USWNT advances at World Cup despite disappointing 0-0 draw

USWNT advances at World Cup despite disappointing 0-0 draw
from Alyssa Clang, with

American veteran Becky Sauerbrunn isn’t at the 2023 World Cup–she withdrew from the tournament in the spring after injuring her foot with the Portland Thorns.

But Sauerbrunn was visible everywhere tonight in the USWNT’s tepid, unconvincing 0-0 draw with Portugal.

You could see her in the negative space in the American defense and midfield, in the misplaced passes, in the clichéd runs and in the utter confusion that kept the U.S. from building any sort of rhythm in a game where rhythm was key. Sauerbrunn’s approach as USWNT captain has always been brave and experimental, and without her leadership skills and creative on-the-ball footwork the team simply floundered. As the minutes ticked by and the substitutes failed to make an impact, the hole that Sauerbrunn left grew larger and larger. By the time the game ended, it had swallowed the USWNT whole.

All hope is not lost, as the uninspired draw was enough to send the United States through to the knockout stage. But it will advance in second place, throwing itself directly in the path of Sweden, a stellar team that has caused the USWNT problems in international competitions before. More importantly, it advances in a cloud of negativity. No one seems happy about how the USWNT are playing, up to and very much including the members of the team itself. The work has been enough to get them through, but not enough to make them proud.

This crucial match against Portugal started brightly for the USWNT, with Alex Morgan slamming a shot just off target in the opening minutes.

From there, though, everything fell apart. Portugal dominated the first half by taking a page out of the Dutch playbook and bossing the Sauerbrunn-free USWNT back line.

The USWNT has outscored Portugal 39-0 over eleven total meetings, but you wouldn’t have guessed it on the basis of the first half–Portugal looked threatening at every turn.

As the clock ticked towards halftime, American forward Rose Lavelle fell into a challenge and was unable to block herself from sweeping the legs of Portugal’s Dolores Silva. She received a yellow card for her troubles, and that yellow has sweeping consequences: it will keep Lavelle from participating in the USWNT’s first knockout game. She’s been the creative spark plug of the USWNT offense, and she will be dearly missed.

The second half was more of the same from the USWNT. The team pulled together some coherent attacks but never really troubled the Portuguese goalkeeper. Portugal, on the other hand, found a few moments of brilliance, including a glorious shot in injury time that flew past Alyssa Naeher in goal only to rebound off the crossbar.

When the game whistle blew, there were no celebrations for the USWNT. The team looked tired, and rightfully so. It struggled to hold the ball throughout the game, culminating in an embarrassing pass success rate of 62%. How bad is that figure? Vietnam, who lost 7-0 to the Netherlands while the USWNT were playing, managed a damningly similar rating of 60%.

Still, the USWNT fights on. It started the tournament without Sauerbrunn and now it will start the knockouts without Lavelle. The USWNT is a team that built a brand out of achieving the impossible. On current form, a solid performance in the Round of 16 just might be the most impossible challenge yet.

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