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Uninspired USWNT must improve or risk early Olympic exit after Australia bore draw

4:09 PM IST 27/07/21
Alex Morgan USWNT 2021
The U.S. did what they needed to do against the Matildas, but their 0-0 draw did little to suggest that they are capable of winning gold at Tokyo 2020

The U.S. women’s national team’s match against Australia kicked off at 4am on the east coast of the United States on Tuesday, and the subsequent action made an already difficult task of staying awake even tougher.

The teams produced an uninspiring 0-0 draw in their Olympic group stage finale, a result that was almost certainly enough for both to advance to the quarterfinals. 

The USWNT finished Group G in second place behind Sweden, securing their advancement, while the Matildas ended in third and well positioned to advance as one of the top two third-place finishers.

Neither team was ready to commit heavily to attacking, fearing their opponents would hit them on the counter. It made for an eminently forgettable display.

The USWNT entered the Olympics as heavy favorites to take home the gold, but their group-stage performances threw serious doubt on that status.

And so ahead of a likely quarterfinal date with the Netherlands or Brazil, some major improvements are needed.

So what could be learned from the draw with Australia? Goal takes a look...

Offense continues to sputter

With the exception of some stretches against New Zealand, the USWNT was surprisingly limp in attack in the group stage.

Against Australia, the U.S. offense was punctuated by a series of long, hopeful passes that rarely found their intended target.

Some of the team's problems have been down to their failure to consistently deploy their feared press, which is at least partially the product of a tournament played in sweltering heat with a condensed schedule. 

Tuesday’s match was screaming out for pressing virtuoso Lynn Williams, but by the time she entered with 15 minutes left to play, the game had settled into a low-stakes, low-tempo affair.

The USWNT was not shut out for four years until Sweden did so in their Olympic opener. Now they have been blanked in two of three games in what is a growing concern heading into the knockout stage.

Low stakes, low energy

As Tuesday's game entered its final stages, Australia took to passing the ball sideways around its back line, with the USWNT seemingly content to allow them to do so.

It was, for the neutrals, a dreadful viewing experience. For the two teams though, it did make some degree of sense. 

With eight of the 12 teams in the Olympic women’s tournament advancing, the onus was on both the U.S. and Australia to not lose. Both teams end the group stage with four points, with the U.S. advancing in second place and the Matildas almost certainly doing enough to reach the last eight as well.

Were the Olympic women’s tournament to have 16 teams like the men’s tournament, suddenly the USWNT-Australia match would have had much higher stakes.

Only one of the two teams could have advanced with Sweden having won the group. Instead, the teams played as if they had signed a non-aggression pact before the game.

Though the U.S. got the result they needed, it is worth wondering how the strategy went down with a team fanatically dedicated to winning every game at any cost.

Playing for a draw is not in the USWNT's DNA, and settling for a point may not sit well with some of their veteran leaders.

Davidson makes her case

Abby Dahlkemper had a nightmare beginning to the Olympics, as the usually reliable defender made a series of errors in the USWNT’s first two games.

As such, Dahlkemper was benched against the Matildas, with Tierna Davidson earning her second straight start and her first of the tournament next to captain Becky Sauerbrunn.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the game that the plan all along was to rotate Dahlkemper, but it is hard to not see Tuesday's game as an audition for Davidson for the knockout rounds.

The 22-year-old had a few nervy moments in possession, but made up for it by turning in a second consecutive strong defensive performance.

Andonovski now has a major call ahead of the quarterfinal: stick with the Sauerbrunn-Dahlkemper partnership that has been so profitable over the past few years, or ride the hot hand of Davidson?

For more on the USWNT's chances at the Olympics and to hear from guests such as Hope Solo, subscribe to Goal's new podcast, 'All Of Us: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show', wherever you listen to your podcasts.