CHOFU, Japan — Five years. That is how lengthy they’d waited for this sport.
Five years since Sweden had dashed the United States ladies’s soccer staff’s hopes for an Olympic gold medal on the 2016 Rio Games. Five years since a defeat that pressured the Americans to look within the mirror and ask onerous questions on their age, their dominance, their future.
Five years of ready, solely to finish up proper again in the identical place.
The United States opened the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday precisely the place it had ended the Rio Games 5 years earlier: reeling from a humbling, embarrassing defeat to Sweden. Back then, it was a loss on penalties within the quarterfinals; this time, it was not almost as shut: Sweden dominated the United States, 3-0. Back then, Sweden had bunkered down and pissed off the Americans. On Wednesday, they merely dominated from one facet of the sector to the opposite.
“Did we expect this result tonight? No,” United States ahead Megan Rapinoe stated. “It’s frustrating, and it’s frustrating that it’s Sweden.
“I don’t remember the last time we gave up a goal,” she added. “So to give up three is not great.”
Defender Kelley O’Hara had acknowledged earlier than the sport that she and her teammates had been pining for an additional shot on the Swedes on the Games. “It’s what we’ve waited now five years for, to be back here,” she stated.
They simply by no means anticipated it to go like this.
Striker Stina Blackstenius delivered a aim in every half for Sweden, a glancing header within the 25th minute and a point-blank end within the 54th that felt like a simply reward for a dominant efficiency on the tip of a Sweden assault that had the Americans on their heels virtually as quickly as the sport started.
The United States tried every part to show the tide. Positional tweaks to attempt to support a midfield was that routinely overrun. Substitutions to refashion a largely toothless assault. Reinforcements to bolster a protection that was first stretched after which reduce aside.
Even probably the most dependable of veterans introduced on to assist appeared to have little impact. Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz — in her first look in months — got here on at halftime, however Sweden quickly doubled its lead. Rapinoe was inserted to supply a little bit of menace on the wing nevertheless it by no means materialized.
Even the departure — mercifully, within the Americans’ view — of Blackstenius within the 64th minute wasn’t a balm; her substitute, Lina Hurtig, merely picked up the place she left off by rising for an open header and turning it in for Sweden’s third aim eight minutes after approaching.
The defeat was the Americans’ first in 24 video games below Coach Vlatko Andonovski, and their first in opposition to any opponent since a loss to France in January 2019. It additionally will power them to scramble to get better within the dash that’s the Olympic match: Games in opposition to New Zealand (on Saturday) and Australia (on Tuesday) will arrive in fast succession within the first spherical, and harder opponents like Britain, Brazil and the Netherlands might await within the medal spherical.
“You drop points in the beginning of a tournament, you’re in do-or-die mode,” Rapinoe stated.
But first, the Americans must kind out simply what went improper at Tokyo Stadium.
Perhaps defeat shouldn’t have been an entire shock. Sweden is not any stranger to the United States — the groups’ assembly on Wednesday was their 10th in a significant championship, together with video games within the final 5 World Cups — and it might have been forgiven a little bit of confidence after it had turned in a powerful efficiency in April in opposition to the United States in a 1-1 tie in Stockholm.
That sport had appeared, on the time, a uncommon misstep for a United States staff for which dropping is anathema. Until Wednesday, the tie in Stockholm had been the one blemish on the Americans’ document below Andonovski (22-0-1).
Wednesday’s win was a a lot stronger assertion, the sort of one-sided efficiency that the United States is extra used to doling out than swallowing. And it’s going to elevate onerous questions on Andonovski’s reliance on an growing old core — each ahead on the United States roster is over 30 — and on his dedication to previous outcomes as an indicator of future efficiency.
While the Olympics had been delayed a 12 months due to the pandemic, the United States roster is comparatively unchanged for the reason that 2019 Women’s World Cup. It contains not solely its veteran entrance line but additionally query marks like Ertz, whose look was her first for any staff in months after a leg damage earlier this 12 months, and Tobin Heath, who is just just lately again from an damage of her personal.
Summer Olympics Essentials
“I don’t judge the players by their age,” Andonovski had stated when he picked his Olympic roster. “They are either good, perform well and can help us win, or they can’t.”
He is aware of that dismissing his staff as a gold-medal favourite off a single efficiency can be a mistake. Seventeen of the gamers looking for gold in Japan, for instance, had been on the staff that lifted the World Cup in France two years in the past. A handful have gold medals from earlier video games of their trophy instances. Now, although, they must summon the sort of grit that delivered that prize if they’re to say one other one, and do it within the crucible of a scorching Japanese summer time and the compressed Olympic schedule.
On Wednesday, no less than, a couple of of probably the most skilled gamers had been preaching persistence.
“It’s going to be a hard tournament,” ahead Christen Press stated. “But we knew it was going to be a hard tournament.”
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who evening went worse than most, sounded prepared to maneuver on from it shortly, at the same time as she acknowledged that the match — no less than from a United States perspective — has now modified.
“Bad night tonight,” Sauerbrunn stated. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”