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Opinion: USWNT has time to turn around Olympic prospects, but they'll have to be 'ruthless'


TOKYO — Well, at least the U.S. women's soccer team gets a do-over.

That’s about the only positive from Wednesday night’s debacle against Sweden in the opener of the Tokyo Olympics, the Americans’ worst showing at a major international tournament since being routed by Brazil 4-0 in the semifinals of the 2007 World Cup. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout rounds and, barring an even greater calamity, the Americans will be one of them.

Alexandra Meissnitzer, Lindsey Horan are posing for a picture: The U.S. women huddle up during their 3-0 loss to Sweden on Wednesday. © Mandi Wright, USA TODAY Network The U.S. women huddle up during their 3-0 loss to Sweden on Wednesday.

But they now have a much harder path to becoming the first reigning World Cup champions to win the Olympic gold medal.

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“We have to be absolutely ruthless,” defender Tierna Davidson said Thursday. “I think that’s what everybody has on their minds right now.”

The Americans play New Zealand on Saturday, and finish Group G play with Australia on Tuesday.

The winner of the group, now likely Sweden, gets a third-place team in the quarterfinals. If the Americans are runners-up, as they almost assuredly will be, they will have to play the winner of Group F, expected to be either the Netherlands or Brazil.

No easy task, either of those teams. The Dutch were runners-up to the Americans at the 2019 World Cup, and scored seven – seven! – goals against Zambia in their opener. Brazil isn’t quite the force it was in, say, 2008, when it played the Americans for the gold medal in Beijing. But Marta is still Marta, and Brazil routed China 5-0 on Wednesday.

Now, the Americans will say they’re going to have to face the best teams at some point, whether it’s in the quarters, semis or finals. At the 2019 World Cup, you might recall, much was made of them having to play host France in the quarterfinals and that turned out OK.

But that squad looked far more formidable than the U.S. women did against Sweden.

Sweden is always going to give the Americans a tough game. Perhaps tougher than any other team. But this was more than that. The U.S. women always looked a step behind the Swedes, and weren’t nearly as crisp, with either their passing or trapping, as they normally are.

This is largely the same team that won the World Cup in 2019 and yet, offensively at least, it looked like a squad still getting used to playing together. Passes went to empty spaces and there seemed to be no awareness of where other players were or what they were doing.

At one point, Rose Lavelle held up her arms as if to say, “What are we doing here?”

“We weren’t going to breeze through six games no matter what,” said Christen Press, who had two of the Americans’ only chances, including a shot off the post in the 71st minute. “So here we are.”

The U.S. women did look better after Julie Ertz was brought on at halftime. The veteran midfielder is often a human clog, disrupting or at least slowing an opponent’s attack, and also plays a big role in creating space offensively.

This was Ertz’s first game since she injured her knee in mid-May. While the Americans aren’t likely to need her against New Zealand and maybe even Australia, they’re going to have to hope she’ll be ready to play heavy minutes once the knockout rounds begin.

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The Americans also need to clean up the silly errors and sloppiness. They’re a better team than that, and they know it.

“I think we were a little tight, nervous. Just doing dumb stuff,” Megan Rapinoe said. “Hopefully the team will feel a little bit more relaxed. Play tight, we lose, probably should switch it up. Just be more ourselves.”

And maybe, just maybe, the Americans needed this kind of comeuppance.

The U.S. women have run roughshod over the world for the better part of three decades, but particularly over the past 10 years. They have won the past two World Cups, and their utter dominance in France was a sight to behold. They didn’t trail for a second of that tournament, and scored a whopping 26 goals to just three allowed.

In their first 23 games under Vlatko Andonovski, who took over as coach in November 2019, the Americans had conceded just four goals.

“We got ourselves into this mess, and now it’s our responsibility to get ourselves out of it,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn said. “I have all the faith that we can do that.”

Fortunately for them, they still have that chance. The do-overs won't last much longer, though.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: USWNT has time to turn around Olympic prospects, but they'll have to be 'ruthless'


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