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What Went Wrong for the USWNT Following Their World Cup Exit


What went wrong for the USWNT following their World Cup exit? The Americans were the heavy favorites to three-peat at this tournament. However, they crashed out at the Round of 16 for their worst finish ever at a World Cup. Coaching decisions, poor finishing and fiercer competition played a factor in all this. The big question will be: What is next for the USWNT?  

Heading into the World Cup, the USWNT were in top form, winning nine straight matches including the SheBelieves Cup in 2023. They defeated Japan, Brazil, Canada and Germany while looking like a big threat entering the tournament. Mallory Swanson was supposed to be their key player, who scored four goals during the SheBelieves Cup while also winning best player of the tournament.  

Then the injuries began to poor on the team. Swanson suffered a brutal knee injury, ruling her out for the World Cup during a friendly against Ireland in April. Then, veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn suffered a foot injury with Portland that ruled her out. With other injuries to Tobin Heath and Abby Dahlkemper, this left the team with many questions to answer.  

They decided to move Julie Ertz to center back to play alongside raining 2022 NWSL Defender of the Year Naomi Girma. They also started off with Savannah DeMelo at midfield, alongside captain Lindsey Horan and Andi Sullivan. The offense was no issue to cover, with Trinity Rodman and reigning NWSL MVP Sophia Smith in the wings, alongside Alex Morgan up top.  

On paper, this seemed like a dangerous team, but something was off from the start of the World Cup. The USWNT were projected to score at least five goals or more over Vietnam. Sophia Smith was able to score a first-half brace. However, Alex Morgan failed to score the penalty awarded to them at the end of the first half.  

Lindsey Horan also got a goal to end it 3-0. Despite scoring three goals, they did not perform to their expectations as they struggled to with their finishing. With 28 shots, they managed to get just seven on target while producing just three goals.  

A rematch of the 2019 World Cup Final was next for them, as they trailed the Netherlands for 45 minutes before Lindsey Horan’s header tied the match. After an abysmal first half, the team picked it up in the second half. However, poor coaching decisions were the focus in their draw.

Head coach Vlatko Andonvski made one single substitution in the match, failing to use his remaining four for fresher legs. This started controversy around his coaching style. Adding Lynn Williams or Alyssa Thompson could’ve helped, but Andonovski didn’t want to tamper with the flow of the match.

The game against Portugal was by far the USWNT worst performance at a World Cup in a long time. The team looked disconnected, failed to finish easy goals, and slipped up several times against a hungry Portugal side. They were on the verge of elimination after Ana Capeta’s shot hit the post, saving them from the embarrassing exit. Despite still moving on, the team received several criticisms for their lack of attitude in the match while also dancing and celebrating following their almost-elimination against Portugal.  

Their loss to Sweden on penalties showed, again, their struggle to finish in the final third. They had 22 shots, 11 on target while none of them hit the back of the net. Though a better performance, the USWNT still did not show up to par, which led to their elimination.  

Now that women’s soccer has improved, the USWNT will have to consider changing its style of play. The USWNT have dominated women’s soccer since the early 10’s. They did this with speed and physicality. Abby Wambach would demolish opposing players with her speed while Carli Lloyd’s physical ability made it hard for any defender.

What the U.S was not strong on was tactical-based style of play. The U.S federation focuses on driving the ball to the wings and launching it into the attack. With the strength of the USWNT player, it worked for them for several years.  

Now that the other teams have caught up, they have learned to defend themselves from this. Sweden’s defensive performance showed that this style of play will not work for the USWNT moving forward. They denied merely every opportunity for the Americans (with the help of keeper Zecira Musovic).  

Another is to stop focusing too much on the NWSL for development. Every player besides Lindsey Horan plays for the NWSL. During the 2022 Women’s International Champions Cup, the Portland Thorns came in last place, with Chelsea coming in third, Monterrey as runner ups and Lyon winning. On top of this, according to ESPN FC’s latest top 50 women players, only two USWNT players were in the top 20.  

Adapting European style of play of possession play is what the U.S need to keep up with their competition. Part of this will also have to be a change of coach. Taking over legend Jill Ellis was not going to be easy, but this World Cup showed that Andonvski is not the best fit to move the program forward. With Megan Rapinoe, Kelley O’Hara and Julie Ertz time with the national team over, the focus is on the young generation to continue the legacy of the USWNT.  

The good news is that the USWNT have started a trend and are the reason why women soccer is growing in the world. With their back-to-back World Cup titles, their rival countries want to do anything to stop their run, which led to these confederations putting more money to their female teams.  

Their golden era will always be remembered as the best run of any national team, both men and women, but this will be a new start for the USWNT for a change of play while facing even better competition moving forward.  

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