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Olympic Women’s Soccer Live: U.S. Leads New Zealand at Half

Current time in Tokyo: July 24, 9:37 p.m.

No changes for the U.S. at halftime, by the way, as the teams switch ends. Big half for the assistant referee covering the other half of the field, though; her colleague really padded her stats in the first 45 minutes.

46′ Back underway in Saitama. The U.S. hasn’t been whistled for offside yet, so thee’s that.

The consequences of the United States loss to Sweden were not only a matter of dented pride: The winner of the group faces a much easier start to the medal round.

The winner of Group G, which contains both teams, will meet a third-place finisher in the quarterfinals. At the moment, that looks like Sweden, which has two wins from its first two games, including a 4-2 victory over Australia earlier tonight.

The second-place team in Group G — a position the U.S. hopes to occupy — is looking at a matchup against the winner of Group F, which at the moment looks like the Netherlands, which lost to the United States in the 2019 World Cup final.

That is a very big difference. The Dutch, who scored 10 goals in their opening game, are currently doing stuff like this to Brazil in Rifu tonight:

Jill Biden, mask on, is one of the few spectators in the stands watching the game.

Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal with Julie Ertz (wearing No. 8).
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

How do you know this is a different U.S. team from the one that came out flat and got pushed around on Wednesday? They were on New Zealand like a coat of paint and never let up.

That mentality, Lindsey Horan said Friday, was going to be critical to turning around their Olympic tournament. The idea can be hard to quantify if you don’t watch the U.S. team a lot, but it shows up as pressure on New Zealand when it has the ball, aggressive and probing attacks when the U.S. has it, and a bit of the, well, swagger that the team normally carries onto the field, and that was most definitely missing in the team’s opening game.

“It was talked about a lot and it needed to be mentioned: the mentality,” Horan told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “It felt like it was missing and we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but that’s never the case for the U.S. women’s national team. Any member that’s played for this team knows that. No matter what, no matter the tactics, no matter the technical execution, the mentality’s always there.”

Against Sweden it just wasn’t: The U.S. got bulldozed and even when it knew it was happening, it wasn’t able to turn things around. That was unusual — extremely unusual — and the first thing the players and Coach Vlatko Andonovski said had to change.

There has been none of that tonight: The United States has grabbed the game by the neck, shoved New Zealand to the floor and kept it there. It will feel … familiar. Probably to both teams.

“That was a nice little reminder against Sweden,” Horan said of her team’s losing its mojo. “I say ‘nice,’ but it was terrible. Now we get to go out and show who we are.”

A deep corner finds it way to Ertz at the back post, and she sends a header back into the mix in front of Leat, where Horan nods it home.

Boom, 2-0.

This time — after four (!!!) disallowed American goals in the half — everyone is onside and it counts. That’s a deserved reward for Horan, who has been much better than she was against Sweden, and for the United States, which has dominated play and looked like its old, swaggering selves.

Even the offside calls, frankly, speak to an aggression that will be welcome.

The whistle blows after a few minutes of injury time and we break for the half. Andonovski will be happy with what he has seen.

45′ GOAL! And — brace yourselves — this one counts!

Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times

I kid. The assistant referee has appeared to be correct on every decision, and there is video assistance at the Olympics, so if she was wrong it would have been fixed.

38′ The U.S. has gone several minutes without a disallowed goal. Rough stretch for the assistant referee but she’s taking it well.

Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

34′ Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a switch-field cross sends in Horan at the back post, and her first-time header goes straight into the back of the net. But she, too, is called off by the assistant referee on the near side, who may be New Zealand’s M.V.P. tonight.

31′ OK now this is getting ridiculous. A cutback for Rapinoe is cooly finished, and you think. finally, they got the timing right.

But the flag is up and, for the third time in about 20 minutes, a U.S. goal is erased.

Almost a half-hour in and this game has the feel of U.S.-Sweden: One team on the front foot, repeatedly, and the other reeling under the pressure. The United States, which was in the latter role on Wednesday, is most definitely in the former tonight.

Another corner (two, actually) for the United States. Rapinoe rips them both into the area. Panicky clearances from New Zealand turned quickly into more pressure. The U.S. turning the ball right around and coming back.

That had been a real issue the other night: even when the U.S. got the ball, they couldn’t keep it long enough to set up their shape an counterattack. Easy turnovers caught players out of position, and cover wasn’t there when it was needed.

“There were moments of the game where the team just didn’t look like the team that I’ve known for years, even before I coached,” Andonovski said. “I think that we all understand that.”

28′ Goal?! No again. A lead ball to the left corner feeds Dunn, who crosses for Heath to finish at the back post. But this time is was Dunn who was a step early. And for the second time, a U.S. goal isn’t really a goal.

17′ The first U.S. mistake: Loose marking leaves Hannah Wilkinson alone in the area to collect a driven cross. But her stinging header goes well wide of Naeher. She’s not happy: that was a good chance, and those may be few and far between for New Zealand tonight.

15′ Goal? Nope. Sonnett sends a nice ball over the top for Lloyd, and she lifts it over Leat with a flick. But she was offside on the run, and the flag goes up immediately. No goal.

14′ It’s cool in Saitama tonight, with a light breeze. That’s good news for a U.S. team that’s running like a Formula One engine in this opening half.

12′ Carli Lloyd, backtracking again to win the ball, loses it and takes out the legs of Ria Percival, who had sped by to collect the free ball. Lloyd signals that she’s sorry but let’s be honest: she’s not.

Rose Lavelle scored the first goal of the match for the United States.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

The United States strikes first and it was clinical: Tobin Heath controlling and turning and leading a streaking Rose Lavelle perfectly into the New Zealand box.

Lavelle meets the ball in stride and curls a right-footed shot easily around the 20-year-old goalkeeper Anna Leat, who had come out only to find herself in no man’s land.

A perfect start for the United States. Let’s see if they go for the throat early with more of this.

9′ GOAL! The U.S. leads!

Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

8′ More pressure: This time it’s Lloyd holding the ball up for Rapinoe, who takes a few dribbles and then takes a whack from 25 yards. Her shot in on line but not on target, and sails a few feet over the crossbar.

6′ Lavelle now coming in hard on a tackle, and Lloyd comes all the way to the sideline to slide and keep a ball in bounds. The most positive thing so far, if you’re the U.S. and Andonovski, is the energy level.

4′ Now it’s Rapinoe pushing into the corner. She delivers a woeful cross, but that’s more pressure on that side.

2′ That mentality we mentioned earlier? It’s back. Horan drives deep into the left corner and fires in a cross. New Zealand clears out to the right side, where Carli Lloyd backtracks and scythes down a Kiwi.

1′ And we’re underway. Enjoy the game. I hope your team wins.

The entire U.S. team turns 90 degrees to its right to face the giant American flag on the scoreboard. There was a bit of a hubbub on right-wing social media in a recent game; none of that tonight.

Rapinoe leads the U.S. out of the tunnel wearing the captain’s armband and an all-business expression. The U.S. is in blue and red stripes tonight. So add the uniforms to the changes from the Sweden loss.

Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

New Zealand is in all white.

The U.S. players have dark blue shorts and their dark socks on, which probably means they’ll play in their red/blue jerseys tonight. Just in case you like to coordinate with your favorite player on gameday.

And here’s New Zealand’s starting XI. Some of these names will be familiar to American fans: Riley, Erceg and Bowen have been fixtures in the N.W.S.L.

There’s a bit of analysis of the U.S.W.N.T. lineup if you scroll down, but the headline is this: The U.S. has made five changes, and Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd are starting up front. Sam Mewis is among those who will sit.

Saitama Stadium, whose twin curving roofs make it look like the world’s most beautifully designed toolbox, is one of the largest soccer stadiums in Asia. Built for the 2002 World Cup, it holds about 64,000 fans on a good day — many of them supporters of the local team, Urawa Red Diamonds.

Tonight, like almost all of the other stadiums at the Games, it will hold precisely zero paying spectators.

Greetings from Saitama Stadium, where the world champion United States women’s soccer team will look to banish the memory of its forgettable opening loss to Sweden when it faces New Zealand. Kickoff is in about 50 minutes, so make some coffee if you’re on the East Coast, and make twice as much if you’re on the West Coast.

Megan Rapinoe, right, warms up with her teammates.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The most remarkable thing about Sweden’s 3-0 victory over the United States on Wednesday was not the score or the stage but the nature of it: The United States was bullied and bossed around the field for the entire 90 minutes, the kind of beating this team usually delivers rather than receives.

And even though it knew what was happening, it couldn’t do anything to stop it. Sweden was technically and tactically and physically better.

Saturday night’s opponent, New Zealand, poses a different kind of challenge. The Football Ferns (great name) have become a fixture at the Olympics and the World Cup over the past decade because they are the strongest team in their confederation, Oceania, by a long ways. They are experienced, tactically adaptable and well coached by a former U.S. coach, Tom Sermanni, and are now better equipped to hold their own against the more high-profile teams they face at major tournaments. That does not, however, make them the equal of the mighty United States.

The U.S., in fact, has beaten New Zealand at the past three Olympics. It is 15-1-1 all time against New Zealand. And while New Zealand’s team and reputation have improved as it has exported players to top leagues and A-list colleges in the United States and Europe, it should — should — have trouble matching up against the American stars. Especially now that those stars are mad and embarrassed.

“They’re going to be very, very structured, very organized, and they change what they’re doing within the game,” U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said Friday. “Sometimes we saw that in the last game, they step up and pressure high, sometimes they defend middle block in a 5-4-1 and sometimes they’ll drop even a lower and play low block. So for us to recognize all those moments and position to be able to solve those challenges will be crucial.”

Sweden scored three goals against the United States on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Angry and desperate for a victory after opening the Olympic tournament with a loss to Sweden, the United States women’s soccer team made five changes to its starting lineup for its second game, against New Zealand on Saturday night.

The veterans Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd replace Christen Press and Alex Morgan up front, Julie Ertz starts over Sam Mewis in midfield, and defender Tierna Davidson sends Becky Sauerbrunn, the American captain, most days, to the bench. Emily Sonnett joins her on the back line, chosen over Kelley O’Hara.

Not all of the changes are performance based; the Olympic tournament is a grind, and with only two days between matches some squad rotation is inevitable. But a few may have links to the loss to Sweden.

Andonovski was critical of Mewis and the rest of his midfield on Friday, blaming it for surrendering possession too easily and leaving the team vulnerable, so the restoration of a fully fit Ertz — whom he praised for her game as a halftime sub against Sweden — over Mewis may be part of that.

The return of Rapinoe and Lloyd may be a message of its own: Andonovski seems to be saying that he needs the two veterans, and their experience and leadership, and that he can’t wait any longer to bring their personalities to bear on this team.

Samm Kerr of Australia in action against Sweden.
Credit…Molly Darlington/Reuters

Sweden, riding high after its victory against the United States, faced Australia in Saturday night’s first game at Saitama Stadium. But the Swedes looked like a very different team for a while.

Aggressive, incisive and persistently dangerous against the United States, Sweden hung back in a more reactive posture against Australia. Well, until it fell behind, that is. Then the Swedes looked as deadly as ever.

After scoring first, Sweden surrendered goals on either side of halftime to Australia’s dangerous striker, Sam Kerr. The goals seemed to poke the bear, though. Fridolina Rolfo and Lina Hurtig scored to push Sweden back in front, and after Kerr missed a penalty that would have made it 3-3, Stina Blackstenius finished off Australia with Sweden’s fourth.

Final score: Sweden 4, Australia 2.

That’s six goals — and, more important, six points — for Sweden, which is almost certain to win the group now.

The only bad news came late: Blackstenius needed help to walk off after injuring her ankle five minutes into second-half stoppage time. That would be a blow; maybe not now, but definitely to the team’s hopes in the medal round.


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