USWNT Looks to Shake Off Brutal Group Stage Start

By: Max O'Neill
Posted: July 23, 2021

The 44-game unbeaten streak is over, now it’s entirely up to the United States Women’s National Team to start another one. That is, if New Zealand doesn’t have anything to say about that. The teams kickoff from Saitama Stadium in Saitama, Japan at 7:30 am ET, 8:30 PM local time. 

The Americans are looking to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time since they lost two in a row from March 4-7 in group stage of the 2017 She Believes Cup. The team has never lost more than one game in the group stages of the Olympics. The only loss in the group stage was in the first game of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the US lost 2-0 to Norway.   

The Kiwis and the Americans have played 17 times before with the Americans dominating the series, 15-1-1 in all competitions. The two teams have played three other times in the Olympics with the US outscoring New Zealand 8-0 in those games. The Football Ferns and the Yanks have most recently played in a tune up for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, when the United States won 5-0, including outshooting New Zealand 25-1. There is also a level of familiarity between the two teams, especially on the touch line as the Ferns are coached by former USWNT head coach Tom Sermanni who coached the team for 24 games in 2014, compiling an 18-2-4 record. Sermanni was hired by the Ferns in 2018 after stops with the Canadian National team and the Orlando Pride and has compiled a record of 9-1-12 in all competitions. The team also has three players who ply their trade in the NWSL, Abby Erceg from the NC Courage, Ali Riley from the Orlando Pride and Katie Bowen from Kansas City. 

The Ferns will present a challenge to the United States with their 5-4-1 formation. Which is something that head coach Vlatko Andonovski is well aware of, crediting them as “very structured, very organized.” 

Due to a practice scheduling conflict the USWNT were not able to participate in the Opening Ceremonies, which had them participate in their own mini opening ceremony in the hallway of their hotel. 

The team is getting support from former national team legend Abby Wambach on Twitter who responded to the loss to the Swedes saying, “Last thing I would want to be right now is the next opponent of this team. Nobody puts baby in the corner.” 

The Americans seem ready to take on the challenge of the Ferns, after the opening loss to Sweden. The team is angry and wants to start a new winning streak, “That game left us just pissed off, and that’s the reality of it,” midfielder Lindsey Horan said. 

Key Player: 

Vlatko Andonovski: O.K. Not a player. But that debacle against Sweden is on him and he must have the team better prepared in the second group stage match. The head coach for the USWNT is the key more than any single player in this game because it’s all too easy to coach a team that is on a 44-game unbeaten streak.  When things are going well, you tell your team to just keep playing the same way as always and they’ll win. What separates the good coaches from the great coaches is how a coach and a team responds when they get punched in the face for the first time in a while. Andonovski was 21-0-1 prior to the loss to Sweden, it’s as much about how he responds to getting beat up by the Swedes as much as how his players respond. He’ll need to get them to forget about the loss and move on, or this team could be headed for an embarrassing group stage exit.

Prediction: US wins 2-0, goals by Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd.

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