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USA lacks that 2019 magic at this Women’s World Cup


American players wait for a corner kick 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 is clearly not the dominant team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

The Americans have advanced to the knockout phase in this edition of the tournament, but only after drawing 0-0 with Portugal in their last group match. After the final whistle on Tuesday night, Alex Morgan remained expressionless with her hands on her hips.

It was a look of frustration. If the Americans don’t pick up their game, their run to a third straight World Cup title could soon be over.

With just one win and a couple of draws, the United States fell to second place in Group E behind the Netherlands. The Americans now head to Melbourne, Australia, for a Round of 16 match against the top seed from Group G, which concludes on Wednesday.

The United States scored just four goals in the group stage, a stark contrast to the 18 it scored in the group in 2019. In each of their first six games four years ago in France, the Americans scored in the first 12 minutes.

“I think there are things we can do better for sure, things we could do better in the last two games. But I’m not going to stop there. It is what it is,” veteran Megan Rapinoe said. “We need to play better and we know it. We need to be a little more fluid and I think a little more connected offensively.”

The team has 14 players who are making their first World Cup appearance, and for 12 of them, it is their first major international tournament. Coach Vlatko Andonovski focused on developing young talent after the United States settled for a disappointing bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Andonovski fielded the same lineup for the first two group stage matches against Vietnam and the Netherlands. The starters had never played together before.

Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle, who scored in a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the World Cup final four years ago in France, had been injured in the run-up to the tournament and their minutes were restricted.

When Lavelle was substituted in the group game against the Dutch last Thursday, she gave the team a spark in the second half and served the corner kick to Lindsey Horan for the goal that lifted the US to a tie 1 -1.

Hoping to boost attack, Andonovski switched things up against Portugal, starting Lavelle for midfielder Savannah DeMelo and replacing forward Trinity Rodman with Lynn Williams. Still, scoring issues persisted.

Lavelle received his second yellow card in the game against Portugal, so he will not be available to play in Melbourne on Sunday.

Alex Morgan FIFA Women's World Cup USA

Alex Morgan of the United States, right, attempts a shot as Ana Borges of Portugal blocks during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between Portugal and the United States at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, 1 August 2023. (AP Photo/Andrés Cornaga)

Portugal was about to score in discount, but Ana Capeta’s shot hit the post. A loss to the Portuguese would have sent the Americans home after the group stage for the first time at a World Cup or Olympics.

Following the draw, former United States forward Carli Lloyd criticized the team as “uninspiring”.

“Disappointing. They don’t look in shape. They are playing individually and the tactics are too predictable,” Lloyd said on Fox Sports’ post-game show.

Andonovski was later asked about Lloyd’s comments.

“One thing I want to say is that this team wanted to win this game more than anything else, and they have done everything they can to prepare for this tournament and every game,” Andonovski said. “Questioning the mentality of this team, questioning the will to win, to compete, I think it’s crazy.”

The United States also misses Mallory Swanson’s scoring drive and Becky Sauerbrunn’s veteran baseline leadership. Swanson, the team’s top scorer this year, tore her kneecap tendon in an exhibition match with Ireland in April. Then Sauerbrunn, the team captain, announced in June that she was unable to recover from a foot injury in time for the tournament.

The Americans, who have won a record four World Cups, haven’t needed the third and final group game to clinch a place in the knockout round since 2007.

Before the game against Portugal, the United States was at the top of Group E, even on points with the Netherlands, but with an advantage on goal difference. The Dutch erased that lead and took the group lead with a decisive 7-0 win over Vietnam, in a game played simultaneously on Tuesday night in Dunedin.

The Netherlands now heads to Sydney to face second place in Group G, which includes Sweden, South Africa, Italy and Argentina. The United States plays the best team in the group, probably Sweden. If the USA can win in Melbourne, they will return to Auckland for the quarterfinals.

But there’s no guarantee unless the team can find that 2019 magic again. And fast.

“I know this team and I know what we are capable of,” Morgan said. “Just because it hasn’t clicked every moment on the pitch and we’re not scoring goals into the back of the net doesn’t mean these aren’t the right players for the job. The confidence is there, now we just have to show it on the pitch.”


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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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