Megan Rapinoe on USWNT's Olympics hopes: It's 'do or die'


ESPN 22 July, 2021 - 05:37am 6 views

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USWNT's loss to Sweden in quarterfinals at Rio Olympics in 2016 was its earliest exit ever at a major international tournament

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TOKYO – Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned grudge match to kick off the Olympics.

The U.S. women begin play Wednesday with a game against Sweden. Yes, that would be the same Sweden that knocked the Americans out of the Rio Olympics in the quarterfinals, their earliest exit ever at a major tournament.

“What happened in 2016 was one of the worst results that the senior national team has had in a major tournament,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn said Tuesday. “From playing in that game, I know how disappointed we all were. It has lit a fire going into (the World Cup in) 2019, and also here for 2020.”

The rivalry between the USWNT and Sweden was already feisty before Rio. The U.S. has faced no team more often at the Olympics and World Cup than Sweden – the group-stage game in Tokyo will be their ninth at a major international tournament – including at each of the last five World Cups.

Seven of their last eight games overall have been decided by one goal or less, including a 1-1 draw in April that snapped the USWNT’s 16-game win streak, the third-longest in team history.

But it’s that 2016 loss, on penalty kicks, that still stings.

The U.S. women don’t lose often – all of six times since 2015 – and it’s really a rarity when big prizes are on the line. Since the World Cup began in 1991, the Americans have won it four times, including the last two. They have won the gold medal four times since women’s soccer was added to the Olympic program in 1996.

And when they don’t win, they usually come close.

They were runners-up at the 2011 World Cup, and finished third in 1995, 2003 and 2007. Before Rio, the Americans were silver medalists at the one Olympics where they didn’t win gold.

So to lose in 2016 was galling enough. To do it before even the medal rounds? It was almost incomprehensible.

“The players who were there in 2016, it’s in the back of our minds,” Alex Morgan said before the April friendly. “And those who weren’t there, we’ll be sure to remind them.”

Sweden has potent forwards, and it has the size and strength to go toe-to-toe with the Americans. But it’s the Swedes’ attitude that makes them such a formidable foe.

If they’re intimidated by the Americans and all their success, you’d never know it. They will do whatever it takes to win, even bunkering down as they did in Rio to take the game to extra time and then penalties.

“I think it’s more a question to the U.S. team, what do they think we do very good against them,” Sweden captain Caroline Seger said Tuesday, when asked to explain her team’s success against the USWNT.

That doesn’t mean Sweden takes the Americans lightly, either.

“We know we have to be very prepared. We have to step up to a level that is very high,” Seger said. “The U.S. brings its best when it needs to be the best. It’s going to be very tough game tomorrow, but I also know we’re very prepared.”

The Americans are hoping to become the first reigning World Cup champion to win the Olympic title, and a loss – or draw – against Sweden would not end those chances. But beating Sweden would put the USWNT in control of Group G and, theoretically, an easier path through the medal rounds.

Those are concerns for another day, however. For now, the Americans have one thought and one thought only in mind.

“It’s a loss that I’ve thought about a lot over the last five years, and how am I, how are we, going to get revenge?” Kelley O’Hara said. “Hopefully we’re going to beat them.”

Let the grudges, err, Games, begin.

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No worries, no surprise in Sweden's win over US women at Olympics 22 July, 2021 - 11:01am

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Posted July 21, 2021 12:46 p.m. EDT

— Paul Riley, head coach of the NC Courage, said he was neither surprised nor concerned by the loss suffered by the US women Wednesday at the 2020 Olympics.

Courage player Kaleigh Kurtz noted, "If they were to lose a game, this would be the best time for that to happen.”

Sweden's 3-0 victory in the opening group match at the women's soccer tournament was an upset. The Americans, ranked No. 1 in the world and the favorites to win gold in Tokyo, were riding a 44-match unbeaten streak heading into the match.

But Sweden, ranked No. 5, has been the U.S. team's nemesis of sorts in recent years. The Swedes bounced the Americans from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in the quarterfinals.

"I thought Sweden were really, really good, and, I think, going there there were a couple of things where I saw some issues," Riley said. He mentioned in particular that Team USA was "running behind" throughout the match.

Still, he expects the United States to advance and to learn from the loss.

"I think this is the perfect tonic," he said. "I think that’s a great result because, you know what, it’s a kick in the rear end. The U.S. don’t need much to get ‘em going.

"They will play Sweden again, and they will beat Sweden down the road. I think that’s exactly what they needed."

The United States, which came out stale, had its best chance of the opening half in the final moments when Rose Lavelle's shot hit the post. Coach Vlatko Andonovski made changes for the second half, subbing in Carli Lloyd for Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz for Sam Mewis.

Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl acknowledged the win over the favorites was encouraging, but it's still just the beginning of the tournament. Ahead are group games against Australia and New Zealand.

“I know for a fact that you can go very far in a tournament even if you lose to the USA or whoever you play in the first game," Lindahl said. "So in the end I don't know how much it means, but for sure we showed the world and ourselves that we can play well against a team like the U.S. or any team.”

The loss was the first for the United States under Andonovski, who took over when former coach Jill Ellis stepped down following the team's World Cup victory in France.

The United States has been to all seven Olympics that have included women's soccer, winning four Olympic gold medals, more than any other nation. The team is vying to become the first to win Olympic gold following a World Cup title.

Sweden now leads Group G heading into Saturday's game against Australia in Saitama, while the United States faces New Zealand at the same stadium. The top two teams in the group advance to the knockout round.

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USWNT's 44-game unbeaten streak snapped in shocking Olympics 2020 opening defeat to Sweden | 21 July, 2021 - 05:36am

The U.S. women's national team's 44-game unbeaten streak came to a shocking end on Wednesday, the world champions losing 3-0 to Sweden in their first match at this summer's Olympic Games.

Vlatko Andonovski's side went into this summer's event as the heavy favourites for the gold medal, having won 22 of their 23 games under his charge.

However, their pursuit of the top prize got off to the worst start possible in Tokyo.

Sweden are the only team that Andonovski's side have faced and haven't beaten since he took over, the pair drawing 1-1 back in April. On that occasion, the U.S. were fortunate not to lose, winning a late, controversial penalty to equalise.

On Wednesday, the Scandinavian nation went one better with an incredible performance in the opening game of Group G.

They were the better team from the first whistle, with a number of saves from USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher helping to keep the score down as Stina Blackstenius gave Sweden a half-time lead.

The 25-year-old forward added a second shortly after the break, before Lina Hurtig, who scored against the U.S. back in April, headed in a third goal with 18 minutes to play.

It was the United States' first loss since January 2019, when they were defeated 3-1 by France in a friendly. Having won the 2019 Women's World Cup with a perfect winning record, it was also their first competitive defeat since they were knocked out of the 2016 Olympic Games by Sweden, on penalties.

She suffered a knee injury in May while playing for her club, the Chicago Red Stars, and didn't appear in any of the warm-up friendlies before this summer's tournament.

Without her in the starting line-up, the USWNT looked out of sorts in midfield, with Sweden able to carve through and create chances.

Ertz came on at half-time, replacing Sam Mewis for her first minutes since that injury. However, Sweden continued to pose plenty of problems, particularly as their opponents began to chase the game more and leave gaps that could be exploited.

Andonovski's side face New Zealand next, perceived to be the weakest team in the group, and the head coach will be looking for a big response from his team.

The U.S. were unlucky not to get on the scoresheet against Sweden, hitting the woodwork on two occasions while Carli Lloyd also produced a big save from Hedvig Lindahl, but Sweden could have added plenty more goals to their final tally as well.

With the turnaround very short between games, the next fixtures coming on Saturday, it's likely that Andonovski will rotate heavily and he will expect those who come into the team to stake their claim for more minutes as the tournament goes on, particularly with places up for grabs following this incredible opening defeat.

USWNT Megan Rapinoe

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