The United States women’s soccer team entered the World Cup as a two-time defending champions and number one ranked team in the World.
The four-time World Champions will leave New Zealand after its most humbling World Cup tournament appearance, getting knocked out in the Round of 16 after playing what was probably their best performance of the tournament, as a resilient Sweden side withstood their share of pressure and found a way to finally knock the USWNT out of the World Cup.
The result has already brought — and will continue to bring upon plenty of criticism, both completely valid and in many cases, very unjustified, while the United States Soccer Federation will have plenty of soul searching to do as they’ll look to reset the Women’s Soccer program back on course.
In the match against Sweden, the U.S. showed why they’re still a feared side, but also that they are no longer good enough to leave a match to chance.
They were no longer good enough to bring waves upon waves of pressure that would ultimately solve a world-class goalkeeping performance.
They were no longer good enough to use their full allotment of players, and to dip deeper into their bench with regularity throughout the tournament.
They weren’t good enough to dominate lesser opponents, as needed, and take first place in the group stage play, where they scored just four goals in three matches.
Their veteran superstars who won multiple World Cups and achieved so much, were simply not good enough to raise their games to another level or come through with one or two plays that could’ve made a difference.
They were no longer good enough to overcome significant injuries from rising stars and key players, including Catarina Macario, who injured her knee in 2022, nor Mallory Swanson who was also not available for this tournament.
They were no longer good enough tactically, in player selection and with overall coaching, as US Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski was repeatedly outcoached in each match.
They were not good enough with their technical skills for much of this tournament and were not able to simply overpower their opponents with sheer power and athleticism when all else failed and they needed to play direct.
They no longer had the best players on the pitch, who could elevate their team to another level.
They no longer had the magic, to pull them through when pushed to the brink.
They were no longer good enough to pull through in a penalty kick shootout, as they were not even stopped cold once in the spot kick rounds by Sweden’s outstanding keeper, Zecira Musovic, who stopped them cold plenty of times during the run of play.
Following the 2019 World Cup triumph, it became a National Team in transition, and it appears that Andonovski was not the right man for the job. In all likelihood, the US Soccer Federation will not renew his contract, and they’ll have to start over as a new cycle begins with the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris not far around the corner.
It’s a certainty that the veterans who last led the US to a their back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2019, will almost be completely gone very soon. Julie Ertz, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, among others, have been tremendous players and ambassadors for the sport. They each showed plenty of grit, savvy and had some moments of excellence against Sweden, but asking these players to carry the burden and deliver once again, was a tall order this time around.
"It's an honor to represent this team, and I'm excited for the future of these girls."
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 6, 2023
In this tournament, the USWNT showed plenty of fight and never stopped pushing.
Plain and simple, on the field it wasn’t good enough.
Off the field, they deserve better.
While there are numerous Americans who are happy to see this team lose, these women still should be fairly recognized for their contributions to the sport and for representing the United States. Having interacted with numerous players on this squad various times, they’re a very likeable group when you get to know them. They are a first-class group of splendid athletes who did their best to make their country proud, and have inspired millions of young women that there should be no ceiling for what they can accomplish.
The World Cup winners will continue to inspire future generations for U.S. Women’s soccer players, but this year’s squad will also provide a cautionary tale for the future of the USWNT and its place on the World Stage.
If they want to lift the World Cup again, they’ll have get back to the high standard of excellence on the pitch that was lacking in this World Cup, and the past few years.