The U.S. women’s national team had looked anything but the favorites to win Olympic gold through its opening three matches in Tokyo this summer, but delivered a total team effort in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with the Netherlands to book its spot in the final four of the competition.
Alyssa Naeher was the hero for Vlatko Andonoski’s side in a 4-2 penalty shootout win over the Dutch, after the teams played out a 2-2 result through 120 minutes. Naeher made a pair of saves in the shootout to go along with a 81st minute denial on Lieke Martens from the penalty spot following a foul from veteran right back Kelley O’Hara.
The USWNT scored all four of its penalty kicks to ice the victory in the shootout, now setting up a date with Concacaf rivals Canada in the semifinals on Monday. Unlike it’s Matchday 1 loss to Sweden in which the Americans did not recover from an early deficit, the USWNT stuck together and looked like its old self in Friday’s instant classic.
“There’s no one else I’d rather have in the net than her,” midfielder Rose Lavelle said about Naeher. “She’s saved us so many times.”
“I just try to be calm,” Megan Rapinoe said, explaining her mentality during a shootout after delivering the clinching spot kick. “I say to myself, the worst that’s going to happen is that we lose the whole thing.”
While Naeher will deservedly get a lot the spotlight for her seven-save performance against the high-flying Dutch attack, the entire USWNT deserves credit for its will in fighting for 120 minutes against another tournament favorite. Veterans Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Alex Morgan all came off the bench to score in the shootout while growing talent Rose Lavelle did the same.
The USWNT will also be frustrated that three goals scored were wiped away by offsides calls, continuing a common trend for the Americans in Japan which have now seen nine total goals cancelled out in four matches played. Up next for the Americans is a showdown with Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie, and Canada, who is coming off a quarterfinal shootout win of its own.
Canada eliminated Brazil 4-3 on spot kicks with its goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe making two saves of her own and six in total for the match. With plenty of momentum on their side for Monday’s semifinal clash, the Americans just need to keep taking strides forward for any hopes of returning as gold medal winners.
“This team always believes we will find a way to win. And I think you saw that tonight,” Naeher said. “The way this team came together, kept fighting, playing for each other, pushing and pushing and pushing for 120 minutes.
“And then to have those four step up and bury their four penalties,” Naeher continued. “We won tonight as a team. That was a true team effort and team win.”
Should the USWNT advance past Canada, it will face a familar face in Group G counterparts Sweden or Australia in the Olympic Final. Sweden thumped the USWNT 3-0 on Matchday 1 while the Americans gutted out a scoreless draw with the Socceroos on Matchday 3 to advance to the knockout stage.