The U.S. Women's Soccer Team Has Lost Its Shot At The Gold Medal

Aug 2, 2021
Originally published on August 2, 2021 9:00 am

Updated August 2, 2021 at 5:57 AM ET

TOKYO — In an upset, the top-ranked U.S. women's soccer team lost its semifinal game to Canada 1-0 at the Tokyo Olympics, pushing it out of contention for a gold medal.

The World Cup champs could still take bronze if they win their next game against Australia on Thursday.

The game was scoreless at the half. The U.S. team's goalie, Alyssa Naeher, had to come out of the game in the 30th minute after colliding with U.S. defender Julie Ertz. Team USA said she "landed awkwardly on her right leg."

They were both trying to stop a Canada ball right in front of the U.S. goal. Naeher was down on the turf for at least four minutes as trainers worked on her. She stayed in the game, but only for the next few minutes. Naeher winced the next time she kicked the ball and raised her hand. She was replaced by backup goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who played the rest of the game.

In the second half of Monday's game, U.S. defender Tierna Davidson was called for a foul after video review showed she took down a Canadian player in the U.S. penalty area. Canada's Jessie Fleming scored on the ensuing penalty kick 74 minutes into the game.

The U.S. had several opportunities but was not able to make a goal.

In group play, the U.S. had an uneven performance — an opening loss to Sweden, a strong win over New Zealand and a scoreless draw against Australia.

In the quarterfinals, the U.S. took on the Netherlands, the reigning European champion and a team the Americans beat in the 2019 World Cup final.

It was a back-and-forth match that ended in a 2-2 tie and was ultimately decided by a penalty kick shootout with Megan Rapinoe's decisive final kick. At that game, Naeher emerged a hero with two key saves during penalty kicks.

Canada, which is ranked eighth and led by Christine Sinclair, is the opponent the U.S. has played more than any other. Sinclair has scored the most international goals by any woman.

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The U.S. women's soccer team will play for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, just not the color that the squad had hoped for. The U.S. loss 1-nil to Canada in its semifinal match today. It's the second Olympics in a row that the top-ranked U.S. women will not compete for a gold medal. NPR's Russell Lewis is in Tokyo. Russell, what happened?

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Yeah, well, it was a - definitely a pretty big disappointment, all right. You know, I guess the key moment really came in the 19th minute when the U.S. goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher, went down after colliding with defender Julie Ertz. They were trying to stop a Canada ball that was played right in front of the U.S. goal. Naeher was on the turf for at least four minutes as trainers worked on her. She ultimately stayed in the game but not for long. She visibly winced the next time that she kicked the ball, and she actually raised her hand up in the air. She was substituted out in the 30th minute. Backup goalkeeper Adrianna Franch took over.

You know, Naeher really has been one of the keys to the U.S. success in these Olympics and really the past few years, and it just wasn't good when she went out. The one and only goal came in late in the second half. The American defender Tierna Davidson - she was whistled for taking down a Canadian forward in the penalty area in the 74th minute. The call came after a video review confirmed the foul. Canada's Jessie Fleming walked right up, took the penalty kick and it went right past the outstretched reach of Franch, and that was all Canada needed.

MARTINEZ: Why do you think the U.S. has had such a tough go at these Olympics? I was just doing some simple math, Russell, and the U.S. women have outscored their opponents so far 8 to 7, but it just seems like they haven't really been able to get their feet on the ground and go.

LEWIS: Yeah. I mean, that's a good question. I mean, the U.S. has really played unevenly in these Olympics. You know, in the group stage at the beginning of the tournament, they opened with that stunning loss to Sweden, 3-0. Then the U.S. bounced back with a really convincing victory against New Zealand and then a scoreless draw against Australia. And then in the quarterfinals, in the last game, the U.S. beat the Netherlands. They're the defending European champion. It's also the team that the U.S. beat in the Women's World Cup in 2019.

In that game - here at the Olympics, they ended the game 2-2 in extra time, but they won the penalty kick shootout. But against Canada, you know, really, the powerhouse U.S. just really couldn't find a way to score. It's very uncharacteristic of the U.S. It's just hard to say, you know, what happened. But this is, as we've said, is the second Olympics in a row that the U.S. won't win gold despite being the defending Women's World Cup champion each time. Instead, the U.S. will play for the bronze medal on Thursday.

MARTINEZ: All right. One more thing - some late breaking news in the world of gymnastics. Simone Biles does plan to compete tomorrow, right?

LEWIS: Yeah, that's right. You know, late today, her name appeared on the start list of tomorrow's individual final on the balance beam. And not long after that, USA Gymnastics confirmed to NPR that indeed she will join teammate and individual all-around gold medalist Sunisa Lee. Biles, of course, had withdrawn from every individual competition at these Olympics after faltering on her first vault in the team all-around competition last week. And, you know, she said later at the time that she just needed to focus on her mental health. She was also battling this thing called the twisties, which is this terrifying phenomenon where you lose track of where you are when you're in the air. It'll certainly make the balance beam final a lot more exciting. And, of course, I would be remiss if I don't point this out. It is a spoiler, but I should mention that Jade Carey of the U.S. won gold in the individual floor exercise with a sparkling performance tonight.

MARTINEZ: Nice. NPR's Russell Lewis in Tokyo. Russell, thanks a lot.

LEWIS: You're welcome.

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