The United States fell to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals on Friday. The penalty kick loss will send the Americans home without a medal for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games.
Before this year, the U.S. made the gold medal game in all five Olympic women's soccer tournaments. They took home the gold four times, only falling short in 2000 and settling for silver.
The U.S. fell behind in the 61st minute, but got a goal from Alex Morgan to equalize and force extra time. Despite being the better team for long stretches, the Americans struggled to get good shots away and when they did, they often missed the net.
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Penalties started poorly with Morgan missing the opening shot. Hope Solo made a save in the third round to bring the shootout even, but Christen Press sent the Americans' fifth shot over the bar and Lisa Dahlkvist converted her kick to hand Sweden the win.
The Americans were gigantic favorites to take home another gold medal. It wasn't just because of their dominance in past Olympic Games — they are the defending World Cup champions. Moreover, they have played excellently in friendlies for months, while most of the world's other top contenders struggled some.
Making matters more surprising is that Sweden were the team that beat the United States. Had Germany, France or even host Brazil eliminated the Americans, it wouldn't have been a total shock. All are good teams and have shown that they can beat and compete with the USWNT. Sweden, on the other hand, have struggled to replace some aging players and are not as good as they have been in the past. They struggled to beat South Africa in the group stage, were crushed, 5-1, by Brazil and settled for a scoreless draw against China. This wasn't a powerhouse Sweden team by any means, or even one in good form.
But Sweden did play well in this match. They were organized at the back and while they rarely had the ball, they were able to force the U.S. attack into areas that rarely caused Sweden any danger. Former U.S. manager Pia Sundhage had her Sweden team set up perfectly and they caused the Americans real problems. One clinical counterattack, which got them their goal, some luck, and a great penalty shootout was all they needed from there.
In retrospect, there were warning signs. The Americans may have topped their group, but they didn't look great in their first three matches of the Olympics. They also played their previous match in Manaus, which is in the middle of the Amazon and left them with very long and taxing travel before this quarterfinal. But even taking that into account, most everyone would have still picked the U.S. to beat Sweden.
Now the U.S. have to go home and try to figure out where it all went wrong. They were big favorites and were in a competition they've dominated. But that didn't matter. The Americans are still World Cup champions, but for the first time ever, they are not Olympic medalists, and that's going to sting.