KASHIMA, Japan — International soccer’s career leading scorer, the woman who endured 20 years of disappointment against the United States but never let it destroy her belief, had a sneaking feeling about Monday night at Ibaraki Kashima Stadium.
The Americans had looked out of sorts all tournament. They had just scraped by in a challenging group stage rather than blasting through it like usual. They required a shootout to advance past a quarterfinal with the Netherlands, and needed goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to play hero. And by Monday night, they had not righted themselves, still appearing so stagnant and disordered that not even a trio of supernova veterans subbing in with 30 minutes left could save them.
“Honestly, if you’ve seen their games throughout the course of this tournament … you could see that maybe some things weren’t clicking the way that sometimes they do with the U.S.,” Canada captain Christine Sinclair said. “ … Heading into this game, we kind of had a feeling they were ripe for the picking.”
Canada didn’t waste its opportunity. Jessie Fleming scored on a rocket from the penalty spot to the left of backup goalkeeper Adrianna Franch in the 75th minute for the only goal Canada needed to seal a 1-0 win, its first against the United States since March 2001.
“I’m still in shock,” said Canada defender Kadeisha Buchanan, an eight-year veteran of the national team. “This is my first win, ever, against the USA after playing them how many times? And what a perfect time to win against them.”
The loss carries massive implications for the U.S. team.
Carli Lloyd sat on the pitch Monday after the final whistle and held her head in her hands as it started to rain, absorbing her second consecutive Olympic disappointment. The United States was knocked out of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in the quarterfinals only to rebound with a triumphant tour de force in the 2019 World Cup in France and was trying to become the first team to capture Olympic gold following a World Cup victory.
Lloyd, 39, who helped define the current moment alongside Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and captain Becky Sauerbrunn, said she was thinking only about the bronze medal match when asked about the future.
Rapinoe, still sporting the brilliant purple hair she made her trademark during the World Cup, deflected questions about her future while reflecting on all that her cohort achieved.
“There’s a few of us that are closer to the end than the beginning, certainly, and we’ve had an amazing run,” Rapinoe said. “We’ve had a lot of nights that looked different than that, a couple, I think … like three nights that looked like this. We’ve been through so much together, yeah, it’s kind of sad. But I feel like it’s in good hands, this group below us and even younger than that. I feel like we’ve done our job. But you never want to have it end.”
If the Americans want to stay rooted in the present, they’ll find plenty of mysteries awaiting them there, too. Coach Vlatko Andonovski faced criticism earlier in Tokyo for game plans that led to a 3-0 loss to Sweden and then a conservative 0-0 draw with Australia in the group stage. Against Canada, they came out lacking energy, movement and creativity in the midfield.
Most damning was that they couldn’t capitalize on a blitz of shots on goal even after Lloyd, Rapinoe and Christen Press subbed on in the 60th minute.
“It’s not like there was a bad vibe; the group is feeling good and everything. We just haven’t been able to find the juice we usually do,” Rapinoe said. “Yeah, it sucks.”
A turning point arrived early when goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who played the hero role against the Netherlands by saving two penalties in a shootout that sent the United States to the semifinals, left the game in the 30th minute because of an apparent knee injury.
Naeher initially tried playing through the injury after receiving medical attention and testing her knee following a spell of several minutes on the ground, but the 33-year-old looked wobbly when she returned to the pitch. Minutes later, Franch subbed in for her first appearance of these Games.
If the change had any effect on the team’s mind-set, it didn’t show. The sluggish play continued into the second half — it took until the 65th minute for the United States to get a shot on goal.
The Americans never converted, facing pressure from the Canadians all the while. The breakthrough came when U.S. defender Tierna Davidson kicked Deanne Rose while Rose cut in front of Davidson at the edge of the box. The play went to video review, a penalty was awarded and Fleming strode to her spot.
She blasted it high to Franch’s left, rippling past the keeper’s outstretched hands and into the side netting. Fleming had decided the night before where she would place a penalty, should she get the chance.
Sinclair — who was 17 and scored against the United States the last time Canada beat the Americans — handed her the ball.
“She went and grabbed the ball to keep it away from the American players and just put it in a Canadian hand,” Fleming said. “She didn’t really say anything. For me, I was just trusting myself in that moment to put it in the spot. I knew I could do it.”
Megan Rapinoe unpacked the U.S. women’s soccer team’s 1-0 loss to Canada in a post-match interview Monday, saying that the Americans have not “had our joy” in the Tokyo Olympics.
The team, which usually performs so reliably on the biggest stages, never really showed its customary exuberance, according to Rapinoe.
“I feel like we haven’t had our joy a little bit,” Rapinoe said in the on-camera interview. “It hasn’t flowed for us. It hasn’t been easy. I think we tried to find it. It’s not for lack of effort. … It just didn’t click for us.”
Megan Rapinoe says she has no decision yet about her playing future. "You guys are trying to put me out to pasture already."
“Obviously not our best game. Not our best tournament,” Rapinoe said Monday. “We didn’t have it today. Too many errors from us. I felt like the space was there for us to play and we just couldn’t get into it. … We never want to lose to Canada. I don’t think I’ve ever lost to Canada.”
The United States will now play for bronze, facing either Sweden or Australia.
“Still a lot to compete for,” Rapinoe said. “That’s what I told the girls. … It’s not the color we want, but there’s still a medal on the line.”
Canada beats the United States, 1-0, to advance to gold medal match
KASHIMA, Japan — The U.S. women’s soccer team’s bid for Olympic gold has ended with a 1-0 loss to Canada, thanks to a goal from Jessie Fleming in the 75th minute. The strike, a laser to backup goalkeeper Adrianna Franch’s left, came on a penalty kick that was awarded on a VAR review. The win was Canada’s first victory over the U.S. women in 20 years.
Carli Lloyd — one of several legendary American players on the Olympic roster this year — crouched on the field, holding her head in her hands when the final whistle blew Monday.
The loss ends the Americans’ campaign to follow up their 2019 World Cup win with an Olympic gold medal. The U.S. will compete for a bronze medal later in the week.
KASHIMA, Japan — After about 10 minutes of heavy pressure from the Americans, it was Canada that scored first on a penalty shot in the 75th minute that was awarded via VAR after a foul from defender Tierna Davidson.
KASHIMA, Japan — All the aggression in this North American matchup has been for naught so far, with both the Americans and Canadians coming up with zero shots on goal. The United States’ task in the second half is to keep possession much, much better — after dominating early, Canada swooped in time and time again to interrupt developing plays and apply pressure.
With Alyssa Naeher out and Adrianna Franch in goal for the United States, Canada is looking to take advantage of a potential vulnerability.
After falling in front of her own goal, Naeher stayed down for several minutes, received attention from the U.S. team’s medical staff and tested her knee — shuffling side to side and jumping a few times — before play resumed after lengthy pause. But Naeher was limping in goal and soon walked off field, covering her face when she reached the sideline.
KASHIMA, Japan — The U.S. women are the aggressors early in this match, having taken two corner kicks already. They had a free kick from Tobin Heath, too, which Canada headed out of the box and cleared to nearly the center circle. That was a product of a hard collision between Lindsey Horan and Canada’s Ashley Lawrence, which left Horan on the ground for several moments before she slowly got up. It was just the first incident in what promises to be a chippy match between these two familiar foes.
Vlatko Andonovski starts Alex Morgan, Tierna Davidson
KASHIMA, Japan — Coach Vlatko Andonovski is deploying his fifth different starting lineup at these Games, making three changes from the group that opened against the Netherlands: Tierna Davidson is in for Abby Dahlkemper on defense, Rose Lavelle for Samantha Mewis in the midfield and Alex Morgan for Carli Lloyd at striker.
The lineup features six of the 11 players who started when the U.S. met Canada on Feb. 18 at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando.
It took extra time and penalty kicks for Canada to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals. Against Brazil, Vanessa Gilles converted the decisive spot kick, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé sealed the win with a diving two-handed save on Brazilian defender Rafaelle.
Previously in the Olympic tournament, Canada beat Chile, 2-1, and played to 1-1 draws against Japan and Britain.
This is the third match between the United States and Canada in Olympic competition.
The U.S. has teetered in the Olympics. In the quarterfinals shootout, it didn’t flinch.
Funny how one set of penalty kicks — icy execution in eerie silence as early-rising fans back home watched in fright — turned not only the gold medal outlook for the U.S. women’s national soccer team Friday but the feeling about the program.
Had the shootout with the Netherlands on Friday not gone the Americans’ way, had Alyssa Naeher not made two saves — on top of the one late in regulation — and her teammates not converted every attempt, Coach Vlatko Andonovski might have been out of a job upon his return stateside and several players perhaps would have started preparing retirement speeches.
The Americans, two-time reigning World Cup champions and top-ranked for four years, have teetered throughout the Olympic tournament. They lost badly, won easily (against a lightweight) and played to a sleepy draw. Almost everything has been a struggle.
After a slog of a group stage, which included a stunning loss to Sweden, the U.S. women’s soccer team beat the Netherlands in the quarterfinals to move on. If you like your soccer with a side of tension, that victory was the match for you.
Here’s Chuck Culpepper’s recap from Yokohama:
They jetted over here and got sort of lost in stagnation, then eked into the Olympic quarterfinals looking blah, then found their quality Friday night, then saw their opponent find its quality, then mustered on toward penalties while having enough goals nixed by offsides — four! — that it looked like some sort of goofball offsides clinic.
And then look here, they’re still going. The United States women’s national soccer team carries on because the seen-it-all goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher stopped one penalty in the 81st minute and two in the shootout, including a lid-lifter from the great Vivianne Miedema. It carries on because Megan Rapinoe smashed one last penalty rightward and upward to the roof to make it 4-2 on penalties after 2-2 in the fray with the Netherlands. And it carries on because it knows how, even as it just treated those who care to palpitations.
“Aw, you guys aren’t surprised,” Rapinoe said to laughter among the reporting corps. “Come on. This is who we are.”