For the first time since women’s soccer (football) became an Olympic sport in 1996, the United States will not go home with a medal. With 4 golds and a silver, the Americans have made playing in the final match of the women’s tournament a habit.
But the current world champions will be watching the second week of the 2016 Summer Olympics from the comfort of their living rooms back home.
In the immediate aftermath of the team’s loss to Sweden (1-1 full time, 4-3 on penalty kicks), questions predictably arose as to what happen. Some felt Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. women’s team’s coach, out-coached her current U.S. counterpart Jill Ellis. The game stats tell you that likely is not accurate given the American’s dominance in just about every facet of the match, except for the scoreboard.
However, allow me to offer a different theory. Perhaps it was simple arithmetic.
The U.S. has had a startling amount of success in the prior five Olympic games and the breaks usually went their way. Even think back to London 2012, when it looked as if Canada was about to beat the U.S. in extra time during their semi-final match. But referee Christina Pedersen penalized Canada’s keeper Erin McLeod for time wasting, which ultimately led to the United States scoring a game-tying goal. In the end the U.S. won 4-3 and would defeat Japan for the gold.
But those types of breaks would evaporate for the U.S. women on a Friday afternoon in Brazil. The game stats show the American’s dominance, outshooting Sweden 27-6, out corner kicking their opponents 12-3 and controlling possession for much of the match.
While those numbers are typically accurate in telling the story of a contest, there are times that they have little to do with the numerals on the scoreboard. Unfortunately for the U.S. this was one of those moments. On this day, the math finally worked against the United States.
In addition, the maddening beauty of soccer is what we saw in the U.S./Sweden match. A team can play conservatively, focus on defense and then find its opportunities to counter attack. The Swedes used this script to perfection.
So the United States will lick its wounds and head home from Brazil without the expected hardware. But this team, which is still the current world champions, has veterans such as Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan to lead, and younger players including Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh to inject some youthful exuberance into the squad.
They’ll be back, perhaps stronger. And there’s a good chance that next time they’ll have the right answer to the math equation facing them.