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USWNT Ousted From Olympics After Penalty Shootout Loss to Sweden

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

 

The USWNT, after a shocking 2-2 draw to end the group stage, headed to Brasilia for their quarterfinal match against Sweden. Facing Pia Sundhage, the coach that won them two Olympic golds and got them to a World Cup final, who now coaches her native Sweden. The US were seen as the heavy favorites; Sweden were not off to a great start in Brazil, engaging in a 1-0 win over South Africa, a 5-1 loss to the host nation, and a 0-0 draw with China, being uninspiring in the process. Yet, Sweden came out with a game plan that proved to be the downfall of the reigning Olympic gold medalists, who will head home for the first time from a major tournament without reaching the semifinals.

US head coach Jill Ellis returned to the lineup she used in the team’s opening match against New Zealand, as Julie Johnston and Mallory Pugh returned from injury in what looked to be Ellis’ preferred lineup. The first half saw many chances from the Americans, but each and every one was met by a Swedish defender or goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Sweden were set up to mostly defend, a strategy that the US has struggled to outmaneuver in recent years. The US edged Sweden in shots, four to zero, as Lindahl made two saves in the process.

The second half proved to be a more contentious affair. Sweden made two fouls early on in the second half, handing US opportunities to score from free kicks. US captain Carli Lloyd them the opportunities, both ranging in quality. The first one was poorly taken and ended up wide of the goal, but the second one soared just barely over the crossbar. Neither of them resulted in a goal.

Despite the momentum being in the US’ favor, Sweden were the first to get on the board in the 61st minute. Swedish captain Caroline Seger found substitute Stina Blackstenius, who carved out a great deal of space in the US’ half. Running past Johnston, Blackstenius shot past Hope Solo from close range, and gave Sweden the surprise lead in their first and only shot of the 90 minutes.

Ellis then made two subs, first taking off Allie Long, who had an unimpressive shift in midfield, for Crystal Dunn just four minutes later as the team were looking for a goal. Next came on Megan Rapinoe, who was playing in her second game since an ACL injury in December, for Kelley O’Hara in the 72nd minute, switching Tobin Heath to right back.

Five minutes into her tenure at right back, Heath sent a long ball into the penalty box, finding Dunn. The substitute took the lightest of touches on the ball and sent it to Alex Morgan, who sent the ball past Lindahl for the equalizer.

Following the equalizer, the US were firing on all cylinders, and grabbed what they thought would be the go-ahead goal in the 84th minute, when the assistant referee made a controversial offside call on Lloyd. A minute later, the situation was the same for Sweden, where they scored only for another controversial offside call. After 90 minutes, both teams were equal, and so extra time beckoned for the quarterfinalists.

Extra time saw much of the same, where the USWNT challenged Lindahl, managing four shots in total. Rapinoe was taken off in the first fifteen minutes for Christen Press, playing only 27 minutes and drawing even more criticism for the coach, who had more match fit options than Rapinoe. Minutes before extra time ended, it seemed like the USWNT would rescue the game late, much like they did in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil and 2012 Olympic semifinal against Canada, when Press had an opportunity to prevent penalties, but she sent the ball over, and the match went to a shootout.

The US were up to bat first, and Morgan’s shot was saved by Lindahl. Both teams kept scoring until Sweden’s Linda Sembrant had her penalty saved by Solo to level out the score. In the final round, Press skied her shot, leaving Lisa Dahlqvist to clinch the semifinal berth for Sweden. Solo, in an attempt to throw off Dahlqvist, left her goal to switch her gloves. The tactic did not work, and with that, the US would not make the gold medal match for the first time in their history.

After the match, most of the US players looked forward to the 2019 World Cup, vowing to be atop the world yet again, but Solo, who has a history of being controversial, took a different approach. “I’m very proud of this team,” she said, “but I also think we played a bunch of cowards.”

After a disappointing tournament in which the coach and many players did not perform to the best of their ability, many will look to US Soccer to see if big changes are made.

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Pardeep is the New York Red Bulls Beat Writer for DoubleGSports.com while also covering other soccer teams and events.
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