USA women's soccer loss to Canada feels like end of an era

Posted at 5:59 AM, Aug 02, 2021

With 30 minutes left in the women's soccer Olympic semifinal between the United States and Canada, head coach Vlatko Andonovski flipped all three of his forwards and inserted some of the biggest names in the game: veterans Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Christen Press.

A half-hour later, the No. 1 ranked United States team's gold medal hopes were dashed and Rapinoe was consoling Lloyd, who was crouched to the turf, head-in-hands after a punchless 1-0 loss to their Northern neighbors in Kashima, Japan.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go for Lloyd, Rapinoe, and the veteran-laden USA, winners of two-straight World Cups and authors of countless dominant performances during a 44-match unbeaten run heading into the Olympics.

They hadn't been shut out since July 27, 2017 -- a run of 73 matches.

They've been shut out thrice in the last 13 days, losing twice. And now they'll need to beat Australia or Sweden to get a bronze medal.

It's been stunning to see Vlatko Andonovski's team during this tournament, as Team USA went from guessing which player would score the most goals to wondering if anyone was going to score at all (aside from a 6-1 defeat of New Zealand).

SEE MORE: Rapinoe on USA loss: 'We didn't have that juice. It sucks'

The fits and starts never quite transitioned to starting to give opponents fits.

Yes, they scored twice against the Netherlands, but those came within three minutes of each other against a team that allowed three goals to Zambia, three more to Brazil, and two to China.

Lynn Williams will enter the bronze medal match as the team's co-leading scorer for the Olympics with two goals. The other player isn't a player. It's "own goal."

Take away penalties and Rapinoe hasn't scored in 13 USWNT games. She's 36. So is Becky Sauerbrunn. Lloyd is 39. Tobin Heath and Alyssa Naeher are 33. Christen Press, Alex Morgan, and Kelley O'Hara are 32.

Those last six names may play on for a bit, and Rapinoe may, too. But as her off-field influence reached elite levels, her on-field waned in Tokyo. It seems likely that neither Rapinoe nor Lloyd will be around come Paris 2024.

"We've been in this long time together," Rapinoe said. "We're both closer to the end than the beginning. We've shared so many happy moments on the field. Not many sad but we've had a few. One of the greatest players to pull that jersey on. We want to send everyone out on the best note but we weren't able to do that."

SEE MORE: Women's soccer: Canada stuns USA with VAR-awarded penalty

The cupboard is not bare for Andonovski, who got influential tournaments out of Julie Ertz and Lindsey Horan. Rose Lavelle is a unique talent. Tierna Davidson may've conceded the unlucky penalty but she's good and just 22.

Andonovoski didn't give Catarina Macario much run but the 21-year-old is already a factor for European powers Lyon, and there's a bevy of young talent who did not make the squad for Tokyo. The missed experience -- and energy -- may hurt in the short-term, but Alana CookSophia Smith, and Mallory Pugh are 23 and under.

Still, the USWNT is just two years away from trying to become the first team to ever win three-straight World Cups. And while it's not silly to expect many of the above-named older players to play a part, it would be foolish to expect them to carry the weight of the team.

Come the bronze medal match, hopefully the U.S. can both salute the past, strengthen the present, and begin to build for the future.