Alex Morgan Julie Ertz Megan Rapinoe USWNT GFXGetty/Goal

Play Ertz, figure out the attack and the changes USWNT must make to get Olympic bid back on track

Megan Rapinoe put it succinctly: "We got our asses kicked, didn’t we?"

The U.S. women’s national team opened the Olympics with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Sweden, snapping a 44-match unbeaten run and generally looking like a shadow of the team that entered the tournament as heavy favorites.

The result was surprising, but the way the USWNT played was even more of a shock.

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Vlatko Andonovski’s side were outplayed from start to finish, looking less like the world’s best team and more like a side low on confidence and ability.

The USWNT, of course, is neither of those, and it would be an even bigger surprise than the Sweden result should they not respond against New Zealand on Saturday.

The team’s path to a gold medal is still open, but in order to turn things around some changes are needed.

So here are a few ways that the USWNT can turn things around in Japan....

Ertz must return

The U.S. midfield was torn apart by Sweden in the first half, and it was no coincidence that Julie Ertz was watching on from the bench as it happened.

Andonovski quickly inserted Ertz into the game at the break, with the defensive midfielder making her first appearance in more than two months after returning from a knee injury.

Ertz immediately provided more bite in midfield, winning possession and flying into tackles as usual. If she is healthy, she is therefore a must-start the rest of the tournament.

Julie Ertz USWNT 2021Getty Images

Without a clear backup plan behind her, Ertz may be forced to start even if she is not 100 per cent ready.

Find the right combo up top

The USWNT took home the 2019 World Cup title by leaning on an attacking trifecta of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, who combined for 12 goals and seven assists throughout the tournament.

Right now, Andonovski does not appear to be clear on which three players should lead the line in his own 4-3-3 formation.

Morgan started up top against Sweden, with Heath and Christen Press flanking her out wide. 

Neither Heath nor Morgan, though, made much of an impact against the Swedes, with the duo replaced by Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd in the second half.

Megan Rapinoe USWNT OlympicsGetty Images

In truth, none of the USWNT’s five forwards had a particularly great match, but Sweden played a major role in that outcome.

"Sweden is a tactically really sophisticated team," Press said. "They know their identity, they’re an experienced team, they’ve been in a lot of major tournaments."

Andonovski can still experiment with his combinations up top, but after the Sweden defeat, he will need to find the winning formula quickly.

Use the roster's depth

The USWNT got a major boost when the IOC ruled just before the Olympics that all 22 of each team’s rostered players are eligible for the 18-player gameday squad.

Suddenly, the team’s four alternates, including Casey Krueger, Catarina Macario and Lynn Williams, were in line for minutes in Japan without needing to replace an injured player.

With Andonovski likely to rotate his squad against New Zealand and coming off a performance like Sweden, it may be time to give the aforementioned trio a chance to show what they can do.

Macario could offer a spark with her attacking thrust and eye for a long-range goal, while Williams can stretch defenses with her pace out wide. 

Andonovski may also want to give a longer look to Tierna Davidson in defense and Kristie Mewis in midfield, after the pair made brief appearances off the bench against Sweden. 

Don’t panic!

Andonovski admitted his team were a bit stunned by Wednesday's result, saying: “I don't think this team has ever been in a situation like this recently. I don't remember this team losing 3-0. So it's a little bit of a shock.”

The feeling is understandable. The USWNT suffered their worst loss in a competitive game since the 2007 World Cup against Brazil, and were shut out for the first time in four years.

Christen Press USWNT 2021Getty

But the team’s upcoming fixtures and the tournament’s format are on their side. Easier games against New Zealand and Australia await, and with eight of 12 teams advancing to the knockout phase, it is still almost unthinkable that the USWNT would miss the quarterfinals.

In 2008, the USWNT lost their Olympic opener against Norway before steamrolling through the rest of the tournament and winning gold. There is no reason it couldn’t happen again.

“We got bopped and we have two more games coming quick and fast, and now we know really exactly what we need to do,” Rapinoe said.

“We need to win these games and eventually, we get out of the group and go from there.”

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.