As Sweden took a victory lap and Abba’s Dancing Queen blared via the evening at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Alyssa Naeher stood along with her palms on her hips in disbelief. It took a number of minutes – what felt like an eternity – for VAR to substantiate that the ball had crossed the road on the ultimate penalty of the sport.
It was nearly inconceivable to inform with the bare eye whether or not Swedish ahead Lina Hurtig’s shot had crossed the line, after not one however two swats from the USA goalkeeper. An incredulous Naeher threw her palms within the air and yelled to her goalkeeping coach, Philip Poole, showing to imagine the video proved she had saved the penalty.
She later accepted she wanted to have a look at the replay once more. “It’s robust to have your World Cup finish by a millimeter,” Naeher mentioned, including that there aren’t any ethical victories, even when a group performs nicely in a knockout-round loss.
“I’ve seen footage and I nonetheless can’t see how [the ball crossed the line],” USA coach Vlatko Andonovski mentioned. “That simply exhibits how merciless this sport generally may be, and the way small a element makes a distinction between successful and shedding.”
These small margins had been in USA’s favor 5 days earlier, when the woodwork saved them from a defeat that may have knocked out within the group stage. The Individuals had been poor all through the group stage, however on Sunday they turned of their strongest efficiency at this World Cup – and their greatest in a sport that mattered in 4 years underneath Andonovski. It was too little, too late.
Even within the absence of suspended playmaker Rose Lavelle, Sunday’s efficiency was all the pieces that Andonovski and his gamers had promised however beforehand didn’t ship. Every thing, that’s, besides ruthlessness in entrance of purpose. The Individuals pressured Sweden from the opening whistle and stored their foot on the fuel, holding possession and pinning Sweden again into deep areas. Trinity Rodman had her greatest sport of the event, combining with the midfield and forcing Sweden goalkeeper Zećira Mušović into a number of first-half saves. Mušović made 11 saves in whole through the match, a number of of them sensational, to thwart a USA assault that lastly had some life.
“She was unimaginable tonight,” Andonovski mentioned. “She made some saves that not many goalkeepers on the earth could make. I can’t consider every other purpose why we’re out of the event. I believed that we had an excellent gameplan, nice technique, we executed the gameplan, we had the best personnel on the sector to execute the gameplan. And if I needed to coach this group, this sport over again, I’d in all probability do the identical.”
The US might have finished with that strategy from the beginning of this event. Emily Sonnett began as a holding midfielder subsequent to Andi Sullivan in a double pivot for the USA on Sunday. Often a center-back, Sonnett has performed within the No 6 function this season for her membership, OL Reign, however she had by no means beforehand began within the place for the US. The truth is, this was her first-ever begin at a World Cup. It was Andonovski’s one massive gamble, and it seemed like a masterstroke from the opening minutes.
Sonnett was the most effective gamers on the pitch. She was calm and error-free on the ball, even underneath vital strain from a bodily Swedish midfield. And he or she cleaned up all the pieces defensively, sliding over to cowl for Crystal Dunn when the full-back grew to become remoted within the first 10 minutes. She was additionally fast to clear hazard – as she did within the thirtieth minute, when a uncommon threatening move from Sweden practically discovered the ft of Stina Blackstenius.
Andonovski has been pragmatic to a fault at instances throughout his USA tenure, together with within the group-stage draw with the Netherlands, when he made just one substitution. On Sunday, he selected to exchange the artistic Lavelle with the defensive-minded Sonnett as a result of, he mentioned, the group wanted a second No 6 to cease counterattacks from Sweden. Every thing about his plan seemed right as Sonnett marshalled the midfield and stymied Sweden. Nevertheless it was odd that it took till this sport to determine that out: the double pivot had seemed just like the clear reply to USA’s struggles earlier than, starting in a January victory over New Zealand. As an alternative of sticking with that system, nevertheless, Andonovski continued to tinker all through the spring, partially attributable to accidents. He determined to play the primary three matches of the World Cup with Sullivan because the lone No 6, and the US midfield struggled consequently.
On Sunday, Sullivan and Sonnett sat behind Lindsey Horan, who assumed the No 10 function from Lavelle for the day, and the US bossed the midfield. For a 10-minute stretch earlier than half-time, the Individuals had 77% of the possession to Sweden’s 9% (the remaining 14% was deemed “in competition” by Fifa statistics).
“I believe you noticed a unique group on the market right this moment,” Horan mentioned. “I noticed a really assured, poised, affected person group that needed to play. We managed the sport. It was superb. I felt pleasure once I performed. It was simply so good. Every thing was clicking aside from that remaining piece of placing the ball behind the online. That’s soccer. It sucks, it’s laborious and it hurts; it’s painful. Penalties are the worst factor attainable however on the finish of the day, I’m proud.”
Finally, the dearth of ending proved expensive in opposition to Sweden – a theme for the US all through the event. Mušović was spectacular, together with within the 53rd minute, when she tipped away a scorching volley from Horan. Alex Morgan was denied from shut vary in second-half stoppage time. Lynn Williams had the perfect alternative of extra-time within the one hundred and first minute when she acquired behind Sweden left-back Jonna Andersson – as she recurrently did from the second she entered the match within the 66th minute – however Mušović dropped down low to push the ball away.
The Sweden goalkeeper acquired her group to a penalties however she didn’t must make a save within the shootout. Megan Rapinoe skied USA’s fourth spot-kick over the bar, and Sophia Smith then shanked what would have been the successful kick. Kelley O’Hara hit the put up within the seventh spherical of kicks earlier than Hurtig’s successful penalty.
“I believed we deserved much more,” Andonovski mentioned. “We deserved to win this sport. We created sufficient to win this sport and I believed that we put up a struggle, a battle. I believed that we represented this nation proud, and confirmed what we stand for and did all the pieces proper. We did all the pieces proper.”
The USA arguably didn’t need to get out of the group given their performances there. They had been closely criticized for his or her lackluster play and lack of ability to resolve strain or alter to opponents. A lot of that criticism fell on Andonovski, who answered a repeated line of questioning about his job on Sunday by saying that he has not considered his future, and that he by no means coaches to attempt to save his job.
His greatest efficiency in control of the US might need come on Sunday. It was definitely his group’s greatest exhibiting at this World Cup. It was additionally in opposition to an opponent they might not have confronted this early within the event had the US been higher within the group stage.
As Andonovski mentioned to shut what is likely to be his remaining press convention as USA supervisor: “Now’s the time for criticism.”