USWNT prepares for Round of 16 clash with Sweden while battling bad vibes & haters off the pitch

United States’ Megan Rapinoe, left, replaces teammate Sophia Smith during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between Portugal and the United States at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Cornaga)

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) was a post width away from being knocked out of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. This World Cup has provided many upsets; Germany, Brazil, and Canada all crashed out before the knockout rounds. The USWNT just barely made it out of their group, and now have to face a tough path forward should they want to make history and complete a first-ever three-peat.

This journey will be difficult, and the USA will need to combat poor form, bad vibes, and haters off the pitch while readying themselves to take on the #3 team in the World, Sweden!

United States’ Megan Rapinoe, left, replaces teammate Sophia Smith during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between Portugal and the United States at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Cornaga)

Women’s World Cup Round of 16 Preview: USWNT vs Sweden

Poor group stage form and bad team vibes

For the first time ever at a World Cup, the USWNT failed to win two of their three group-stage matches. The USA beat Vietnam 3-0, drew the Netherlands 1-1, and played debutants Portugal to a 0-0 tie that could have easily been a loss. The form has been very poor, and very much unlike what we are used to seeing from this team.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has made some interesting decisions with this team. First is playing Julie Ertz at center-back instead of her preferred position as a holding midfielder. Natural center-back Alana Cook has been riding the bench, and Andi Sullivan has been tasked with structuring the midfield behind captain Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle (or Savannah DeMelo when Lavelle is out). Moving up to the attack, Alex Morgan has held down the striker spot with Trinity Rodman (or Lynn Williams in the most recent match) and Sophia Smith flying down the wings.

The team and how its constructed on the field lacks chemistry and ideas. The midfield is disjointed from the attack many times, Sullivan is not the field general Ertz is, and her lacking ability to progress the ball while Horan and Lavelle are double-covered leads to turnovers. The attack is not much better. The wingers are ballers with speed and precise movements, but Morgan in the middle has looked slow and unable to make a play so far for the USWNT. The form has been poor, and changes will need to be made, but will Vlatko make them? On top of bad form, the vibes have been bad as well.

The USA has been the gold standard for decades in the Women’s game; however, they are in the midst of a changing of the guard. There are 14 first-timers on this USWNT 23-player roster. The veterans that are on this team are being tasked with creating good vibes, and it’s hard to do that while the results on the pitch haven’t been 13-0 like in years past.

You can tell players like Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn are trying to get the young players ready for the next stage of this tournament by keeping spirits high by getting the newcomers to celebrate after a poor 0-0 draw that saw the team advance to the knockout rounds. They were caught on camera dancing after the draw, which irked a former USA star turned talking head creating more unneeded drama off the pitch.

Portugal’s Ana Borges, right, reacts as she is tackled by United States’ Sophia Smith during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between Portugal and the United States at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

A former star’s harsh criticism

Carli Lloyd scored three goals in 16 minutes in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final to help the USWNT win their third Women’s World Cup cementing herself as a US Soccer Legend. Now she is a pundit for Fox Sport’s Women’s World Cup TV coverage, and she has been very critical of the team from the beginning of this tournament. Lloyd has famously been a difficult teammate and had a rough ending to her time with the national team, which has seemed to carry over into her TV coverage.

After the USWNT almost lost to Portugal she was in her feelings on air. She began criticizing the new players and tactics, that they may not be good enough, and then caught a glimpse of the cameras on the field after the game, and said:

“I never witnessed something like that. There’s a difference between being respectful to the fans and saying hello to your family, but to be dancing and smiling?”

Carli Lloyd after the USA’s draw to Portugal

The next day Lloyd did walk back her comments, after she made national news and created a huge distraction for the team, saying that she was very critical of the team and that after sleeping on it and reflecting that she wants people to know that she cares deeply for the team. If you didn’t hear an apology in that apology it’s because there wasn’t one.

Now ahead of a win-or-go-home match, the USWNT is having to deal with responding to these comments instead of focusing on their play on the pitch, and the vibes surrounding the team. In the pre-match presser, captain Lindsey Horan addressed Lloyd’s comments:

“It’s Kind of frustrating for me to hear, especially knowing this team and knowing how much we put into every single game, how much preparation we put into every single game, seeing our trainings, seeing how much we work.”

Lindsey Horan on Carli Lloyd’s critisisms

Horan then dismissed this noise as an outsiders opinion:

“Again, it’s noise, and again, it’s an opinion and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We know how it goes. I always want to defend my team and say ‘You have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, you have no idea every single training what we’re doing individually, collectively, etc.'”

Lindsey Horan on Carli Lloyd’s critisisms

Now that we have had a completely unnecessary back-and-forth between a former player with hurt pride and the new regime, the USWNT look to kill the bad vibes and the poor play on the pitch as they take on Sweden!

United States’ Lindsey Horan speaks to the media during a FIFA Women’s World Cup press conference in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Can the USWNT turn it around against a strong Swedish side?

As other former USWNT stars have said, there are two tournaments at the World Cup; the group stage, and the knockout rounds. This USA side survived just barely in the group stage and now looks to make yet another historic journey in the knockout rounds. They’ll start by taking on Sweden.

Sweden won Group G winning all three matches scoring nine goals and letting in just one in their group stage. They are a physically imposing side that looks to dominate in set-piece opportunities and make teams uncomfortable when on the ball. This is a team that has been a bogy team for the USWNT in the past as they are the only team that the USA has lost to in the group stage at a World Cup.

Luckily this isn’t a group stage match, and the USWNT will have a lot of pent-up aggression ready to inflict on their opponents. However, one player that won’t be able to help that cause will be Rose Lavelle who picked up two yellow cards in two matches in the group stage and is suspended for this match. The USWNT will need to find a way to replace her if they want to advance.

One way they could do so is to shake up their starting XI. Bring in Alana Cook, move Julie Ertz to midfield, play Savannah DeMelo in Lavelle’s spot, and push Alex Morgan to the bench in favor of Lynn Williams with Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith running the channels on the wing. This shift would allow the USA to have a chance to fight and win midfield battles while keeping their strong defensive shape.

Will Vlatko actually make any of those changes? we’ll have to wait and see, but this won’t be a match you want to miss. Get that coffee ready, this game kicks off at 5 am EST live from Melbourne, Australia! Will the USWNT be able to shake off their poor form, bad vibes, and unnecessary criticisms to beat a Sweden side that has dominated so far in this competition? Tune in on Fox or Telemundo to find out!

United States midfielder Lindsey Horan, left, and Sophia Smith, center, celebrate with forward Trinity Rodman, right, who scored in the second half of a FIFA Women’s World Cup send-off soccer match against Wales in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, July 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Cornaga, AP Photo/Abbie Parr, & AP Photo/Josie Lepe