• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Hope Solo calls Swedes 'cowards' but blame for Olympic exit falls on U.S.

In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Medal count | Olympic schedule | Olympic news

Inevitably, Hope Solo cut loose, letting all of her frustrations fall from her mouth.

The United States women’s national team had just been eliminated from the Rio Olympics prematurely — a 1-1 quarterfinal tie, eventually lost to Sweden on penalties — so it was time for another tirade by the Americans’ controversial goalkeeper.

She told reporters that the U.S. had played “a courageous game.” That the U.S. had “showed a lot of heart” and “American heart.” And that Sweden had been “a bunch of cowards” because “they didn’t want to play great soccer.”

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Certainly, Sweden had sat in and preyed on the counter for all 120 minutes of its game against the U.S. And for a lot of those minutes, it didn’t even really look to attack at all, instead absorbing pressure and letting the American waves wash up on its defensive dunes.

It knew full well that they were outmatched. Their head coach, Pia Sundhage, was the USA’s coach from 2007-12, after all. And if the generation she coached has largely aged out, she nevertheless understands the program, its strengths and, crucially, its weaknesses. She also knew that her team is limited going forward and had scored just twice in the group stage, barely squeaking through to the quarterfinals as the last team to qualify, with a 1-1-1 record and a minus-3 goal differential (courtesy of a 5-1 demolishing by Brazil). She had learned from that loss, from trying to play with a better team.

So when faced with an impossibly deep roster of American attacking talent, Sundhage set up a team that you might call cynical, or perhaps even cowardly. Because it’s a coach’s job to optimize her team’s chances of winning. And it’s a team’s job to find whatever ways of winning it can to get the game won.

Solo complaining about the U.S. essentially being outfoxed rings as hollow as an outsmarted kid accusing his vanquisher of cheating. The U.S. did play a “courageous game” with a “lot of heart.” Maybe even “American heart,” whatever that means. But Sweden won, because it had a better idea for how to win.

Hope Solo
Hope Solo and the U.S. failed to reach the Olympic final for the first time. (Reuters)

Because in truth, the Americans played right into Sweden’s strengths. Or rather, they allowed their own weaknesses to be abused. Under head coach Jill Ellis, who eventually succeeded Sundhage — with Tom Sermanni’s brief spell in charge bridging their terms — the Americans have evolved from a direct team, sort of like Sweden is now, into a much more evolved one. They have incorporated the stupefying skill of Tobin Heath and Christen Press, and young attackers Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh.

But even though they made strides in their attacking fluency in the year since winning the Women’s World Cup, when a series of retirements by veterans and the sudden availability of time finally gave Ellis a chance to rebuild and remake, the Americans went back to pelting crosses at the Swedes. Rather than play the ball over the ground, creating overloads on the flanks and cutting the ball back to their many attacking weapons, they offered the Swedes the kind of attack the tall and sturdy women were best equipped to defend.

The failure here was not Sweden’s to play more adventurous soccer. It was the Americans’ to play blithely into the trap that had obviously been set for them. Because it was on a counterattack that Sweden went ahead in the 61st minute, when Stina Blackstenius was dispatched and scampered away. And were it not for a fluky break in the 77th minute — when a ball fell fortuitously for Alex Morgan off the face of an opponent who didn’t properly read a high ball headed on by Crystal Dunn — the game might well have been lost in regulation. Which is to say nothing of the foul on Kosovare Asllani the Swedes claimed, but weren’t awarded, earlier on that sequence, which caused them to switch off on the play.

[Photos: How U.S. superstars have changed since their first Olympics]

And lest we forget, Lotta Schelin’s disallowed goal in extra time for Sweden had more merit than Carli Lloyd’s disallowed goal for the U.S. a minute earlier — although both probably should have stood. On balance, the Americans probably can’t complain much about their lot.

Were they the better team? Certainly. Did they have some divine right to win it for having played the more majestic soccer? No.

In the end, the Americans failed to convert all of that possession deep in Sweden’s half into goals. Lloyd had an off-day and Morgan mostly found herself crowded out in the box. Heath’s many crosses seldom found a recipient. And Pugh and Dunn’s runs were lost on their teammates. There were no overlaps. No useful through balls. No ideas.

Soccer is a simple game. The objective is to put the ball in the net more often than the other team. If you fail to do that, you’re entitled to nothing at all, no matter how negatively the other team might have achieved its result.

When confronted with Solo’s comments, Sundhage wasted little time on them. “We won,” she said.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Indeed, the Swedes did. And, for their savvy game plan, deservedly so.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.