Olympics: Vlatko Andonovski on how USWNT faces must-win game after not playing like team he'd known for years

The U.S. women's national team has had little time to sit and try to digest its stunning 3-0 loss to Sweden to open Olympic game on Wednesday.

The Olympic express is ready to leave the station.

Next stop: Saitama, 25 miles north of Tokyo, on Saturday night (Saturday morning in the U.S.) for USA-New Zealand at Saitama Stadium, home of the Urawa Red Diamonds.

Suddenly, a must-win game for the USA, says its coach, Vlatko Andonovski, who admitted on a media call on Friday afternoon from Tokyo that he did not recognize the team that was torn apart by the Swedes for its worst defeat in a competitive match in almost 14 years.

"There were moments of the game where the team just didn't look like the team that that I've known for years, even before I coached," he said. "I think that we all understand that. And we know that we don't have much time to think about it. We're already in the game mode, we already had our game plan prepared. And we were preparing for the game tomorrow. As bad as that last game was, we don't have too much time to think about it. We have to turn our focus on the next game and we have to win the game."

'It's a wake-up call.' Andonovski said the best way to deal with a bad loss is to play another game right away, acknowledging the U.S. camp was not a happy place to be after the Sweden game.

"We win the game and don't play well and nobody's happy," he said, "but we lose the game and don't play well ... it's not an environment that you want to be in, but everybody understands that. It's a wake-up call and we have opportunities ahead of us to make it right. And we're all anxious to get back in the game. That's playing the next game as soon as possible and hopefully we can bounce back and showcase the best version of ourselves."

Andonovski singled out the USA's failure to hold on to the ball as the reason it found itself under siege from the Swedes, who created about a dozen dangereux chances for themselves.

"We needed patience or we needed just an extra pass to allow our team after we won the ball to set up the structure to begin with," he said. "It happened so many times that we win the ball and within two passes we lose it and we're still all over the place. We're still trying to figure out who needs to be where, and then they transition on us."

Andonovski said the halftime substitution of Julie Ertz for Sam Mewis on Wednesday was intended to try to bring some order to the midfield. The game was the first Ertz had played for the USA since April after suffering a knee injury in an NWSL game. Andonovski said she was restricted to a 45-minute appearance. He added that no such restrictions are in place for the New Zealand, which suggests she will start.

The U.S. staff got its first chance to look at New Zealand in 16 months in its 2-1 defeat to Australia in Wednesday's nightcap at the Tokyo Stadium.

The Football Ferns, coached by former U.S. national team coach Tom Sermanni, had not played a game since the start of the pandemic due to tight Covid restrictions in New Zealand. Only five outfield players had played club soccer in the past two months -- three in the NWSL and two in Scandinavia.

The New Zealand goalscorer against Australia was Indiana University rising sophomore Gabi Rennie, who had not played a soccer game since the Hoosiers were knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament on April 3.

"They're going to be very, very structured, very organized, and they change what they're doing within the game," said Andonovski. "Sometimes we saw that in the last game, they step up and pressure high, sometimes they defend middle block in a 5-4-1 and sometimes they'll drop even a lower and play low block. So for us to recognize all those moments and position to be able to solve those challenges will be crucial."

'We cannot forget about Game 3.' The New Zealand game will be followed by the final group match against Australia less than 72 hours later at the Miyagi Stadium in Rifu.

A win over New Zealand will likely be enough to get the USA into the quarterfinals -- the top two teams in each of the three groups and two of the top three-third-place teams advance -- but the Sweden defeat -- and the minus-3 goal difference -- eliminated any wiggle room.

"We are going in with a mindset that we have to win Game 2," Andonovski added, "but we cannot forget about Game 3. We have to be ready to have a fresh or as fresh as possible lineup and be physically ready to play the game and do well in that one as well."

There's no stopping the Olympic express.

Ertz Photo: Kishimoto/DPPI/Icon Sportswire

13 comments about "Olympics: Vlatko Andonovski on how USWNT faces must-win game after not playing like team he'd known for years".
  1. R2 Dad, July 23, 2021 at 10:55 a.m.

    As pointed out in previous articles by other posters, the lead-up games showed a lack of crisp passing because there was such infrequent pressure. Sweden took away the time and space our players got used to having. That's down to poor training  methods from Vlatko. We've trained to beat up the bottom 95% of teams and we do a very good job of it. The top 5% is another story.

  2. Michael Taddonio replied, July 23, 2021 at 2:46 p.m.

          You bring out a very good point. The USWNT team needs to play stronger teams. The schedule is obviously slanted towards weaker teams that are almost a 100% cinch to defeat. The team needs to be prepared mentally to beat the very strong teams like England, Sweden, France, Australia, Germany, and others who are a cut above the rest. The team needs to become younger. Most all of the players 30 or older need to be cut from the team and replaced by younger players. The team also has to play more games abroad, so that it gets used to such things as traveling, living conditions, and different officiating. The time to do this would obviously after the Olympics. The next Women's World Cup is in just TWO years.

  3. Michael Saunders replied, July 23, 2021 at 4:12 p.m.

    No question that the lack of top level competition post the SBC in Mar 2020 coupled with the lack of playing time overall in the past year contributed to to the debacle.  

    Thayt said, Vlatko's comments were half-hearted at best probably to downplay the poor performances.  Yet it should also be noted that there was no tacticle adjustment made in the first half to counter the Swedish focus on nullifying the progressive passing of the USWNT.  Nor did the substitutions bring on a different approach in the second half despite the substitutions. 

  4. uffe gustafsson replied, July 23, 2021 at 5:37 p.m.

    R2 they did play Sweden 3 month ago so it was not really news to US team what was coming at them.
    they experience that and clearly knew what to expect.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 6:52 p.m.

    Not that it negates the solid criticism, but the context here is that, except for Sweden and the USA, the best women's teams are not in the Olympics this year. And we did play Sweden a few months ago in the run up to the Olympics. It makes no sense to spend time training for teams not in the competion.

    Fact the US lost its opening match, but beating Sweden would not have made the gold medal run any easier. Bottom line, the US still controls its destiny.

  6. Tim Silvestre, July 23, 2021 at 12:46 p.m.

    Their game against Sweden was easily the worst game the women have played in at least the past 10 years. They were beaten at every single level and but for some dramatic saves by Naeher the score could have easily been 6-0. Sweden came out frothing, fast, furious, strong and virtually every US player looked flat-footed, slow and reactive. There clearly won't be any victories where the US side can just mail it in anymore. Vlatko needs to demonstrate his ability to win against fast, fearless and yes younger teams, and he needs to do that now. BTW Julie Ernst is NOT better than Sam Mewis in the mid-field. Ugh.

  7. Chance Hall, July 23, 2021 at 2:24 p.m.

    The Sweden game was terrible but somewhat predictable. Weak opponents certainly didn't help them prepare. The US women were two steps slower and a pass behind the whole game. Ertz is a fantastic player, but she can't do it alone. She changed the game as always but she got no help. Having players like peeno on the team means the other players have to step up and cover for her. Age does matter, but being slower and predictable is worse. Looking forward to the next game to see if they figure this out. 

  8. Wooden Ships, July 23, 2021 at 5:03 p.m.

    "Figuring out who needs to be where and them transitioning on us", sounds embarrassing. I love how we have to think before recognizing. Already late. What accounts for lousy passing and poor touches, improper visualization exercises, lol? 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 6:57 p.m.

    We can't judge where things went wrong unless we know the game plan. Which we don't. So everything now is speculation. 

    One thing I am certain of, how the US WNT responds in the next match will determine if they are worthy champions. In the past they rose up instead of rolling over. I don't think bad coaching could stop them now, even if there were some bad coaching.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 7:13 p.m.

    Thought I would actually respond to your rhetorical question. Usually the problem is poor positioning and movement off the ball which greatly slows the speed of play. Sorry, couldn't resist being Captain Obvious.

  11. Wooden Ships replied, July 23, 2021 at 8:28 p.m.

    Agree with you Bob, just commenting his statement, which all to often typifies the US club-college game. Our instinctive, imaginative play is patterned out of us. I hope Macario gets minutes, one of the few players that is naturally made. 

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2021 at 10:03 p.m.

    And I agreed with everything you said. I especially appreciated the sarcasm. 

    I think probably the most difficult thing about coaching youth is realizing that you can't teach attacking the same way you teach defending. Defending is about discipline while attacking is about creativity. It is not intuitive for coaches to simply shut up and let kids learn how to attack by doing. We have generations of youth coaches who had all the creativity drilled out of them by joy stick coaching. Naturally they think that the way they were coached is the best way. Sigh. Fortunately we have some great coaches, but they are in the minority and usually working with older players.

  13. R2 Dad, July 24, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

    It wasn't that Vlatko didn't recognize the team, but he didn't know how to change gears when this team was stuck in first during the first 15 minutes. What do coaches do when they're overrun? They change formations and tactics to use the team they have that day. A4-2-3-1 with 2 pivots would have enabled a better defense with a more counter-attacking mentality--prudent when no one can keep the ball. Let's see how we do with NZ. Steamrolling a poor team won't fix the problem but might bandaid over the shortcomings until after the tourney.

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