The US Women’s National Team are used to being at the very top. Having won four World Cups- they’ve also never finished lower than third at the tournament-, four Olympic gold medals and nine CONCACAF titles, it’s normal for them to be confident in their abilities.
In the international panorama, there’s no other team that’s come close to matching them. Even when they’ve had the occasional ‘blip’, they’ve always found a way to overcome it. It’s no surprise then, that the world number one team was once again labelled as the favorite to once again go all the way in Australia and New Zealand.
However, their performances so far have not justified those expectations whatsoever. The team has been incredibly poor and at times they’ve bordered on woeful. Aside from their evident shortcomings on the pitch (poor tactically, no game plan, incapable of scoring, out of sync), one of the most concerning things has been their mentality. The players have been criticized for looking unmotivated, uninspired and uninterested.
Former USWNT captain Carli LLoyd has attributed it to ‘arrogance’, explaining that she felt there has been a “shift within this team, within federation, within the culture, the mentality” and that “the importance of in meaning of winning has changed.” Lloyd, who knows more than a thing or two about soccer and the USWNT, could well be right. It’s as if they think they can play as 50% and still steamroll teams. At least that is what it looked like against Portugal. Even if they could do that in the past, they certainly can’t now.
At full time, the players’ reaction seemed to support Lloyd’s notion. They celebrated as if they had won the game… as if their performance was good enough to progress into the next round. It looked like they didn’t care that they had just given their worst display in recent times. It was the attitude of a team that was expecting to win.
There was a deeply concerning lack of troubled or disappointed faces after the game. The players took selfies with fans and laughed amongst themselves. It was as if they were oblivious to the fact that they were a matter of inches away from being knocked out of the World Cup by a team ranked 20 places below them. Or, maybe, didn’t care?
That feeling continued into the mixed zone. Although a couple of players (Alex Morgan and Andi Sullivan) recognized they hadn’t been good enough and they needed to improve, some actually laughed about their near disastrous exit from the tournament. “I was like ‘oh damnnn, that’s not good'”, joked Rapinoe when asked what went through her mind when Portugese striker Ana Capeta went one on one with Alyssa Naeher in the 92nd minute. “I just have blind confidence in everything around us, and in myself and in the group.” she continued.
More of the same from Andonovski
Andonovski also tried to paint over the cracks with positivity and confidence after the game, giving Portugal credit to disguise his team’s dreadful performance. “I wouldn’t just say that it’s disjointed if we have a lower pass completion because it could be the weight of the pass, the technique of the pass, or the area where the pass was attended to go. I wouldn’t just say that the midfield three was disjointed – obviously, we wanted to see them more connected, but we played an opponent like Portugal that is really, really tough,” said the coach.
Sometimes to move forward, you need to stop twisting the issues on the pitch into something positive. Recognition that you played poorly, and even that you’re disappointed, can be used to positively correct mistakes and make progress. Failure must be recognized to avoid it repeating itself in the future.
The positive narrative that both the players and manager continue to utter is not helpful… it only succeeds in distancing them from the reality of the situation. Sometimes it’s important to take a step back, recognize things aren’t going to plan and face up to the hard truths instead of reminding everyone how confident you are.
At times the players and the manager seem to be in a dream land. They must demand more from themselves. They need to face the facts and recognize things aren’t good and sometimes admit they were well of the expected standard.
The USA can longer destroy their rivals- they’re no longer head and shoulders above the rest and it’s fundamental that the players realize that too. They need to be at their best to progress in this tournament- they must give absolutely everything. Otherwise, their overconfidence and blind faith in each other could be their downfall.
If there’s any team in the world capable of turning their fortunes around, it’s this one. But in order to do so, they must first come back down to reality.