It was the penalty kick heard around the world. A celebratory one in Sweden. A soul-crushing one in the United States. VAR to confirm it.
It ended up being a game of millimeters.
The U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) suffered their earliest exit ever at a World Cup following 120 scoreless minutes and a wild penalty-kick shootout. While there is doom and gloom to be had at the moment, this was the best that USWNT looked the whole tournament. So in case you weren’t up at 5 am, here’s how it all went down.
USWNT Starting XI
There were some changes made to the starting XI that signaled a (small) departure from what head coach Vlatko Andonovski did during the group stage. Starting Emily Sonnett paired with Sullivan in midfield was a tactical change. Lindsey Horan added to as a more advanced with Sophia Smith and Rodman. That saw Andonovski put Alex Morgan up front. Sonnett also started after Rose Lavelle had to sit out due to a yellow card suspension. It was a nice surprise to see started while Rose Lavelle missed out with a yellow card suspension, and Andonovski switched from Vlatko switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 against Sweden.
Who is this U.S. soccer team?
The squad of women that showed up for 120 minutes against Sweden was a very different bunch than the ones who took the pitch in the group stage. There were a few early chances that showed more chemistry. Trinity Rodman was eager to score and earn the opening mark for the U.S.
Yet the Swedish team was prepared. Having beaten the U.S. in the opening game in Tokyo Olympics, they’re no stranger to the U.S. and put forth their own chances to score, including a couple of corner kicks, which have been lethal for them so far at this World Cup. But the USWNT defense
The captain herself also nears nets the opener off a great chance on a corner kick in the 34th minute, with her header hitting the crossbar.
With Sonnett and Sullivan in a double-pivot, Horan had the freedom to roam in an attacking midfield position. The U.S. dominated the first-half possession, having a 5-1 shot advantage. Midfield changes have worked better in favor of the USWNT. Sonnett completed 89% of her shots and Andi Sullivan completed 91%.
The Swedes did their fair share of attacking. They played a lot to the right flank, looking to Johanna Kaneryd to create opportunities. During the tournament thus far, they’ve been dangerous when serving crosses into the box. But the first half still ended 0-0 at halftime.
Keeping up the second-half attack
The uptempo from the first half carried over into the second half of the game. In the 48th minute, Sweden’s Kosovare Asllani was given a yellow card when trying to block a pass and sliding into Ertz. It was the first and only yellow card of the game.
Subbing on Lynn Williams and taking Rodmann off was the right move for the USWNT. Rodman was allegedly sick and on limited minutes for this match. Williams provided a spark off the bench. The Americans continued to take chances that looked sure to go in, but one person got in their way.
Swedish keeper Zerica Mušović put in the work. Musovic made a tremendous save on Horan’s thunderous one-timer in the 53rd minute, flashing to her left for a touch save. Horan could not believe it, covering her face with her hands.
The woman of the match easily belongs to the American keeper Alyssa Naeher. Just take a look at her in the 67th minute:
Morgan again tried with a quality chance in the 89th minute when a cross from Williams finds her for a header. However, the Swedish machine Mušović made another outstanding save.
The USWNT rhythm that they finally found lasted well into 30 minutes of extra time. Despite the time, the USWNT notched 22 shots and 11 on target — more than they had in any other game during the World Cup. But they failed to convert any and were doomed to be at the mercy of a shootout.
Shooting for salvation
Penalty kicks aren’t quite the way the USWNT hoped to see if they could make the quarterfinals but here they were.
Round number one: Andi Sullivan and Fridolina Rolfö buried their opening spot-kicks. Horan and Elin Rubensson both held serve in Round 2. Kristie Mewis, fresh off the bench in the 120th minute, went top corner to give the U.S. a 3-2 lead. That was the moment when Sweden tripped up. Nathalie Björn fired her shot well over the bar.
Yet the U.S. had their own gaffe when Megan Rapinoe- firing her final shot ever at World Cup- whiffed it high over the net. Youngster Sophia Smith had a chance to win it but also missed the net entirely. Hanna Bennison found the roof of the net and sent the shootout to sudden death tied at three each.
Then it was keeper vs keeper. Naeher against Mušović. She scores and made it 4–3 for the U.S.
Sweden did even it up at 4-4 and Kelly O’Hara’s shot bangs off the post. Then the Swedes put Lina Hurtig up for the kick. Naeher gets a touch on Hurtig’s penalty but the ball crosses the line.
And then it was the VAR confirmation for the ages.
The USWNT is out of the 2023 Women’s World Cup
Sweden eliminated the USWNT to move on to the quarterfinals. After the match, many players including those who likely donned the crest for the last time, shared nothing but gratefulness for this squad.
Rapinoe echoed those sentiments post match:
“I feel so lucky and so grateful to play as long as I have and been on as many successful teams as I have, and be a part of a very special generation that has done so much on and off the field. It would be hard to feel disappointed in any type of way.”Megan Rapinoe, 8/6/23
The exit is the earliest the USWNT has even left the tournament and is the worst finish for the team. As they head back home, there will be lots of questions about the future of the team and especially, who will be its manager moving forward.
But for now, there is sadness but also joy. Watching this team play together over the years is still something to be celebrated.
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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Hamish Blair & AP Photo/Scott Barbour.