How the USWNT Won Olympic Bronze and Beat Australia

How the USWNT Won Olympic Bronze and Beat Australia

The U.S. players stream off the bench but the shouts and the running give way to exhaustion almost immediately. Smiles, more than dancing. Relief, more than revelry.

FULL TIME: The United States has won the bronze!

90′ + 3 Alex Morgan injured late, and has to be helped off. That’s important: The U.S. is out of subs. They will try to finish off Australia with 10.

90′ + 1 Four minutes of added time.

90′ GOAL! Late drama!! Emily Gielnik, a second-half sub for Australia, walks right up the middle and unleashes a shot past Franch from distance. It’s 4-3 now, and getting very nervy in Kashima.

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87′ Emily Sonnett on for Christen Press, a defensive move. But Alex Morgan is in again. She can’t get her feet sorted, though, and fails to drive in the dagger.

87′ A Lavelle cross from a tight angle, a Morgan leg stretched as far as it goes … but no. The game stays at 4-2.

80′ Carli Lloyd off, for maybe the final time in a major tournament, and replaced by Alex Morgan. She leaves with two goals today, and the satisfaction that she did everything in her power to help her team to a bronze medal. The others will have to close it out.

75′ An Australia corner forces the U.S. goalkeeper Adrianna Franch to tangle with the tall Emily van Egmond on a high ball. But Franch, thankful she is able to use her hands, gets higher and wins it easily. Crisis averted for the U.S.

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74′ Carli Lloyd nearly in again there, on another near-perfect chip by Christen Press. Australia’s Teagan Micah read it and got there first, but don’t rule out a third for Lloyd yet. What a motor on her.

70′ GOAL? No goal. Lloyd was offside before her finish, and clearly so. That is the 10th — 10th! — goal of this tournament that the Americans have had called back for offside.

67′ Three subs for Australia. Raso, Logarzo and Simon come off. Mary Fowler, who was very good in the first game against the U.S. in these Games, is on, for Simon on the right wing.

65′ Lloyd nearly got her hat trick there. Allowed to walk in on the left(!) she sets up a right-footed shot but sends it right at Micah, who falls on it. Lloyd will be disappointed with herself there.

64′ Observation: If you are the U.S., Australia is winning far too many headers in your penalty area. If you are Australia, of course, this is fine.

61′ Lavelle is in fact first on, for Sam Mewis, who was just shaken up. Tobin Heath comes on, too, for Rapinoe, who didn’t look thrilled. None of the forwards would even look toward the bench, fearful of seeing their number come up on the board.

59′ As we approach the hour, Rose Lavelle is up and lingering near the midfield line. She’ll be on for the U.S. in a second.

Caitlin Foord takes advantage of the glow of Carli Lloyd’s goal to immediately answer for Australia. The U.S. defense, plainly, lost her in the area, and she meets a cross with a header.

Just like that, 4-1 is now 4-2.

A minute later, Sam Kerr almost gets another. But her header, on an eerily similar cross to an similarly unmarked head, hits the post and bounces back across the goal and out.

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Now it’s Australia’s turn for a defensive mistake.

Lindsey Horan won a ball deep in the U.S. end with a heavy boot back over her head to Christen Press. Press collected it nicely and, seeing Carli Lloyd on the run with Australia’s Alanna Kennedy, chipped a great ball ahead. Kennedy got to it first but her backpass was soft and left goalkeeper Teagan Micah in no woman’s land.

Lloyd never stopped running, though, and with Kennedy screaming and gesturing for her goalkeeper to come out, it was too late. Lloyd collected and slotted home her second of the game.

49′ Now it’s Kerr and Australia screaming for a handball at the other end after four players converge on the striker to smother a shot. But replays quickly show the hand in question was more than likely Kerr’s, not an American one.

47′ Another quick VAR review is dismissed after Australia’s Hayley Raso appears to handle the ball after a tight-quarters deflection with Crystal Dunn. No penalty.

46′ A very brief halftime talk for Australia, apparently: Its players were back about five minutes before the second-half kickoff, standing around near their positions ready to go. The U.S. trickles onto the field next, and at its own pace, and now we’re back underway.

Our colleague Tariq Panja confirms the report by The Guardian: Olympic officials are considering moving Friday’s women’s soccer final between Sweden and Canada out of the Olympic stadium, and to a time later in the day, rather than play on a beat-up field that will be as hot as the sun in the Tokyo midday heat. No details yet, but definitely more than a discussion, per Tariq.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The United States has clearly come to Kashima for a medal today. Megan Rapinoe’s two goals were the first sign of that, but it was Carli Lloyd’s seasoned finish just before the halftime whistle that — she and her teammates hope — might have broken the Australians’ spirits.

The Americans’ first-half performance is the kind of effort that they, their coach and their fans expected from the start at the Tokyo Games. The energy has been infectious, the tackling superb and the connections — witness Lloyd’s anticipation on the third goal — hard to stop.

Australia had its moments: Sam Kerr’s goal, the result of a brutal defensive error by Tierna Davidson, was followed by a smart header a minute later that might have turned the tide. But it was saved, and Rapinoe struck back, then Lloyd, and here we are.

Forty-five minutes to go for both teams. But the way the half ended, you half-expect the Americans to come out early, eager to get on with it.

Halftime. Whew. Go get a drink.

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Megan Rapinoe got two? Carli Lloyd wants one as well.

It starts with some terrific work by Lindsey Horan in midfield; just shrugging off a defender gives her a little space on the left. Lloyd has already read it and is slicing into the area.

Horan’s feed is inch-perfect, and Lloyd — in one devastating motion born of years of practice — controls with her right and buries a shot past Australia’s Teagan Micah with her left. The goalkeeper got a look and a chance to dive this time, at least, but the shot was hit so pure it was past her and in the right-side netting before anyone knew what had happened.

A pure striker’s finish, from a pure striker. It’s 3-1 just before the break.

45′ Three minutes of added time.

44′ Australia has an injury issue here. Steph Catley stuck her leg out to block a shot and it reallllly hurt. She struggled to her feet and went right back down. Now she’s limping off while everyone else sneaks in a water break.

43′ VAR check on that call. The Argentine referee, Laura Fortunato, initially waved on play but now they are taking a long look. The decision? No penalty. And we play on.

42′ Penalty? Sure looked like one as Rapinoe is tripped near the six-yard box driving at a great ball from Lloyd.

40′ Australia almost gives away a third by trying to walk the ball upfield on a goal kick. In doing so, they almost walked it into their own net, and only a deflection on a shot by Rapinoe — gifted to her by a defender — saves them.

That’s a couple of times that Australia has played with fire, and Carli Lloyd is getting closer and closer to catching them.

27′ This has been a heckuva half hour.

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If you thought the olimpico was good, Rapinoe’s second goal was better.

The chance shouldn’t have been a chance, really. It started with a Christen Press cross that should have been easily handled in the center. But the first Australian defender, Clare Polkinghorne, couldn’t get the job done, and Alanna Kennedy’s second effort was a sliced clearance that spun in the air toward Rapinoe on the left side of the area.

Watching the ball fall, Rapinoe waited and waited, sized it up and then swung a mighty right foot at it and — boom!— sent a shot past Teagan Micah before the goalkeeper could even shift her feet.

A rocket of a finish, and a 2-1 lead for the United States. And if you thought Rapinoe was feeling some joy before, you should see her now.

The United States just made a mess of its lead, and Sam Kerr has tied the score for Australia at 1-1.

Tierna Davidson was the culprit, sending a long lateral ball toward Becky Sauerbrunn that was off line and, in the mix-up, went straight to Caitlin Foord. She drove hard at the net and fed Kerr, who was screaming and pointing right where she wanted the lead ball.

Foord delivered and Kerr finished with her first touch, driving a shot around the scrambling and sliding Davidson and in off Franch’s right hand.

Tie game.

And a moment later she’s rising for a header that nearly unties it — but Franch gets a hand out to push it away.

Quite a few moments. But we’re tied.

14′ Nope. It’s another scorching corner, but Lindsey Horan’s header sails wide of the far post.

13′ Christen Press almost makes it two! Turning Tameka Yallop this way and that, Press manages to get off a sliding shot that is deflected away from the goal at the last second for a corner. Rapinoe again. Can she …..?

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Rapinoe scores straight from the corner kick to give the United States a 1-0 lead. The ball came screaming in from the right side, and Lloyd applies some helpful and timely pressure on goalkeeper Teagan Micah at precisely the right moment.

Micah might have touched it — replays weren’t clear — but that was all Rapinoe, so it’s justice that she gets credit (for now). It’s just the start the United States needed, and wanted.

They call that kind of goal — straight in off the corner kick — an olimpico, by the way, so why not take a whack during the Olympics. Rapinoe said she was looking to bring back the joy, and get a smile back on her face. Well, she has one now. She’s beaming.

7′ Now it’s the U.S. with some sustained pressure. Rapinoe is prowling on the left with crosses and long throw-ins. Now one to Press in the top of the area sails just over the bar. Whooooosh … that was close. Corner.

3′ Australia has come to play. Rapinoe lets out a scream after a hard foul on the sideline, and before you know it the Matildas are coming in hard again on the left.

1′ We’re underway in Kashima, and Australia drives in hard with some early pressure from the wings and winds up with a long-distance shot by Emily van Egmond that was always going high.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The U.S. women’s soccer team made no secret of it: It came to Japan to win the gold, and it is very unhappy that will not happen.

But that does not mean it lacks for motivation.

Megan Rapinoe: “We still have a medal to compete for. It’s obviously not the type of medal we wanted, but we need to understand, still, how lucky we are to compete for that. We certainly don’t want to lose two in a row.”

Carli Lloyd: “If we’re not going to walk away with a gold medal, I’d like to walk away with a bronze medal at the very least. That’s all the focus is for me and the team.”

Coach Vlatko Andonovski, too, said motivation — even amid disappointment — was not going to be an issue. Asked if firing up his team would be difficult, he brushed off the mere idea that it was needed.

“It’s not difficult at all because we are of the mind-set that we have something to win; we have a medal ahead of us,” he said. “I know it’s not gold, but it’s a medal. It’s not like it’s ours.”

The United States has never lost to Australia — two wins, two ties — in a major championship. (Sorry to any U.S. fans who read that as a jinx.) In fact, it has lost to Australia only once in 31 previous meetings. But Australia is the last team to beat the United States on American soil (in 2018). This game, of course, will be played on Japanese soil.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The elephant in the room is a single question: Is this the end?

As Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and their United States soccer teammates prepared to take the field to play Australia for the bronze medal on Thursday, it was hard not to wonder if the match — and the Olympic tournament — would be the last appearance on such a grand stage for some of the U.S. team’s most accomplished players.

That debate has focused most specifically on Lloyd and Rapinoe, two former world players of the year, two players with World Cup championships and Olympic gold medals on their résumés, but also two players now closer to 40 than 30 trying to hold back younger teammates in the dying of the light.

“Are you trying to push me out to pasture, too?” Rapinoe, 36, joked Monday, after she was asked, several times, if she thought these Olympics would be her last.

Lloyd, 39, has been far more reflective about the topic, but also about the other things she has in mind for her post-soccer life. Book offers. Children. Travel that does not involve stadiums or grueling training sessions.

“I’m not going to lie: I miss having a normal life,” Lloyd said this week. “I miss home, miss my husband, family, friends. But this is what you sacrifice every four, every five years — it’s all part of it. Eventually it comes to an end at some point. So I just try to savor every moment.”

She did that after Monday night’s loss to Canada, lingering on the field crouched in thought as the Canadians celebrated only yards away. She then put herself through a typical session of postgame sprints, all alone on the same field in Kashima where — maybe — she will play her final meaningful game with the team that has consumed her life for two decades.

The Olympics, whether the Americans go home with a bronze medal or empty-handed, are seen as a transitional moment for the United States women’s program. The next World Cup is two years away, in Australia and New Zealand in 2023, and the Paris Olympics follow a year later. A new core may emerge. New talents will join, and respected veterans may be cast aside in the name of progress. This is how teams evolve, even one as good as the United States.

For players, though, who have spent a generation in the U.S. team — Lloyd played her first game for the U.S. senior team in 2005, and Rapinoe made her debut a year later — that is the commitment they must weigh: to stay in the fight, not for a few more months of top-level soccer, or a year, but probably three of them.

“Of course, I’ll obviously think about it after the tournament,” Rapinoe said, declining to offer more. “We don’t get the luxury of going one year at a time. We kind of have to think in these four-year blocks. I haven’t really thought about that.”

She did offer a window into her thinking, though, in talking — maybe not wistfully, but certainly admiringly — about her generation’s achievements, and what will come after she and others are gone from the team. In addition to Lloyd and Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, who is 36, could face the same decision soon.

“Obviously there’s a few of us that are closer to the end than the beginning, certainly, and we’ve had an amazing run,” Rapinoe said after the Canada loss. “We’ve had a lot of nights that looked different than that.

“We’ve been through so much together. So it’s kind of sad, but I feel like it’s in good hands. This group below us, and even younger than that, are just a fantastic group of footballers.

“I feel like we’ve done our job, but you never want to have it end.”

Suzy Wrack of The Guardian has picked up on a little chatter about Friday’s gold medal match between Canada and Sweden. The game, scheduled for 11 a.m. in the blistering sun and on a field that has fielded javelins, hammers and shots all week, may move times and venues.

Australia’s lineup includes Caitlin Foord, who was a game-time scratch in last week’s meeting between the teams because of a leg injury that spooked her. But it’s still centered around striker Sam Kerr. The U.S. held her without a shot in the first game and would certainly like to do the same today.

Senior night: Carli Lloyd (age 39) and Megan Rapinoe (36) start for the United States. So does 36-year-old Becky Sauerbrunn. Could this be the last major tournament for all three?

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The United States lineup is out and there is no more experimenting, no more rotating: U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski is going with some of his most experienced, most veteran names. Is it a sentimental send-off, or the safe choices? We’ll see.

Carli Lloyd, flanked by Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press, starts up front (good luck getting her to come off in what might be her final Olympic game), and a midfield of Lindsey Horan-Julie Ertz-Sam Mewis projects strength.

Tierna Davidson partners with Becky Sauerbrunn between Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara on defense, the latest signal yet that Davidson will be a fixture in this team moving forward.

One lineup change for the United States was made days ago: Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is out, replaced by Adrianna Franch.

Naeher, whose heroics on penalty kicks — both during regulation and again in the shootout — carried the United States over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, was injured in the first half of the Americans’ semifinal loss to Canada. U.S. Soccer said Naeher sustained a hyperextended right knee and a bone contusion when she landed awkwardly in the 22nd minute of that game.

She tried to play on but was forced out of the game about 10 minutes later. A magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no ligament damage, U.S. Soccer said, but her Olympics are over. The injury most likely will keep her out of action for several weeks.

Credit…Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

It was true when Australia lined up against the United States in the group stage, and it will be true when the teams play for the bronze medal:

Australia’s coach, Tony Gustavsson, a former U.S. assistant coach, might know the Americans as well as (or better than) any coach in the world. And that could be an important asset as the teams battle for the bronze medal.

“Every time you know a lot about an opponent, it helps you,” Gustavsson said.

Gustavsson is no stranger to the U.S. players. He helped the United States win the Olympic gold in 2012 as a member of the staff of the former coach Pia Sundhage, and he later served a long tenure as an assistant under his friend Jill Ellis after she took the head job. Together, they led the team to two World Cup titles.

But when Ellis left the post in 2019, Gustavsson departed, too. After a stint coaching in his native Sweden, he was hired by Australia last September. He felt unlucky to settle for a draw in the teams’ meeting last week, and he still has the inside knowledge — not to mention the scoring of Sam Kerr — to try to do better on Thursday.

“Obviously, this time it was unique that I have been with the team for a number of years, and not just knowing the collective strategy of the team but also the individual tendencies of the players, which kind of helps in the scouting reports,” he said.

That allowed him to spot a tactical shift “from the first minute” the last time the teams met, and to know that the United States might be vulnerable defensively on corner kicks and off long throw-ins.

“It felt like we were in control in a lot of moments of the game, both with and without the ball,” Gustavsson said. “That I like.”

Megan Rapinoe tried earlier this week to diagnose some of the United States’ struggles in Japan, and for her the disappointing performances came down to one thing that was missing.

“Football always needs joy,” she said. “When the game is really played at its best, you have that. And I feel like we haven’t been able to do that: Everything’s just been a little bit of a struggle — just passes off here or there, or whatever it is. I hope we find it. I certainly love playing with a big smile on my face much more than the opposite. And I think everyone does as well.”

Credit…Fernando Vergara/Associated Press

If you feel as if you just watched the United States and Australia play in women’s soccer, you’re right. And if you’ve forgotten that game, congratulations.

The first meeting between the United States and Australia — in the group stage — was, well, forgettable. It played out in the third match day of the group stage as a dreary scoreless draw that was mostly the result of a decision by U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski. He had gone into the game with a simple plan — do not give up a goal, and definitely do not lose — and succeeded on both fronts.

That setup was not popular with his players, of course. Alex Morgan was among those who name-checked “a tactical decision by Vlatko” in a not-too-subtle criticism of the strategy, and several other players strongly hinted that the decision to lay back and defend went against the team’s attacking ethos in an unforgivable surrender.

Expect a very different approach today. The Olympics has been — let’s say it plainly — a miserable experience for the United States, a tournament that started with a humbling defeat against Sweden and ended, at least in the gold medal sense, with a rare defeat by Canada in the semifinals on Monday. Afterward, Megan Rapinoe spoke of a team that was missing not only its connections on the field but also its “joy.”

Canada and Sweden will play for the gold on Friday. There is nothing the Americans can do to change that, or, frankly, much they can do to complain about it, since they lost to both teams.

At this point, with only one regulation-time win in five games in Japan, the United States will just want desperately to leave the Games with a medal. Bronze is the only option now, and Andonovski might win back some of his players by unleashing them to go after it with everything they have.


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