The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) saw its quest for a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal come to an early end when it lost to Sweden in the first quarterfinal match of the day.
The quarterfinal loss is the USWNT’s worst finish in its Olympic history.
The game, tied throughout 120 minutes of regulation and extra time, ended in the first ever Olympic penalty kick shootout, with Sweden outshooting the USWNT 4-3.
Alex Morgan took the first penalty kick for the USWNT, but her shot was easily saved by Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. The next three PK takers for the U.S.—Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian—all converted their shots, but forward Christen Press, who had a shaky Olympic tournament, sent her shot wide of the mark.
Press’s miss gave Sweden the advantage, despite USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo having blocked their third penalty kick moments earlier. Solo tried to rattle their final penalty taker, Lisa Dahlkvist, by stepping out of goal to change gloves, but her stall tactics were ineffective as Dahlkvist’s shot rocketed past her and into the net, advancing Sweden to the semifinal match and sending the USWNT back home early.
The USWNT has been plagued by problems all year long. The midfield has lacked consistency and has been nearly invisible for entire matches. With the wingback style of play in which outside backs Kelley O’Hara and Meghan Klingenberg push up high to join the attack, the USWNT defense has been left weakened, often times with only Becky Sauerbrunn or Julie Johnston left on the back line.
The attack has also been ineffective at times, failing to generate chances on goal or finish opportunities that were created. While Alex Morgan has often come in handy, scoring last-minute goals to give the U.S. wins over opponents repeatedly throughout the year, the team’s luck was bound to run out.
And run out it did today against Sweden.
The first half started off as most fans expected with Alex Morgan nearly putting the USWNT on the board in the third minute. Morgan got her head on the ball off a corner kick, but it went just wide and was deflected off the post and back into play. Morgan Brian nearly struck just seconds later when, on the same play, she took a shot from outside the goal area, but Sweden’s Lindahl was able to punch it over the crossbar to keep the USWNT from scoring an early goal.
Swedish forward Fridolina Rolfo limped off the field in the 16th minute after going down after an awkward challenge by USWNT center back Julie Johnston. Rolfo seemed to be in a lot of pain, favoring her right ankle, and Sweden temporarily played down a player while trainers were attending to her on the sidelines. Sundhage ended up using an early sub to send in Stina Blackstenius in Rolfo’s place. The sub would end up being a vital one, as Blackstenius would score Sweden’s lone goal and convert the final penalty kick to edge Sweden out over the U.S.
The USWNT had another chance on goal 27 minutes in when Mallory Pugh sent a through ball in to Alex Morgan, who was making a run on goal. Lindahl came out to try to squash the play, but Morgan was able to maintain possession and keep the ball in bounds, turned, and sent the ball to Carli Lloyd, who put a shot on goal. However, Lindahl had managed to get back on her line, and knocked the ball to safety.
Sweden earned a corner kick off of a Lotta Schelin run into the box and look on goal. As Schelin tried to maneuver around USWNT defenders Johnston and Kelley O’Hara, Allie Long slid in to deny her a solid look on goal. However, the play awarded Sweden a corner kick that resulted in Sweden’s best opportunity on goal up to that point in the first half. Morgan Brian headed the ball out of the goal area, but it was quickly sent back in by Lisa Dahlkvist to forceHope Solo off her line to punch it away.
Just before the first half ended, Mallory Pugh against sent in good service to Carli Lloyd, who had a clear look at goal. However, Lindahl was able to stop Lloyd’s shot, and the offside flag was up anyway. Kelley O’Hara sent in a good ball on a free kick just moments later, but it appeared as though Julie Johnston was offside on the play.
Going into the half, the score remained tied at 0-0. The USWNT maintained possession of the ball 63% of the half, and in the first 30 minutes, Sweden had only two shots, none on goal, while the USWNT had taken 6 shots, but only one on goal. Play stayed on the right flank for the USWNT early in the game, with Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath seeing most of the action in the American attack. However, Sweden registered that early on and began shutting down the U.S. attack on that side, and the most dangerous looks on goal for the U.S. were generated out of the center by Mallory Pugh.
Jessica Samuelsson was called for a deliberate handball in the 48th minute, awarding the U.S. a free kick. Carli Lloyd took a short kick to Tobin Heath, who stopped the ball to give Lloyd a different angle on goal. Lloyd moved the ball forward and took a shot on goal, but misfired and sent it well wide of goal.
Moments later Heath was fouled by Dahlkvist, earning another free kick, this one on the right side of the field. Lloyd took the second free kick once again, sending in a strike over the wall but just over the crossbar.
In the 57th minute, Lotta Schelin was awarded a yellow card after knocking Kelley O’Hara off of her feet. The persistent fouling by Sweden leading up to the caution may have been a factor, but Sweden seemed to be resorting to physical, aggressive play to both prevent the USWNT from generating an attack and also disrupting their rhythm in the second half.
Sweden managed to get on the board first in the 61st minute when a through ball was sent in to Stina Blackstenius, who had a trailing Julie Johnston on her heels. Solo stayed on her line anticipating Johnston’s tackle, but Johnston was just a split second too late, and Blackstenius’ shot went past a diving Solo and into the back of the net to put Sweden up 1-0.
Down a goal, USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis substituted striker Crystal Dunn in for Allie Long, switching formation to more of a 4-3-3 to try to counter Sweden’s lead. Then, in the 72nd minute, Megan Rapinoe subbed in for Kelley O’Hara, seeing Heath move back to the right back spot despite having a true right back, Ali Krieger, sitting on the bench.
In the 74th minute, the USWNT was awarded a corner kick, which was taken by Rapinoe. The ball was short and bounced inside the penalty area, only to be passed back to Mallory Pugh by Morgan Brian. Pugh dribbled the ball and into limited space to fire off a shot, but it was off the mark.
The USWNT was finally able to equalize in the 78’ minute when the Swedish guard was down as Asllani was down on the pitch after a hard challenge from Megan Rapinoe. Morgan Brian, who had a remarkable first half, provided service to Crystal Dunn, who flicked it towards goal with her head. However, Dunn’s header was deflected off of Jessica Samuelsson’s body and to the feet of Alex Morgan, who was able to put the ball past Lindahl and the back of the net. The goal was not without controversy as Sweden’s Kosovare Asllani was down during the play, but the referee had not whistled the play dead, and the USWNT was well within their rights to continue their attack.
Carli Lloyd nearly gave the USWNT the lead in the 85th minute when Crystal Dunn moved and maneuvered the ball up the field and into the box. Sweden anticipated a Dunn attempt on goal, but she tapped a pass over to Lloyd instead. Lloyd took a couple of touches to get a better angle on goal and ripped off a shot, but Lindahl was once again able to get her hand on it to prevent a USWNT lead.
The last minutes of regulation time saw both teams desperately trying for a second goal, with the USWNT seeing the best chances. However, the U.S.’s problems with finishing continued, and despite three minutes of stoppage time added to the second half, the score remained tied at 1-1 and the game was sent into extra time.
Sweden proved dangerous on a counter attack when Lotta Schelin dispossessed Tobin Heath and continued moving the ball into space. Mallory Pugh disrupted play with a sliding tackle which, although she did not win possession, was enough to prevent Schelin from doing anything with her possession as the offside flag was raised against Sweden.
Christen Press saw an opportunity on goal after generating a play from the center of the field. She chipped a ball to Alex Morgan, who was alone in a sea of Swedish defenders as she moved the ball towards goal. Morgan did a good job of controlling the ball while she waited on help to catch up to her. The ball found its way to Press, who took a hard shot from distance, but it was blocked by the body of Linda Sembrant, who was shaken up on the play.
Pugh went down in the 112th minute and was taken off the field with Lindsey Horan substituting in exchange for her, using up the USWNT’s last sub of the match.
Carli Lloyd was denied a goal in the 115th minute when she headed a ball past Lindahl but was called offside. Just seconds later, the same thing happened to Lotta Schelin when she had a goal denied in the 116th by an off side call. Both calls were questionable and replays seemed to show both Lloyd and Schelin on sides.
Alex Morgan tried to once again save the day in extra time of an Olympic match as she streaked forward along the left flank, maneuvering past two defenders to fire a shot off, only to see it hit the side netting and the score to remain tied 1-1.
Two minutes of stoppage time was added to the end of the second extra time period, during which Morgan Brian gave the USWNT one last opportunity when she moved the ball down the center of the field and passed to Carli Lloyd. Lloyd moved the ball to just outside the box before turning and passing to an awaiting Christen Press, whose shot went just over the crossbar.
The game then went to a penalty kick shootout, the first in Olympic history. Both Alex Morgan and Christen Press failed to convert their penalty kicks for the USWNT, while only Linda Sembrant failed to convert for Sweden. Lisa Dahlkvist’s converted penalty kick gave Sweden the win and eliminated the USWNT from the Olympic tournament.
With the win Sweden advances to the Olympic semifinals and will play the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal match between Australia and Brazil.
SWE – Stina Blackstenius, 61’
USA – Alex Morgan, 78’
USA Lineup: Hope Solo; Kelley O’Hara (Megan Rapinoe, 72’; Christen Press, 100’), Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg; Allie Long (Crystal Dunn, 65’), Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd (C); Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh (Lindsey Horan, 114’)
Subs Not Used: Alyssa Naeher, Whitney Engen, Ali Krieger
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
SWE Lineup: Hedvig Lindahl; Linda Sembrant, Nilla Fischer, Jessica Samuelsson (Emma Berglund, 119’); Lisa Dahlkvist, Kosovare Asllani, Caroline Seger, Elin Rubensson (Magdalena Ericsson, 71’); Lotta Schelin, Sofia Jakobsson (Olive Schough, 91’), Fridolina Rolfo (Stina Blackstenius, 17’)
Subs Not Used: Hilda Carlén, Joanna Andersson, Emilia Appelqvist
Head Coach: Pia Sundhage