USWNT sleepwalks into Olympic knockout stage, where its current form won't cut it

TOKYO — Here are two best things that can be said about Tuesday's 0-0 tie between the women's soccer teams of United States and Australia.

1. Due to local COVID restrictions, no actual fans paid money to watch this pillow fight.

2. The game took place in the middle of the night back in the United States, so hopefully most American fans just slept through it.

Since both teams needed just a tie to advance to the knockout stages of the Olympics, they played a cautious, sleepy, mostly useless game.

The Americans move onto the quarterfinals, which will be played Friday at 7 a.m. ET. They will face the Netherlands in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, which the Americans won 2-0.

What kind of team they will put on the pitch is anyone’s guess. There certainly isn’t much to be concluded after this one.

It was one of those days for Alex Morgan (13) and the USWNT, perhaps by design. (Photo by SHINJI AKAGI/AFP via Getty Images)
It was one of those days for Alex Morgan (13) and the USWNT, perhaps by design. (Photo by SHINJI AKAGI/AFP via Getty Images) (SHINJI AKAGI via Getty Images)

The U.S. had an Alex Morgan goal called back when she was slightly offside before heading a Kelley O’Hara service into the net. Morgan had another scoring opportunity early. And Australia had a header hit partially off the crossbar. The teams combined for just six shots on net.

Other than that, large segments of the game were sloppy, non-competitive or straight-out boring by design. Australia controlled the ball 61 percent of the time, mainly because it just passed it among the defense. Footage of the second half in particular should be burned and buried to spare innocent children from ever witnessing it.

Getting out of the group stage and preserving energy for the upcoming sprint for the gold medal was apparently the priority for both clubs.

The good news for the U.S., which finished with four points in Group G, is they get to avoid nemesis Sweden, which delivered a shocking 3-0 drubbing last week, until the August 6 final.

Whether the Americans can actually handle the Swedes if they see them again is undetermined. Sweden won all three games in group play and looked like the team to beat here, not the world No. 1 Americans.

It’s a fresh slate now though for the USWNT, which they know well. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, they won their group only to get beat 1-0 in the quarterfinals by Sweden. It was the earliest exit from a major international tournament ever for the U.S.

This time they’ll have to do the reverse. The loss to Sweden ended a 44-game unbeaten streak and sent the Americans reeling. They rebounded with a 6-1 victory over a weak New Zealand team, but that proved little.

Australia represented a better test and a fairer fight, but little happened, perhaps by design.

Either way, it’s on now. The Americans are trying to become the first country to follow a world cup title with Olympic gold.

If they are going to do it, they’ll have to play better than they’ve shown. Or in the case of this game, just pretty much just play at all.

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