United States women’s national team manager Vlatko Andonovski said that Saturday’s 1-1 draw with fifth-ranked Sweden — one that snapped the Americans’ 16-game winning streak — was “very good for us” even as he admitted that his team played well short of its best.
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On a day in which U.S. legend Carli Lloyd earned her 300th cap, the Swedes broke on top in the 38th minute when Lina Hurtig headed home from Kosovare Asllani’s corner. While Hurtig’s header was well-placed, the marking and goalkeeping for the U.S. was subpar on the play. The home side then had a pair of massive chances to go two goals up either side of halftime, but couldn’t convert, due in part to U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher.
In the second half, the U.S. gradually increased the pressure, and substitute Megan Rapinoe equalized from the spot three minutes from time after defender Kelley O’Hara was judged to have been fouled inside the box, even as replays showed otherwise.
Still, Andonovski said he was pleased to have been given a tough test as he prepares his side for the Tokyo Olympics, especially against a team as organized and defensively strong as Sweden is.
“I think that this is, I wouldn’t say one of the best things that happened to us, but something that is very good for us,” he said. “In fact, that’s why we came here. We came here to play good teams. We came [to] Europe to play opponents, to some extent get exposed to different tactics, high level tactics, organized teams and to try to overcome all that.”
The U.S. did have some great chances late to win the match, with substitute Kristie Mewis putting one stoppage time effort wide of goal, but Andonovski took little satisfaction from that development.
He added, “If we play the way we played today [at the Olympics], it’s not good enough, and I know that. Nobody has to tell me that. But again, it’s just a good learning opportunity for us to get better.”
Most of Sweden’s chances came in transition, but Andonovski said that the problem in those moments had less to do to the team’s defensive structure and more to do with poor touches and passes that led to turnovers.
“If there’s something that I wasn’t happy with was the cleanliness of our touch. I feel like we were not clean enough. We made way too many mistakes on the first touch, on the second touch. So that’s something that I feel like, was the base of our countermeasures, or allowing them to counter us.”
The fact that Sweden scored from a set piece also didn’t set well with the U.S. manager.
“[Set pieces], that’s something that we pride ourself on, and the fact that we get caught, I’m not happy with that,” he said.
Following last month’s triumph at the SheBelieves Cup, Rapinoe had remarked that the U.S. “still need our punch in the mouth that we haven’t got yet.” When asked if the team got that from Sweden, Rapinoe joked, “I still have all my teeth, so that’s good,” but noted that the challenge of playing top sides like Sweden and France — who the U.S. will face in Le Havre three days from now — will serve the U.S. well.
“This whole trip, that [punch in the mouth] is exactly what it’s going to be,” she said. “It’s a lot to travel overseas at all. Just ask our staff about that. But certainly during COVID and all the other things happening and to play two of the best teams in the world is exactly what we need.”