field testing.

Of course, such trial and error may result in losses, which could encourage Andonovski’s detractors if he stays in the position. But, critics be damned, if Andonovski can steal from Ellis’ playbook and do it anyhow, the USWNT will be in a far stronger position going into the 2023 World Cup than when it arrived in Japan on a 44-game winning run.

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