Absent of the stress to qualify for the incoming knockout rounds, the U.S. Women’s National Team entered their final group stage match with a goal they don’t often find themselves having: to get some sweet revenge.
As each nation’s respective anthem echoed throughout Stade Océane prior to kickoff, there’s no doubt that the ladies in red, white and blue were thinking back to the summer of 2016. Their loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics not only shelved the U.S.’ hopes for a gold medal, but showed the football sphere that the defending World Cup winners were not the indestructible force fans thought.
If their 13–0 win over Thailand didn’t change that storyline, then the USWNT’s performance on Thursday certainly did.
The U.S. came out firing quick. In just the third minute, midfielder Lindsey Horan did well in following a rather chippy corner kick sent in by winger Megan Rapinoe. Once it snuck through the legs of Swedish defenders, she pounced on it, punching it past the goal line at point-blank range to give the U.S. a 1 goal lead.
A flying start from their opponents threw the Swedes’ game off. As the half progressed, they had trouble working the ball out from the back towards their attacking third, despite their defense-heavy 4–2–3–1 formation.
At the root of this problem was goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. She was quite shaky with some of her footwork, including a 29th-minute attempt at a leading dropkick to winger Sofia Jakobsson, which fans saw come close to the bleachers. Additionally, she didn’t display smart decision-making on incoming crosses, as she often batted away at balls that seemed catchable.
Not all hope was lost for the Swedish women. A tandem of Jakobsson, midfielder Kosovare Asllani and forward Stina Blackstenius showed some promise for Sweden’s attack. They were crafty in directing both themselves and the ball between the U.S. defense, primarily through give-and-gos as well as some pristine through ball passes.
Besides a 48th minute chance that required the heroics of United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, the flashy trio of Swedes were almost always met with a brick wall of defense from U.S. left back Crystal Dunn. Dunn recently made the switch to full back from the forward position, and so far, it’s benefitted her team in every way imaginable. Her strength conveniently complements the speed she’s gained from her days scoring goals, and it showed against this formidable European opponent. She was successful in nearly all of her attempts at regaining possession, and in doing so sparked a few impressive chances out from the back.
While Dunn was my choice for player of the game, the official pick for that honor was U.S. winger Tobin Heath, a nightmare for the Swedish defense over the course of the entire match. She was a fantastic source for strikers Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, who were served up some beautiful balls by the shifty winger. Although Heath didn’t formerly secure a spot on the scoresheet, she was the driving force of the U.S.’ second and final goal in the 50th minute.
In a post-match interview with FifaTV, Heath stressed the importance of advancing the lead and getting that second goal. “The second goal is always a good one to get, especially against a quality opponent like Sweden,” she said. As the team went into the match already having ownership of a spot in the first knockout round, Heath explained that the game was a critical opportunity to see where her team needed to improve. “It was a great game for us to see where we’re at, see what we need to work on, and now we have a couple more days to learn about ourselves and prepare for the next one.”
The American women were protective over their 2–0 lead as the second half went on, never conceding. With the victory, they finished atop Group F with a 100% win rate and a goal differential of +18. They look to continue their success on Monday in the round of 16 against Spain.