FIFA Women's World Cup
Can USA still flip the switch? 'It's not like we don't have the pieces'
FIFA Women's World Cup

Can USA still flip the switch? 'It's not like we don't have the pieces'

Updated Aug. 1, 2023 5:53 p.m. ET

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — In the aftermath of the United States' worst performance ever in the first round of a Women's World Cup, the players repeated platitudes about achieving their primary goal of advancing to the knockout stage.

Still, they must know in their hearts how lucky they got.

Had that stoppage time shot by Portugal substitute Ana Capeta been just an inch or two closer to the inside of the post behind USWNT keeper Alyssa Naeher, the Americans would be boarding a plane home tomorrow rather than the Portuguese.

"Right now, we are very fortunate to have another opportunity," defender Crystal Dunn said after Tuesday's final first-round game here. Dunn was one of the few members of Vlakto Andonovski's squad to acknowledge just how close the U.S. actually came to a historic first group-stage elimination.


That's not to say the Americans were satisfied with the scoreless draw. How could they be? For the third time in as many games Down Under, Andonovski's team was underwhelming uninspiring, and often downright poor.

Tuesday's display was easily the ugliest of the three.

"I don't think it was a good performance altogether, starting from the backline, midfield, forward," Andonovski said. "I don't think we were able to solve the problems that the opponent was presenting."

They weren't able to do much of anything. 

"We're not happy with the performance" - Alex Morgan

The U.S. needed a decisive victory to have any hope of winning Group E, what with the 2019 World Cup runner-up blowing out already-eliminated Vietnam in a match played simultaneously with the Americans' bout with Portugal. Instead, they survived by the tiniest imaginable margin, eking out a draw in a game that, had they lost, they would've had only themselves to blame.

The question now is, "Now what?" By finishing second, the U.S. will face a much tougher path in the knockout stage, starting with a likely and daunting round of 16 encounter with a Swedish team that has given them fits thorough the years. Based on all available evidence, that Aug. 6 match in Melbourne, Australia, will be their most difficult test against Sweden yet.

In the days leading up to last week's 1-1 draw with the Dutch, Andonovski and his players talked about how that contest would simulate a second-round bout, given the strength of the opposition. They said similar things before Tuesday's contest, which was essentially an early elimination game.

Yet the U.S. had few answers against the Dutch and no answers in the group finale in Auckland. 

"This result wasn't good enough for us" — Lindsey Horan

There's little reason for USWNT fans to believe this squad can suddenly now flip a switch, score an avalanche of goals, and march to a record third straight World Cup title. Still, that's exactly what their heroes are selling.

"It's not like we don't have the pieces. It's not like we have not done this before against good opponents," Andonovski said. "We have to stick to our principles. We have to stick to our game model, and we have to stick to our philosophy. We've executed our principles on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively against very good opponents with the group of players that we have here."

Still, quizzed on why they were unable to do any of those things with any sort of consistency so far at this World Cup, the responses were wholly unsatisfying. 

Asked directly if this team can beat Sweden without conjuring a significantly better display, four-time World Cup veteran and two-time champion Kelley O'Hara sounded anything but certain.

"I'm not sure, but I think that I believe in this team," O'Hara said. "I think I know what this team is capable of. I think that I trust our coaches and the game plans that they put together and the scouting reports that they give us. And I'm going to wait to see that and go from there."

"The player of that match was that post" — Carli Lloyd reacts to USWNT celebrating after narrowly escaping defeat by Portugal

The one thing the Americans can be sure of is that they're moving on to the next round. Whether they truly deserve to doesn't matter. 

As co-captain Alex Morgan pointed out in her postgame press conference, she was on the only other U.S. team not to finish atop its group at a World Cup. That 2011 side went on to reach the final before losing to Japan, on penalties, in the final.

"As much as we wanted a win — a decisive win — we have to look forward," Morgan said.

After living to fight another day by the skin of their teeth, they really have no other choice.

Portugal-United States highlights

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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