Three years after Sweden handed the US women their earliest ever exit from a major tournament, the Americans can score revenge while making a World Cup statement
Megan Rapinoe insists that she has moved on from the 2016 Olympics, when Sweden handed the US womens national team their earliest ever exit from a major tournament. Told by a reporter from Expressen that the Swedish players say they have the mental edge due to that history, Rapinoe shrugged off that notion.
It was three years ago I personally wouldnt take a lot of confidence from that nor would I feel bad about it or think were at a disadvantage from it, she said. Weve both grown and evolved over that time.
But then Rapinoe laughed. Maybe I say that because we lost, so I want to put it behind me. Its not something we dont remember we definitely have that in the back of our minds.
Indeed, the Americans may have bulldozed their way through the Womens World Cup in France so far but they havent really been tested yet. While an eye-popping 16-0 aggregate has been a little surprising, the wins over Thailand and Chile were expected. Sweden, however, is another story: anything can happen.
The teams coach, Jill Ellis, admits that losing to Sweden in 2016 was a wake-up call and she has been trying to figure out how to avoid a similar failure ever since.
That was the first time we had seen a team like Sweden a very established, veteran team take an approach to sit low on us and sit in their own half, Ellis said. Usually when you play teams that cant match up with you, they take that approach, but here was a world power in soccer taking that approach. That game made me realize that if teams arent going to give us the space, we need make sure we have players who can create space.
Ellis and the US havent looked the same since that game. While the dramatic firing of Hope Solo for calling the Swedish team cowards overshadowed the tactics on the day, that loss to Sweden may go down as the single most influential game in Elliss tenure.
In a quest to make the Americans an even more potent attacking unit and better equipped to beat an absorb-and-counter opponent Ellis has left no stone unturned. She has given 30 players their first call-ups since the Olympics, and 20 of them have been capped. She has squeezed veterans out of the picture, tinkered endlessly with new formations and has made defending secondary to a brute-force, relentless all-team attacking style.
Whether Elliss turn toward a heavier emphasis on scoring goals has been the right one is up for debate, and an answer may only come on 7 July in the World Cup final. But there is no question that Sweden helped mold the US team into what we have seen in France this month, 13-0 scorelines and all.
And yet, the oddity is this: as much as Sweden present the first true test of the Americans form in this World Cup and may be ultimate benchmark, the smartest option for the US may be to throw their match and let the Swedes win.