The USWNT’s mentality has always been “gold medal or bust.” As strange as it is to see them exiting a major tournament early without the coveted gold, they were not the best team at these Tokyo Olympics and were fortunate to have gotten as far as they did.
It hurts to see a team with this much talent underperform, but despite a renewed sense of urgency in the quarterfinals, the USWNT never truly found their stride all tournament.
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The semifinal against Canada started with a first-half fight that saw neither team threatening a goal. Though the United States came away with the larger share of the possession, they had nothing to show for it. Missed passes, heavy touches and crossed wires between teammates plagued their performance.
To add insult to injury, or in this case injury to insult, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher went down with what appeared to be a hyperextended knee. Though she tried to power through, the pain ultimately got the better of her and she took herself out of the game. After saving three penalty kicks in a stellar quarterfinals performance, losing Naeher so early in the semis was certainly a blow.
The USWNT’s second-half surge wasn’t enough.
Early in the second half, head coach Vlatko Andonovski swapped out the front line, hoping three pairs of fresh legs would liven up the game. Liven it up they did as the USWNT’s shot attempts dramatically increased. Just as they seemed to gain some momentum, a goal kick, a flicked-on header, and a follow-through from a missed clearance led to a VAR review and an eventual penalty kick for Canada.
Much to the dismay of the United States, Jessie Fleming sent the ball confidently into the back of the net and the USWNT’s shot at a gold medal got considerably more difficult. Canada’s goal came as a bit of a surprise because despite 73 minutes of the strength, grit and fight they’re known for, they had no real attempts on goal. It took one slow, sloppy moment however to turn a blind flick of the ball into space into the game-winner.
It’s hard to know what to say about the USWNT’s performance in the Olympics. The players themselves can’t even fully articulate it. Despite having plenty of opportunities to turn their tournament around, they couldn’t get it together.
This loss is a tough pill to swallow for a team so used to winning. With a bronze medal still to play for however, the USWNT will have just two days to let their emotions flow before needing to set the loss aside (or in the wise words of Ted Lasso “be a goldfish”) and give it their all one last time.