Wednesday, October 20

Lifeless attack in USWNT Olympic semi-final loss to Canada raises questions about coach Vlatko Andonovski’s lineups and tactics

In more than 90 minutes of soccer, the United States women’s team attempted 13 shots and forced Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe to make four saves, but there was only one moment in all of that when it felt like this Olympic soccer semifinal game did not advance. exactly as Canada planned.

With four minutes to go in regulation time and the USA facing the most desperate circumstance it had encountered in a decade of great tournaments, veteran forward Carli Lloyd drove a cross towards the goal, prompting Labbe to desperately jump with his arm to the sky over Kashima. Stadium near the east coast of Japan. Labbe couldn’t get a hand on the ball and Lloyd’s shot hit home.

No, it literally hit the target, hitting the crossbar and bouncing harmlessly into the empty stands.

It would be inaccurate to say that this moment crystallized all of the USWNT’s frustration at the Tokyo Olympics, because there was real danger in it. The threat was painfully rare from the moment they opened against Sweden not two weeks ago.

For Canada to score the goal that led to their 1-0 victory, and advancement to the gold medal match, required what could be seen as a great deal of good fortune or a desperate bad play in the 72nd minute by of the American central defender Tierna Davidson. who turned what should have been a routine punt into a penalty kick by missing a header that traveled towards the baseline with Canada’s Nichelle Prince running to play it.

Davidson had a clear advantage in the run to the ball but, after slowing down to play it, he missed the ball and hit Deanne Rose with his boot, knocking it to the ground just inside the right edge of the 18-yard box. It seemed inconsequential at the time. Rose didn’t even protest a call. But the video assistant referee saw enough to check the play, and a penalty was awarded correctly.

“It sucks, not being able to compete for a gold medal which is what we wanted. It wasn’t a great performance either, ”forward Megan Rapinoe told NBC Sports. “I think it is one of the most frustrating things. I do not know. Not that we have bad vibes. And the group feels good and everything. But we just couldn’t find that juice. Yes, it sucks. “

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The penalty was expertly converted by Canadian midfielder Jesse Fleming beyond the reach of jumping goalkeeper Adriana Franch, who entered the first half after starter Alyssa Naeher left the game with a leg injury. That this decided that the game was the product of an attack by the USWNT, generous to call it that, which produced zero goals in three of the five games they played so far in the tournament. None against Sweden. None against Australia. None here. The United States had never been excluded three times in an Olympiad or World Cup. It had happened only five times in total in a dozen major tournaments dating back 30 years.

However, all the efforts of this team were to no avail. In Sweden’s first game, the United States was overwhelmed. In the Australia game, with the chance to take advantage of New Zealand’s destruction and perhaps gain momentum, confidence and direction, coach Vlatko Andonovski was content to have the team kick him for much of the second half and settle for a mutually beneficial tie. . In this game, Canada jammed midfield and played with the US tight and skilled midfielders as Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan committed an onslaught of turnovers.

“I think football always needs joy,” winger Megan Rapinoe said at her press conference. “When the game is really played at its best is when you have that. I feel like we couldn’t do that. Everything has been a bit complicated. You just pass them here or there. Or whatever “.

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Coach of his first major tournament, Andonovski approached the Olympics as if he were playing chess. However, everyone else played soccer. His constant rotation of players left the team disjointed. Against the Netherlands and Canada in the knockout rounds, he replaced his entire front line of three. In none of those games did the change produce a goal.

“There was a lot of turnover, so in a way I think we had the freshest legs of any team,” forward Alex Morgan told reporters. “But they [Canada] he also had consistency in the lineup. So that’s what you have to weigh in a tournament like this. It is very different from a World Cup. There were more substitutions than ever. So it’s a completely different tournament to manage. “

Andonovski gave Tobin Heath, who was coming from an injury that had kept her out of the competition for nearly eight months, 305 minutes of play in Tokyo and received a single assist in beating New Zealand in return. His disdain for midfielder Sam Mewis left one of the heroes of the 2019 World Cup triumph all too often on the sidelines. The decision to tango with Australia instead of pursuing victory was always going to have only one justification: winning the gold medal. Instead, the United States will play for bronze, something they have never done since Olympic women’s football was first offered in 1996.

He will be criticized for relying too much on the aging core that dominated the 2019 World Cup, but younger players like Lavelle, Horan and left-back Crystal Dunn had poor tournaments. And central defender Abby Dahlkemper, just 28, performed so poorly against Sweden and the Netherlands that she was benched by Davidson. Everyone saw how that turned out.

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Which begs the question: if capable players mostly perform below average, who takes the blame, and what are the consequences beyond playing for a medal made of the wrong metal?

“We are still the same team. We never get here and say that we are going to be perfect or that we will win every game, “said Rapinoe. “All we do is try to do our best on and off the field and do everything we can to make our fans proud and the family proud and everyone at home.

“Nobody knows what to say and everyone wants them to turn to dust. But this is not how it works. We still have another game. We still have a medal to compete for. It’s not the kind of medal we wanted, but we have to understand how lucky we are to go and compete for that. Not many people make it to the Olympics, let alone a medal round. We certainly don’t want to lose two in a row. We have to think about this, think about what we can do better and prepare. “

At least there is an easy answer for that last one. They can do everything better.

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