The US women's national team are golden no more.
The USWNT were knocked off by Sweden – led by ex-US coach Pia Sundhage – in a nail-biting Olympic quarterfinal in Brasilia, Brazil on Friday afternoon, falling 4-3 in a penalty-kick shootout after 120 minutes of play ended 1-1.
The breathtaking loss means that a new gold-medal winner will be crowned for the first time since Norway beat the US in 2000. It will be only the third champion in 20 years of women's Olympic soccer, with the US having taken gold in four of five Olympiads up to this point.
As widely expected, the USWNT were the protagonists for the vast majority of the game, dominating possession and creating significantly more shots and chances. But Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and her back line stood tall, and the underdogs craftily exploited an opening in the US defense just past the hour mark.
After Allie Long gave away possession with an aimless long ball into the Sweden penalty box, the Swedes slashed into transition with a few crisp passes and found young striker Stina Blackstenius running into a seam between US center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston.
The 20-year-old Swede held off the two defenders and held her nerve with a smooth finish low and into the far corner past Hope Solo for a shock 1-0 lead.
That set off alarm bells for the US, who pushed for a quick equalizer but were repeatedly repelled by the Swedes' low-block defense. US coach Jill Ellis threw on Crystal Dunn, then Megan Rapinoe in search of attacking inspiration. But the favorites were rescued from looming disaster by a fluky deflection on a knockdown of a long ball into the box.
Rugged Sweden center back Nilla Fischer was surprisingly beaten in the air by the initial ball, which Dunn flicked on towards the end line only for it to carom off the face of Swedish defender Jessica Samuelsson and drop into the path of Alex Morgan. The US striker made no mistake with a calm left-footed shot past Lindahl, and after 15 or so more minutes of breathless soccer, the match went to extra time.
Both sides found the net in the 30 additional minutes, but both were waved off by an assistant referee's flag – Carli Lloyd's header erased by her foul just before the cross' arrival, and Lotta Schelin's strike by an offside decision.
So the occasion had to be decided by penalty kicks, where US strikers Morgan and Christen Press stunningly failed to convert and Solo could only stop one of Sweden's PKs, and Lisa Dahlkvist coolly rifled home the 10th and final kick to cap the upset.
- 61' -- SWE -- Stina Blackstenius (Lisa Dahlkvist)
- 77' -- USA -- Alex Morgan
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1. HELLO, WORST-CASE SCENARIO: As we wrote, Sweden's organized defense and veteran savvy were a bad matchup for the USWNT at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha. What was harder to predict was that the US strike force would have their worst performance of an already-off-color tournament. Morgan was calm and opportunistic on her goal, but it was the only highlight of a rough outing for her: seven shots, only two of them on goal. And then both she and substitute Press lost their nerve in the shootout, Morgan's weak effort saved by Lindahl and Press missing the target.
2. CRACKS IN THE ARMOR: Johnston and Sauerbrunn have been the rock-solid foundation of this team since the run-up to the 2015 Women's World Cup, but they were sliced open at the worst possible time on Sweden's opener. The Scandinavians deserve enormous credit for crafting and executing an effective game plan to make it happen. But with the US attack misfiring (see more stats here), there was simply no room for the center-back duo to make a big error. And they did.
3. PLAUDITS TO PIA, JEERS TO JILL: Even the world's best teams have to lose at some point, and the US may deserve allowances for that as their eight-month undefeated run grinds to a halt. But Sundhage -- who was often criticized for vanilla tactics and bland, direct play while in charge of the USWNT -- outcoached Ellis by a wide margin on Friday. The US boss seemed to lack tactical alterations once Sweden took the lead, burned two substitutions just to get Megan Rapinoe into the game (the sub had to be subbed, as she wasn't fit enough to last far into overtime), then wasted Tobin Heath's dribbling skills by sticking her at right back down the stretch. It was a day to forget for many in US colors.