Adrianna Franch at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 2, 2021 in Kashima, Japan.
TOKYO — Twenty-five years ago yesterday, the U.S. women’s soccer team won the first-ever gold medal in Olympic women’s soccer at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996. Then they won gold three consecutive times, from the 2004-2012 Games.
But the USWNT won’t get the chance to play for gold at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
In their semifinal match, the USWNT lost to Canada 1-0 with a penalty kick. The Americans will now play for the bronze medal against the loser of the Sweden vs. Australia semifinal.
“It [stinks],” said Megan Rapinoe after the game. “Obviously, you never want to lose. You never want to lose in a world championship, never want to lose to Canada, obviously, and you don't want to lose playing the way that we did.”
“I think every player in the locker room has a hundred things that we would all want to do better,” she added. “That's probably the most frustrating part for all of us. We have a great group preparing us in our coaching staff and our extended staff. We’ve got a good feeling in the group. We just, we couldn't unlock it.”
The U.S. has not played in the Olympic gold-medal match since the Olympic Games London 2012, when they beat Japan, 2-1. They missed the medals entirely at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and in Tokyo, and hoped to become the first women’s team to win an Olympic gold medal a year (or thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, two years) after claiming a FIFA Women’s World Cup title.
It was at the London Games that the U.S. last faced Canada in Olympic competition. In the semifinal of the 2012 Olympic Games, the U.S. beat Canada 4-3 after two referee calls went the U.S.’s way.
The Canadians felt robbed. The 2020 Olympic semifinal was, many said, a revenge match for Canada.
Although the U.S. has not played like their World-Cup-winning selves at this tournament, they had history on their side. In the past 20 years, the U.S. had not lost to Canada. In fact, the Canadians had only beaten the Americans three times in history — all before 2001.
But Canada — which has won the bronze medal at the past two Olympic Games — said they wanted to change the color of their medal this time around. On a hot, humid night in Japan, they came onto the pitch ready to do just that.
“The U.S. is the U.S.,” said Canadian coach Bev Priestman. “They are not going to roll over. You can talk about them not having the best tournament, but they have winners on that team who would turn up and do anything to get to the final.”
The U.S. pressed, and on paper it looked as if the match should have gone the American’s way. They possessed the ball for 60 percent of the time, had 12 corner kicks to Canada’s five, and took four shots on goal to Canada’s two.
But the Americans’ shots and passes were just off. While Canada was aggressive, the Americans, especially in the first half, played like they had something to lose.
“We played them in February,” said Priestman. “We got sniffs of things that I felt we could exploit. We showed that in the first half. In the second half, they showed what they could do.”
Bad luck also struck the Americans. In the 21st minute, starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher jumped for a save and landed awkwardly on her right leg. A knee injury forced her leave the game shortly after.
In the second half, Canada scored on a penalty kick in the 74th minute. Substitute goalkeeper Adrianna Franch guessed the correct side and dove for the save, but the Canadian shot was just out of reach. In the final 16 minutes, the U.S. women could not find the net to even the score.
This was the third game in 2020 Olympic competition that the U.S. had failed to score a goal. In their first match of group play almost two weeks ago, they faced a 3-0 drubbing at the feet of the Swedes.
In the second game of group play, they beat New Zealand 6-1. But four of their goals were called back because players were offsides. They advanced to the elimination round by tying Australia 0-0. Then in the quarterfinals, they beat the Netherlands in a penalty kick shootout thanks to two saves by Naeher.
Alex Morgan commented to Julie Foudy — a three-time-Olympian in Tokyo as a TV commentator — that the U.S. just had not put together “a complete game yet” here at the Tokyo Games.
When asked what went wrong, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said he did not know, just that his team “competed hard.”
“I guess we're going have to go back and look and dig a little deeper and find out what is it that didn't go the way we wanted it or what is it that caused us to look the way we did,” he said.
Asked if some of his players are too old for the fast game in torturously hot conditions, Andonovski said emphatically, no.
Rapinoe said the team was prepared — it always is — with tactics analyzed. What the team was missing was “everything else.”
“And you can't put a name on everything else,” she said.
But Rapinoe is confident that the U.S. team will rebound for the bronze-medal match on Thursday. The team has high standards — perfection, in fact.
“Obviously, we have goals of winning a gold medal,” she said. “But any medal is really special, and we can't lose sight of that, especially considering the year that everyone's gone through, and what it's taken just to be here, what it takes to even just be on the women's national team.”
“Taking home a bronze medal would be a great accomplishment for this team, and I don't think that we should just poopoo that away,” Rapinoe added. “We wanted the gold medal, but we have a ton to still perform for.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.