TOKYO — While it certainly wasn’t the Olympic start the U.S. women’s soccer team had anticipated, a rare loss didn’t skewer the squad’s hopes for gold.
In fact, it may have lit a fire.
Defender Tierna Davidson said Thursday that veteran Kelley O’Hara was rallying the squad ahead of Saturday’s match against New Zealand.
“She was like: ‘We don’t have a choice. We have to come out the next game and we have to be absolutely ruthless.’” Davidson said. “So I think that’s what everyone has on their mind right now.”
There’s still a good chance that the world’s top ranked team makes it to the knockout round and even a medal match. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the United States fell 2-0 to Norway in the first match, then went on to win gold — a fact U.S. forward Christen Press pointed to after the game.
“We’ve had a long string of wins and I think we haven’t had a lot of games where we had to come back,” Press said. “I think it was actually really good to have this match. In 2008 we lost our first match and team won gold. So I think now we’re seeing this as a learning opportunity. And the message is already ‘Heads up, put it behind us, next game.’ There’s no time in a tournament like this to dwell.”
It was the first loss for the United States since January 2019, when the team fell to France 3-1 in Le Havre. The U.S. went on to win the World Cup that summer.
The Americans are vying for their fifth overall gold medal, more than any other nation, in a sport that joined the Olympics only in 1996. They’re aiming to be the first women’s team to win an Olympic title following a World Cup.
The United States failed to medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games after it was ousted in the quarterfinals by — yep — Sweden. And the Swedes drew 1-1 with the Americans in April, the team’s only non-victory this year.
“I think we just got a little bit in our head,” Megan Rapinoe admitted. “We’ll obviously watch film and all that, but you drop points in the beginning of a tournament and now you’re in sort of a do-or-die mode. So you’ve got to pick up points, otherwise we’re going home quick, and you don’t want to do that.”
The United States moves on to Saitama, where they’ll play the Ferns on Saturday as the group stage continues. Sweden will play Australia in the group.
The Matildas downed New Zealand 2-1 on Wednesday in their opening match in Group G.
With the win, Sweden made a strong case as potential medalists in Tokyo. The fifth-ranked Swedes won silver in 2016, falling to champion Germany in the final match.
“I think now expectations will hit and you don’t know how it will affect each individual, but I think we are prepared for whatever emotion comes our way,” veteran goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl said.
There are three groups of four teams playing at the Olympics. The top two from each group and the two top third-place finishers advance to the knockout stage.
Britain sits atop Group E after its 2-0 victory over Chile. The Netherlands leads Group F on goal differential after a 10-3 victory over Zambia, the lowest-ranked team in the competition.