The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) defeated Sweden, 2-0, to finish out World Cup group play. Midfielder Lindsey Horan and a Tobin Heath-created own goal gave the U.S. the win and three points over “rival” Sweden.
Both the U.S. and Sweden had already clinched spots in the knockout stage heading into Thursday’s match, but the win sealed the U.S.’s place at the top of the group. That means they’ll face Spain in the Round of 16 on Monday, June 24, while Sweden takes on Canada immediately afterwards.
The U.S. took a very early lead thanks to a third-minute set piece goal by Lindsey Horan. Megan Rapinoe took a corner kick from the near flag, which Sam Mewis flicked backwards into traffic inside the box. Horan charged into the box and emphatically one-timed the ball into the back of the net for the opening goal of the match. Play was delayed after the goal as it was under review by Video Assistant Referee (VAR), but the goal stood as it was deemed Mewis was not offside.
Although the USWNT entered halftime on a slightly precarious 1-0 lead, the reigning World Cup champions once again scored quickly after the whistle, with New Jersey native Tobin Heath creating a goal in the 50th minute.
After a lengthy spell of possession in the U.S.’s final third, Heath had the ball at her feet and uses her trademark footwork to get around Swedish defender Jonna Andersson just enough to chip a shot over Lindahl but under the crossbar. After the U.S. celebrated the goal, play was halted as VAR was consulted. Although Lloyd, who entered the match at the start of the second half in place of a banged up Alex Morgan, was offside, she did not touch the ball on the play and, therefore, the goal stood.
However, approximately 20 minutes after the goal was scored, FIFA ruled that Heath’s goal was actually an own goal since Andersson was deemed to have gotten enough of a touch on the ball for it to be ruled an own goal.
Regardless of whether Heath or Andersson was credited with the goal, the U.S.’s second goal increased their group stage goal total to 18 goals, yet another Women’s World Cup record for the team.
Going into the match, many articles discussed a new rivalry between the two nations, citing Sweden’s early elimination of the U.S. from the 2016 Olympics and former USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo’s “cowards” comment as fodder. However, in a move that suggested the match was anything but a clash between rivals, Sweden made several changes to their lineup for the match against the USWNT, playing what can best be described as their B+ squad.
Even so, the U.S. struggled a bit. Julie Ertz, arguably the most integral player in the USWNT squad, was out of the match as a precautionary measure after picking up a minor hip contusion. That left Sam Mewis starting in the 6 in her place, and while Mewis is a suitable replacement for Ertz, she lacks the same ferocity and physicality that Ertz brings to the field.
Likewise, Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn, paired together on the left side, were both having off nights, and Sweden took full advantage by exposing the U.S.’s weakness several times, especially in the opening half. Luckily for the duo, Sweden was unable to make anything of it, only testing U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who earned her third consecutive World Cup shutout, a few times throughout the match.
Also of concern for the U.S. was the early exit of Alex Morgan, who took a bit of a beating in the opening half and, subsequently, was subbed out at halftime. Morgan has been the most prolific scorer for the U.S. this World Cup, and she will be essential if the reigning champs want to serious defend their title as the tournament shifts to the elimination rounds.
Only time will tell if Morgan has recovered enough to return to the USWNT lineup for their match against Spain on Monday. That match kicks off at 12 p.m. ET and will air on FS1.