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USWNT 2020 Olympics: What we learned

The team got a medal, but not the one they sought.

FOOTBALL-OLY-2020-2021-TOKYO-PODIUM Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

The United States Women’s National Team completed their Olympics yesterday by defeating Australia 4-3 to win the bronze medal. It completed a 2-year wait for the USWNT to attempt to become the first team to win a gold medal immediately after winning a World Cup. They didn’t achieve the gold medal they were looking for, and it signaled the first time in over 2.5 years that the USWNT played in a tournament and was not the best team. We break down a few of the things we learned about the team during these Olympic games.

The joy was missing

Maybe it was because of the pressure that was placed upon the team or the expectations that they placed upon themselves, but something was clearly missing from the USWNT in Japan: joy. They didn’t play like they have the past 2.5 years, where they looked like they were having fun while destroying almost everyone they faced. That chemistry that they had built appeared to be gone, and it was evident from the opening whistle against Sweden. Hopefully, we’ll find out down the line what went wrong on that front, but the best team on the planet never approached playing like the team they had grown to become.

That lack of joy led to a failure of execution. Passes weren’t crisp, defensive assignments were missed, scoring chances went awry, and there just didn’t seem to be the cohesive unit that owned the world for over 2 years. It was frustrating for the players, frustrating for fans of the team, but their opponents did right in pouncing on it and doing what they could to get a result against the United States.

The intensity was lacking

Whenever the team took the field against any of their opponents in the Olympics, their opponents almost always brought a high level of intensity. That’s what happens when you’re the underdog. You have to step up your level of play and you have to want it. The USWNT rarely matched that intensity. And when you’re the #1 team in the world, you have to walk into every match understanding that your opponent is going to give you its best shot.

The USWNT didn’t really grasp that. Sweden destroyed them in every corner of the match because they showed up with a game plan and they were ready to execute it. But, the simple fact is that they wanted it more and they played like it. Every 50/50 ball seemed to be won by them, every race to a spot was theirs. The USWNT never had an answer for that in that match or throughout the tournament. They had stretches against New Zealand and in the bronze medal match where they brought the intensity. But, too often they played like the underdog and on their back heels, while their opponents brought the game to them and produced an effort that we’re used to seeing from the USWNT.

This should signal a changing of the guard

When the USWNT roster was released, it was full of names that almost every fan knew from past World Cups and Olympics. With half of the Olympic roster over the age of 30, and another 5 players who will be 30 by the next World Cup, there have been many who called for Vlatko Andonovski to bring some of the younger players who had been working their way into the fold for the past couple years.

But in the end, Vlatko opted for veteran experience over youthful exuberance. Players like Margaret Purce, Sophia Smith, and Andi Sullivan, who most believed could have helped provide a youthful spark to the team, were kept at home so veterans could get one final shot at a gold medal. Now, with the focus about to shift to preparations for World Cup qualifying next year, the time is now for Andonovski to start the changing of the guard, fully integrating the next generation of young talent into the mix and seeing how they can produce.

They still got bronze

Throughout it all, it may not be the medal they wanted, but they still got one. Bronze is still a tremendous accomplishment, one that every other team in the world would be happy with winning. Everyone, including the players, felt that gold was attainable, and it certainly was. But it was never gold or bust. We can certainly be disappointed that we didn’t win gold, but in a weird way, we shouldn’t be disappointed that bronze was the medal that put the USWNT on the podium.

Again, the expectations and pressure called for gold, and that was the goal that everyone had. But, just because you aimed for the stars and landed on the moon doesn’t mean that the moon isn’t a memorable feat. For many players on the team, it was their first medal of any kind, so we should give them credit for rebounding from their loss to Canada and getting it together enough to defeat Australia and leave Tokyo with some hardware.

There are plenty of other things we can take away from the USWNT’s time at the 2020 Olympics. Hit the comments and continue the discussion.