Olympics: Under siege, USWNT looks to hit reset button

There are many aspects of the Olympics that U.S. women's national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and her teammates are used to by now.

Adhering to strict Covid-19 protocols, spending lots of time alone in their rooms and playing without fans in the stands.

The USA and Sweden took the field at Tokyo Stadium Wednesday with nothing but a small contingent of media and officials in the stadium that seats 50,000. Naeher could give instructions to her teammates, and they were heard all around the stadium.

What was unusual was Naeher found herself quickly under siege.

Before Wednesday's game, she made 16 appearances for the USA in 2020 and 2021 and gave up one goal. There were many games in which she was not called on to make a save. In the first match of 2021, against Colombia, she did not even face a single shot.

On Wednesday, Naeher gave up three goals to Sweden, was called on to make six saves and was at least twice bailed out on  last-second clearances by defender Crystal Dunn.

The USA lost to Sweden, 3-0, ending a 44-game unbeaten streak, dating back to a 3-1 loss to France in January 2019, and a 24-game unbeaten streak since head coach Vlatko Andonovski took charge in November 2019.

In one way, Sweden's performance was not a surprise. The one tie before Wednesday was a 1-1 draw with the Swedes in Stockholm three months ago, a match they could have easily won. All three goals Naeher had given up since Andonovski replaced Jill Ellis came against Sweden.

"They did what they're always good at," Naeher said in a media call with U.S. reporters on Thursday. "They overload you on sides, get a lot of numbers forward and obviously they were able to find success last night. Our job going forward is to clean some things out, close some gaps and fine-tune some of those little details so that we can shut down the next attacking team in New Zealand."

In another way, the USA looked in shock, a test to its reputation for mental fortitude. Asked what shape that would take, Naeher, a big New England Patriots fan, responded, "To channel my inner Bill Belichick, we're on to New Zealand."

The USA has only two days to prepare for its next game against New Zealand Saturday night (early morning in the United States) in Saitama. A victory against the Football Ferns, regardless of the result in the final group game against Australia, will likely be sufficient to send the USA through to the quarterfinals as no worse than one of the two third-place teams.

The USA has little to go on about New Zealand, which had its national team shut down at home because of the country's strict Covid protocols and played its first game in 16 months on Wednesday when it lost to Australia, 2-1. Naeher said that should not be a problem.

"Our focus right now is on ourselves," she said. "That's the one thing that we can control is how we come out, how we prepare, individually and as a collective."

Naeher said the absence of fans should not be an obstacle.

"We've played in a lot of empty stadiums without fans," she said. "Obviously, we were fortunate enough back in Hartford to get a send-off with great crowds in Connecticut [for two friendlies against Mexico]. But we need to be able to come together as a group and bring our own energy, whether it's on the field or from the bench. and every part of the team has their role and responsibility individually and as a collective to bring that energy."

Naeher said the history of the team gives her and her teammates confidence that they can get out of the hole they have dug themselves.

"We've all known that adversity was going to come at some point in this tournament," she said. "You just never know when it's going to hit Game 1. Some of the discussions have been that this is not the first time that we have been dealt a blow and dug ourselves into a bit of a hole. Thinking back to 2008, I know that the U.S. lost the first game of the group [2-0 to Norway] and went on to win a gold medal. And I think back in January of 2019 we traveled to France and we lost, 3-1, to France after going unbeaten in 2018. It is certainly a time to hit reset a little bit and unfortunate that, that came in first game of the tournament."

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

11 comments about "Olympics: Under siege, USWNT looks to hit reset button".
  1. Wallace Wade, July 22, 2021 at 9:03 a.m.

    The rest of the World is quickly "catching" the US Women. They just started playing Women's soccer very recently in a lot of European Countries. 

  2. Michael Taddonio, July 22, 2021 at 9:24 a.m.

          The comment is right on. Other countries are putting resources and effort into a women's program.
          The USA needs to revamp the women's team.  Younger players need to be brought into the side. Youth programs need to be strenghtened.
          The USA women's team, as well as the men's team, needs to play more matches against stronger teams. The European teams such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, and Sweden need to be played more often. 
          More games away from the USA need to be played. The team needs to be used to playing in other countries. That way, it would be used to such things as traveling and officials from other nations. 

  3. James Madison, July 22, 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

    Anyone who watched the YS struggle against Sweden in January and saw the sloppy play in truneups since then could see a defeat against Sweden coming, if not one as one-sided as this.

  4. Paul Cuadros, July 22, 2021 at 2:20 p.m.

    Correct. The USWNT brought too many elderly players to be tournament ready. I don't mean experienced, I mean players in their 30s. Carly Lloyd is the best example. It's time to retire some wonderful players who have done so much for the program and to bring up and give chances to newer younger players. The coach has to have to the courage to do this.

  5. R2 Dad replied, July 22, 2021 at 2:25 p.m.

    I do not know, but i suspect this might not entirely be the coach's call. The Nats silo may over-promise to their NWSL stars to keep them in line and playing in the US. Does anyone know different?

  6. Charles Davenport replied, July 22, 2021 at 3:14 p.m.

    Agree Mr. Cuadros, in addition I for one miss Hope Solo in a position where age doesn't hurt

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, July 22, 2021 at 9:18 p.m.

    Ah, Hello.!?!?!?... Hola out there.!?!?!?... US Woman players are on Year-Around 100K Contracts + Health Care Coverage + Paid Child Care Service .... Paid for by The US Soccer Federation, Their Boss, That they are Suing.!!! ...because they want Per Game Bonus that match the Men's Bonus Structure... (+) keep their 100k & Bennies... That the Men DON'T get.!!!
    Never was much of a Question of who was going to be on the Roster... Follow The Money.!!!!

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 7:37 p.m.

    Paul, wrong example. Lloyd is a poster child for players over 30 and the worst example you could use.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 7:44 p.m.

    Charles, you are wrong about age not mattering to keepers. Keeper is the most athleticly demanding position. While you typically see older keepers than field players, reaction saves suffer as keepers age. They make up for it by reading the game better. Finally the great limitation is arthritis. Hope as an example may have had to retire anyway due to shoulder problems. Her performance had definitely fallen. In other words, older players may continue to perform at a high level, but their recovery time lengthens greatly. In their 30s, players may spend all their time between matches in recovery rather than training. Of course it varies by individual, but nobody can escape the aging process.

  10. Ric Fonseca, July 22, 2021 at 11:10 p.m.

    Senor Santiago, methinks you're somewhat of a machista.  Now, let's be clear, I didn't see the game, but was aghast when I saw the end score, and I will not provide any "analysis", but coaching experience has taught me that the coach needs to and MUST keep the team on their toes no mater the tournament, competition, etc.  I think the ladies have now awoken and have smelled the coffee and roses and in sum, I will say, however, that perhaps, PERHAPS, the team got a little bit over confident, and thought they'd win with little trouble.  I am now waiting to see how they respond against their next opponent.  

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 7:35 p.m.

    My thoughts exactly. I would rather that they lose the opening match than any other. My high school football coach was a legend in my state. He always scheduled a friendly at the start of the season against a huge Detroit school for our small Class B team. It was a hopeless mismatch, but winning was not the objective. Motivation was the objective. His very successful teams would go on to dominate their Class B league. Nobody motivated players like he did.

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