The U.S. women’s soccer team opened the Olympics in disastrous fashion, losing 3-0 to longtime rival Sweden. It was the program’s worst defeat at a major tournament since 2007, and manager Vlatko Andonovski’s first loss since taking the helm in October 2019.
And it was no fluke. It was an honest-to-goodness beating.
For all the talk of the U.S. being the tournament’s heavy favorite, Sweden was on the front foot from the start and rarely let up. They outshot the Americans by 16-13 in the game, including by 10-3 in the first half. An American team loaded with past medals but also the oldest squad in this tournament looked the latter part more than the former.
“Of course, that is not something we expected. We don’t expect to lose to begin with, especially not 3-0,” Andonovski told reporters in Tokyo. “There are some things we didn’t do well enough, but I want to give credit to Sweden who played incredibly well.”
Sweden’s game plan centered around targeting Lindsey Horan, who deputized as the starting defensive midfielder with Julie Ertz not starting. Ertz hasn’t played since suffering a MCL injury in mid-May, and while she recovered enough to make the Olympic team she wasn’t ready to start yet.
That plan worked to perfection for the Swedes, who were thrilled to remind American fans that they’re ranked No. 5 in the world.
They opened the scoring in the 25th minute on their ninth shot of the game. Hanna Glas sprung Sofia Jakobsson down the right wing, and Stina Blackstenius ran between Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper to meet Jakobsson’s cross with an unstoppable header.
It took until the 45th minute for the U.S. to earn a corner kick, which Sweden easily cleared. Becky Sauerbrunn recovered it and fed Kelley O’Hara, who served a long pass that Rose Lavelle slammed off the post with a header.
“About as lethargic and sloppy as I have seen the United States in a long time,” former U.S. star Julie Foudy said on NBC’s broadcast as halftime arrived.
Andonovski clearly wasn’t thrilled, either. He pulled Alex Morgan and Samantha Mewis at halftime, sending in Ertz and Carli Lloyd. But Sweden doubled its lead in the 55th through Blackstenius, who was wide open as a corner kick bounced around and fell to her just off the goal line.
Though sending Ertz in was the right move, sending her in for Mewis instead of Lindsey Horan seemed to backfire. Horan didn’t contribute much to the attack once moved forward.
Andonovski also seemed to lose another gamble by not having forward Lynn Williams among his available substitutes for the game. He was limited to picking 18 of the 22 players on the roster for the game day squad, and went without Williams, midfielder Catarina Macario, defender Casey Krueger and third-string goalkeeper Jane Campbell.
Christen Press hit the post with the net wide open in the 71st minute, and just under two minutes later Sweden scored its third. As with the first, it came from the right wing, a space Sweden spent much of the game intentionally overloading. Glas crossed over Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper, and Lina Hurtig cashed in on an easy close-range header in front of O’Hara.
The last time the U.S. women lost by three or more goals at a major tournament was at the 2007 World Cup, a 4-0 defeat to Brazil in the semifinals.
“We got our [rears] kicked, didn’t we?,” Rapinoe told reporters after the game. “I thought we were a little tight, a little nervous, just doing dumb stuff.”
This defeat will have major ramifications beyond just one game, and the mockery it produced from the rest of the world. While the first-place team in Group G will face a third-place team in the quarterfinals, the second-place team will face the first-place team from Group F — which includes Brazil and the Netherlands.
But the Americans will have to start winning just to get to the knockout rounds in the first place, starting with Saturday’s second group-stage game against New Zealand (7:30 a.m., NBCSN and Telemundo). The group stage finale is against Australia on Tuesday (4 a.m., USA Network and Telemundo).
Wednesday’s other scores: Great Britain 2, Chile 0; Brazil 5, China 0; Canada vs. Japan and Zambia vs. Netherlands are in progress; Australia vs. New Zealand kicks off at 7:30 a.m..