USWNT bounce back, but worrying signs remain in New Zealand win

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The U.S. women’s national team did what they had to do against New Zealand on Saturday, but they still appear a ways off from the team that was expected to romp to a gold medal in Japan.

After their stunning opening-game defeat to Sweden, the USWNT beat New Zealand 6-1 in their second Olympic match, in a game that was marked by some improved attacking sequences and continued nerves at the back.

The final scoreline was lopsided but flattering to the USWNT, who piled on with three goals in the last 10 minutes.

Vlatko Andonovski made five changes, and his side responded with a more robust display against a team that applied far less pressure than the Swedes. Had they not seen an incredible four first-half goals waved off for offside, the final score could have been by an even greater margin.

It was still a display, though, that looked nervy and disjointed at times. New Zealand is the weakest team in the USWNT’s group and they were not far from sending the game into halftime at 1-1, and their second-half goal was no less than they deserved.

Tuesday’s match against Australia will be a bigger test, and based on this display, the USWNT still has plenty to improve upon before their group-stage finale.

Lavelle and USWNT enjoy more time and space

After being pressed and harried at every turn by Sweden in their opener, New Zealand gave the U.S. the time and space to operate that they normally enjoy.

No player took advantage of that difference more than Rose Lavelle, who ran the show in the middle of the field while exploiting the space she was afforded. 

Lavelle put U.S. nerves at ease early, as her late run out of midfield was not tracked, allowing her to latch onto a Tobin Heath through ball and finish at the near post with her unfavored right foot.

Lavelle’s runs out of midfield caused New Zealand problems throughout, underlining her particular importance when facing teams that sit back and allow the U.S. to have the ball.

USWNT still sloppy at the back

The U.S. may have righted the ship by securing three points, but make no mistake, this was not a vintage performance – especially at the back. 

Perhaps unexpectedly, New Zealand caused the USWNT plenty of problems in defense and nearly found the back of the net on several occasions in the first half.

Hannah Wilkinson, in particular, nearly took advantage of sloppy giveaways and poor marking to net for the Football Ferns, only to see shots saved by Alyssa Naeher or go marginally wide. 

When Abby Dahlkemper made a mess of a clearance and subsequently stumbled to gift New Zealand a late consolation, it was no less than they deserved. Usually so reliable at the back, Dahlkemper has had a nightmare start to the Olympics.

Just like against Sweden, the USWNT struggled to mark players making runs out of midfield, and also had some uncharacteristic losses of possession in dangerous areas.

Sweden could have been considered a blip, but this is now a trend, and a worrying one at that.

Ertz answers questions over fitness

After recovering from a knee injury, Julie Ertz made her first appearance in two months against Sweden, coming on at halftime in a game she was desperately needed.

Andonovski could have opted to be cautious with Ertz against New Zealand, but instead he showed confidence in her fitness by giving her the start.

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Ertz repaid that faith by playing the full match, grabbing a pair of assists along the way.

There were a few concerns coming away from Saturday’s match, but the USWNT can take heart that their midfield linchpin appears fit and ready to go for the rest of the tournament.

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.