The U.S. women’s national team will go away the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze medal in hand, and a ultimate efficiency that appeared a bit extra like what all of us anticipated to see from the No. 1-ranked group on the earth.
The bronze medal recreation was the primary in Japan by which some gamers stepped up and performed the saucy, spicy model of soccer the gifted and assured People are recognized to play. As late because it got here, it might have been sufficient to persuade many pundits, followers and maybe even U.S. Soccer executives to drag their hand away from the panic button.
But, even when a bronze medal remains to be an achievement price celebrating, it is a disappointment for the U.S., who anticipate to achieve the ultimate of any main match. What’s extra, the USWNT’s different video games all through the match cannot merely be ignored — issues emerged in want of corrective motion.
So what comes subsequent for the USWNT after a match that ended on a optimistic notice however will finally be considered as subpar at greatest?
Ought to Andonovski maintain his job?
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski arrived in Japan with no worldwide match expertise below his belt — not as a participant, not as an assistant coach and never as a head coach — and he typically coached prefer it. His substitutions repeatedly appeared to have little to do with what was taking place on the sphere and extra to do with pre-planned rotations, which can have finally contributed to an absence of group chemistry. When the USWNT was getting overrun or held at bay, not sufficient modified after Andonovski spoke to them throughout hydration break huddles or halftimes.
In a counterintuitive means, nevertheless, the USWNT’s third-place end on the Olympics in all probability hasn’t modified many minds on Andonovski. For the individuals who questioned his hiring initially, a bronze medal and uninspiring play was simply additional proof he isn’t prepared for the worldwide degree. For many who cheered his appointment, they’ve probably seen sufficient that they nonetheless need to see how he steers the transition of the group, and so they’ll pin his troubles on veteran gamers who will likely be phased out anyway.
In any case, it is not as if Andonovski missed one thing apparent — most of the USWNT’s issues on this Olympics seemingly got here with out warning. The first pre-tournament criticism — if not the one criticism — was that Andonovski picked a roster that is too previous, however such nitpicking lacked the context that the USWNT’s older gamers are nonetheless able to taking part in like world beaters, as they confirmed with moments of particular person brilliance within the bronze medal recreation. Amid a pandemic, alternatives to scout new gamers have been additionally restricted, so there was realistically solely a lot Andonovski might do.
Kate Markgraf, U.S. Soccer’s basic supervisor overseeing the ladies’s program, employed Andonovski as a result of she thought he would assist the USWNT evolve, and it would not be shocking if she nonetheless thinks so. However even when U.S. Soccer brass agreed that they want a coach with extra worldwide experience, who might exchange him and the way rapidly might the brand new coach begin? With the Olympics being pushed again a yr, time is much less of a luxurious, and the 2023 World Cup is coming sooner than it might really feel proper now. A greater coach candidate simply could not emerge earlier than the World Cup.
Until Markgraf fears for her personal job — we have not but seen U.S. Soccer’s new CEO, new board president and new basic managers hearth anybody, so it is unclear what it will take — then U.S. Soccer will in all probability belief Andonovski has realized from his errors in the course of the match and maintain him on board. Whether or not that is the correct name will not be clear till 2023.
Turning the web page on the USWNT roster
Carli Lloyd has a fame for by no means quitting, and he or she’s the sort to coach even on trip. After the semifinal loss to Canada, she stayed out on the sphere after her teammates had already dispersed, and he or she ran sprints. She stated it was to organize for the bronze medal recreation, by which she ultimately scored two objectives, one the sport winner.
The 39-year-old looks like the kind of participant who would attempt to maintain going and try a Formiga-esque file. However currently, she’s additionally been speaking concerning the being prepared for the subsequent section of her life. Sooner or later, it is time to cease. So, with Lloyd, 36-year-old Megan Rapinoe and 36-year-old Becky Sauerbrunn all potential concerns for retirement, some roster turnover is predicted.
Then there will likely be tougher choices. Tobin Heath will likely be 35 by the point the 2023 World Cup rolls round. Kelley O’Hara will likely be almost 35. Alex Morgan and Christen Press will likely be 34. They have not proven any indicators of slowing down and, up to now, there have not been any kids able to push them out. However a disappointing Olympics, each in play and the ultimate outcome, could embolden the coach to start out wanting forward.
Ready within the wings are gifted forwards like Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch; midfielders like Catarina Macario, Jaelin Howell, Andi Sullivan and Brianna Pinto; and defenders like Emily Fox and, if performed there, Midge Purce and Hailie Mace.
Jill Ellis caught some flak after the 2016 Olympics for chopping veterans and giving younger gamers begins of their very first camps with the USWNT — lots of these newbies did not stick round, and that is not how the USWNT normally did issues. Incomes a beginning spot was all the time onerous, and gamers like Morgan and Sydney Leroux have been relegated to super-sub roles lengthy after it was apparent they might develop into necessary starters for the group.
However as complacency appeared to creep in in the course of the Olympics, it is clear that even when the veterans maintain their spots on the group, they want some real roster competitors and they should really feel like they have to combat to maintain their spots. The younger gamers can solely state their circumstances if they’re given an actual shot and an opportunity to develop within the USWNT surroundings.
Not all of those younger gamers within the pool will make it. Some will want extra time, and a few won’t ever hack it on the senior USWNT degree. However now could be the time to get some solutions earlier than 2023 and start the regeneration course of.
The USWNT desperately wants tactical evolution
When the USWNT misplaced to Sweden within the quarterfinal of the 2016 Olympics, it was the group’s earliest exit from a serious match in its historical past, and a humiliation for Ellis, who had received a World Cup the yr prior. Even worse, Ellis knew beforehand precisely how Sweden would do it.
“They’ll park the bus,” she stated the day earlier than the sport. “They’ll sit as little as they probably can after which look to transition, and they are going to attempt to kill the sport off that means and never hand over area. I think about they will play a 4-5-1 and be very compact.”
She referred to as it, and but the USWNT nonetheless could not beat it.
That loss set off years of experimentation from Ellis, who grew to become fixated on uncovering methods to avoid groups that bunker in opposition to the USA. In any case, the bunker was typically utilized by unhealthy groups in opposition to the USWNT in an act of desperation, and her group was normally in a position to overcome it. However when Sweden, an excellent group, clung to that technique, a brand new and extra tactically savvy blueprint for beating the USWNT had emerged.
Ellis’s experimentation received ugly at occasions. The trial of a three-back formation, for example, resulted in a 3-0 loss to France in 2017 — on the time, the USWNT’s worst loss in a decade. However finally, she discovered her solutions and the USWNT received the 2019 World Cup.
So, when Andonovski arrived in Japan, Sweden gave him one thing totally different: the gamers pressed like loopy — it was the anti-bunker — and the USWNT was helpless to wrangle free from it. Andonovski and the USWNT had spent months earlier than the Olympics drilling on the methods to interrupt down low defensive blocks — the tactic they have been most used to encountering — and so they appeared shellshocked by Sweden’s aggressive press, significantly as a result of Sweden was courageous sufficient to do it in the midst of a serious match.
Kathleen McNamee explains how the USWNT can profit from the Olympics regardless of falling wanting gold.
Now, the USWNT must evolve, and rapidly. Sweden laid down the brand new blueprint, so now not will groups sit again and present deference to the People. Opponents aren’t going to robotically play conservatively in opposition to the USWNT, as was typically the case prior to now in tournaments; now that the alternative has been confirmed to work so effectively.
How precisely that evolution ought to look would require the identical messy experimentation Ellis engaged in, and it’ll rely largely on the sorts of gamers the coach will herald. The system ought to match the USA’s greatest gamers, and when altering techniques, it is simple to introduce new issues whereas making an attempt to repair one other.
For example: Is the USWNT’s 4-3-3 setup ample to manage the midfield, or ought to it transfer to a system with 4 midfielders? Ought to that appear like a flat 4-4-2, or function a diamond midfield? If Andonovski tries a diamond midfield, which is inherently a narrower setup than it performs now, will the USWNT have the full-backs sooner or later so as to add the wanted width? These questions can proceed endlessly — one reply results in the subsequent query — however the U.S. can solely discover the optimum method that weighs all elements via centered and decided on-field exams.
Such trial-and-error could result in losses, in fact, and people losses could solely serve to embolden Andonovski’s critics if he stays within the job. But when Andonovski can borrow from Ellis’s playbook and do it anyway, critics be darned, the USWNT will likely be in a significantly better place heading into the 2023 World Cup than it was when it arrived in Japan on a 44-game unbeaten streak.