The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) has long been a dominant force in women’s soccer, with expectations always sky-high. However, the 2023 Women’s World Cup has proven to be a significant challenge for the team, with their struggles becoming apparent as they progress through the tournament. From injuries to tactical challenges, let’s delve into the factors contributing to the USWNT’s unexpected setbacks and how they could navigate through this tough period.
For the USWNT, the expectation is always to win, including against Sweden in their upcoming round-of-16 match. However, judging from their demeanor against Portugal, it was evident that they were not entering the game with full confidence. The players seemed uncertain and lacking in conviction, playing not to lose rather than playing to win. Such a mindset can be detrimental in any sport, leading to lackluster performances and unsatisfactory results.
Adding to the team’s woes was the extensive list of injuries that have plagued the squad this summer. The USWNT had to contend with the absence of key players like Mallory Swanson, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Rose Lavelle. These injuries significantly weakened the team’s core strengths, robbing them of their experienced leaders and influential players. In their place, a relatively young and inexperienced squad took the field, making it a challenge to build cohesion and chemistry within the team.
With a rash of injuries, Coach Vlatko Andonovski found himself fielding a team that had not spent much time playing together. During the group stage, he acknowledged that the USWNT was a “fresh team, a team that has not spent a lot of minutes together.” Although this may be seen as an excuse, it is an essential factor to consider when assessing the team’s performance.
The lack of time together affected different players in various ways. Some individuals who shined during the early games seemed to lose their form as the tournament progressed, while others struggled to adapt to the international stage. Star forward Alex Morgan, who had an impressive track record, has surprisingly struggled to find her scoring touch in this tournament. The team was searching for its identity as injuries and limited time together made it challenging to establish a consistent and effective playing style.
Now Facing Sweden, a team with a long history of giving the USWNT a tough time, adds to the mounting pressure. Sweden, aptly nicknamed Corner Kicks FC, has a formidable aerial presence and prowess in set-pieces. In the past, they had exploited this advantage to great effect against the USWNT, and there was little indication that the team had found a solution to combat it effectively.
Sweden’s set-piece setup, with players like Amanda Ilestedt, Stina Blackstenius, and Nathalie Björn, proved to be a deadly weapon. They crowded the box during corners, making it challenging for the goalkeeper to claim the ball effectively. With their tall players winning headers and causing chaos in the box, Sweden found the back of the net with ease from set-pieces.
The USWNT’s struggles did not go unnoticed, leading to criticism of Coach Andonovski’s tactics and the players’ energy. Many have questioned his limited use of substitutions, suggesting that more changes were needed to shake up the team and inject fresh energy. However, in the context of a young and relatively inexperienced squad, Andonovski may have been prioritizing building chemistry and trust among the players.
The pressure of being two-time defending champions also weighs heavily on the players, who have faced immense expectations from fans and pundits alike. The confidence that usually comes from thriving together as champions was hindered by injuries and limited time together. As a result, the team faced challenges both on and off the field, making it difficult for them to meet the sky-high expectations placed upon them.
As the USWNT navigates through the knockout stages and faces Sweden, the focus should not solely be on the immediate results but also on the team’s growth and development. Building a cohesive and competitive team takes time and effort, and with the right support and adjustments, the USWNT can regain its winning form and continue to be a force to be reckoned with in women’s soccer.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup has undoubtedly been a test of resilience and rebuilding for the USWNT. Injuries have exposed vulnerabilities in the squad, and the team has faced tough opponents like Sweden, who capitalize on their strengths to exploit weaknesses. The challenges are formidable, but with the rich history and talent within the USWNT, it is entirely possible for them to overcome these struggles and emerge stronger, ready to reclaim their spot at the top of the women’s soccer world. As the tournament continues to unfold, fans and supporters will watch with anticipation, hoping to witness the USWNT’s renaissance and resurgence on the global stage.
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