It came down to penalty kicks — and after two of the U.S. women's soccer team players missed theirs, Hope Solo couldn't stop Sweden's shots in an elimination game in the quarterfinals of Rio's Summer Olympics.
Facing their old coach Pia Sundhage, the Americans were trying to improve on a draw with Colombia that marred an otherwise stellar opening round to the games in Brazil. But they couldn't capitalize on early chances against Sweden, and Sundhage's squad made them pay in the end.
With the loss, a talented U.S. team that had seemed to be rolling toward a possible showdown with host team Brazil for a chance to win a fourth gold medal will instead be going home without a medal of any color
Sweden managed to get on the board in the second half, with a breakaway goal giving them a 1-0 lead. But the U.S. answered minutes later, on a close-range shot by Alex Morgan. The game was played in front of a small crowd at the Mané Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia. Soccer is the only sport being played in stadiums scattered around Brazil during these games.
No goals were scored in extra time — although both teams had scores waved off on close calls of players being offside. On penalty kicks, Alex Morgan led it off with a miss, after goalie Hedvig Lindahl snared it. Christen Press also missed, shooting far above the crossbar. Sweden missed only one shot, winning the shootout 4-3.
As the game wore on, its complexion seemed to be one that Sundhage had hoped for: a physical encounter that disrupted the Americans' offense and ground toward a final resolution. According to the official statistics, Sweden committed 15 fouls in the game — four against the versatile playmaker Tobin Heath — and was given two yellow cards. The Americans committed four fouls and were given one yellow.
The Swedish team focused on defense, taking only six shots as the Americans controlled the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. But only six of the 27 U.S. shots were on-goal, according to the official tally — and only one found the net.
The U.S. loss comes despite the team taking 12 corner kicks and 20 free kicks.
Update at 2:43 p.m. ET: Press Skies One; Sweden Answers
Christen Press sends her shot flying over the top of the net.
Hope Solo talks to the ref and then takes a break to get new gloves. As she does so, Lisa Dahlkvist, the Swedish player waiting, smiles at her. Then she sends the ball streaking past a frozen Solo and into the right side of the net. Solo guessed wrong. That ends it.
Update at 2:41 p.m. ET: Brian Nets It; So Does Sweden
Morgan Brian of the U.S. coolly delivers her shot into the net; Sweden's Caroline Seger follows with a low shot to the right that a diving Solo just can't reach.
Update at 2:39 p.m. ET: Lloyd Delivers; Solo Gets A Block
Carli Lloyd scored on her attempt — and a soaring Hope Solo knocks a high shot away from the left corner of the goal. All even.
Update at 2:37 p.m. ET: Two Goals
Both Lindsey Horan of the U.S. and Kosovare Asllani score on their attempts.
Update at 2:35 p.m. ET: A Miss From Morgan
Alex Morgan's shot is blocked by the Swedish goalie.
Lotta Shlein then sends her shot straight into the net.
Update at 2:32 p.m. ET: Second Extra Time Is Over
After more than 120 minutes of play, the score is still 1-1 and we are heading to penalty kicks.
Moments before time expired, Alex Morgan threatened to end it on a speedy run down the left side. But her left-footed shot was just wide and found the side of the net.
Everyone's taking a breath now; the goalies are steeling themselves.
Update at 2:24 p.m. ET: Lloyd's Goal Waved Off
It had looked perfect — a looping pass to Lloyd who was grappling with a defender and who headed the ball to the opposite side of the goal — but the officials say she was offside.
Sweden quickly got the ball down to the U.S. end and a shot eluded Hope Solo to hit the middle of the net — but that goal was also waved off. The two seeming-goals happened within one minute of each other. Both calls were questionable — I'm sure the teams' fans are doing just that.
Update at 2:22 p.m. ET: Pugh Goes Out With Injury
Mallory Pugh, who at 18 became the youngest American woman to score a goal in the Olympics, is taken off the field after hurting her lower leg — seemingly her ankle.
Update at 2:18 p.m. ET: Second Period And A Yellow For Lloyd
Carli Lloyd is given a yellow card over a late challenge on Sweden's Kosovare Asllani. It's one in a string of events that has left players on both sides holding up their hands questioningly to official Anna-Marie Keighley of New Zealand.
Update at 2:12 p.m. ET: First Extra Time Period Expires
There's been no score in this 15-minute period, with only a handful of chances. Both defenses have clamped down, and the midfield is a minefield.
Update at 2:05 p.m. ET: Christen Press Replaces Rapinoe
Rapinoe is back on the bench and Press is in.
Shots on goal vs. total shots statistics for both teams: 6 of 23 for the U.S. and 2 of 4 for Sweden.
Update at 2 p.m. ET: Frenzy
With a slot in the semifinals on the line, both defenses are clamping down — and players who run down to the opposing goal are often finding themselves alone. In the midfield, players are being grabbed and tugged even more than usual. There's desperation to score — and to not allow a goal.
Update at 1:50 p.m. ET: 30 Minutes To Get Into The Semis
Extra time has begun, and that means the goalies have flipped back again. Sweden sends a ball deep into the American side. Hope Solo eventually gathers it after some bandying about by a Swedish forward.
Here are end-of-regulation stats on U.S. shots: 4 out of 20 were on-goal; one found the net.
Update at 1:50 p.m. ET: Extra Time!
With regulation time expired, the players take a break and grab water as their coaches talk about plans for the extra period. We'll do the same.
Update at 1:40 p.m. ET: Lloyd Nearly Scores
Alertness and luck came together for Sweden, as one of their defenders used her backside to deflect what would have been a scoring shot from Lloyd.
Update at 1:34 p.m. ET: U.S. Scores
Finally for the U.S., a breakthrough. After Megan Rapinoe corralled a low pass (and left a Swedish player writhing on the ground), the ball finds its way to Alex Morgan. She eludes two defenders and puts it in the corner of the net in the 78th minute.
Update at 1:32 p.m. ET: Two Corners
After entering the game, Rapinoe is immediately called on to deliver corner kicks on two plays within minutes of each other.
Update at 1:29 p.m. ET: Rapinoe Time
After Carli Lloyd can't deliver on what looked to be a dangerous threat — Lloyd tried to clean up a nice ball that was served into an area with no U.S. players in it — U.S. coach Jill Ellis turns to her bench again, sending veteran Megan Rapinoe into the game for Kelley O'Hara.
Update at 1:28 p.m. ET: Offensive Stats
The U.S. has dominated possession throughout, keeping the ball more than 60 percent of the time. But only one of their nine recorded shots was on goal, according to the official tally. In contrast, two of Sweden's four shots were on goal — and one found its target.
We're now past the 70th minute.
Update at 1:21 p.m. ET: Dunn Comes In
American forward Crystal Dunn subs in for Allie Long.
Update at 1:18 p.m. ET: Sweden Scores First
A long pass sets up Stina Blackstenius, who manages to stay ahead of U.S. defender Julie Johnston as she runs toward the right corner of the penalty area. As U.S. goalie Hope Solo eyes her, Blacksteinius rips a shot that crosses the goal and finds the opposite corner.
Sweden leads, 1-0, with around 30 minutes to play.
Update at 1:14 p.m. ET: Yellow Card For Sweden
Sweden's Lotta Schlein is called for a yellow card, for blindsiding Kelley O'Hara and sending her to the ground. It's been a physical game, particularly by Sweden; official Anna-Marie Keighley of New Zealand seems to be saying that's far enough.
Update at 1:10 p.m. ET: Three Free Kicks
Mallory Pugh is tripped, and it's the third free kick of the second half for the U.S. Tobin Heath sets up — and delivers a low curling ball that is turned away easily.
This followed a sequence in which Alex Morgan was sent to the ground by a Swedish player trying to receive a pass. No call from the official.
Update at 1:08 p.m. ET: Handball By Sweden
An arm that helped defuse a U.S. threat has now set up a free kick from outside the penalty area the left corner. Lloyd doesn't send home a set-piece, missing a low shot wide. She gets another chance from the right side moments later, and this one sails a few feet over the goal.
Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: Some Stats
According to the official tally:
Fouls: weden has been called for three fouls; the U.S. for one.
Shots: The U.S. has missed several shots — including by Kelley O'Hara, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Mallory Pugh.
Possession: 63 percent for the U.S. and 37 percent for Sweden.
Update at 12:47 p.m. ET: Scoreless At The Half
Both teams are looking sharp. They're rarely giving the ball away. Unfortunately for the two offenses, that sharpness is being mirrored on the defensive side.
The two teams are making better chances for themselves. A Swedish corner kick is punched away by Hope Solo — who had emerged far from her pipes to do it. Lloyd was served a ball in front of the net, but that attempt was turned away.
Shots have hit both posts — one of the best attempts of the match came from a Swedish player just yards from her own net. As she attempted to clear the ball away from Carli Lloyd, it shot brusquely toward her surprised goalie, who nonetheless corralled it safely.
We're now at the half - scoreless.
Update at 12:37 p.m. ET: Swedish Threat Defused
Sweden got a corner kick and then created one of its best chances so far — but Hope Solo emerged to knock the ball away. After some back and forth (possession-wise), the U.S. is back on the attack.
This time Lloyd, who seems to be on every Swedish player's radar, tries to serve the ball up from the right side. Doesn't work, but the U.S. still has control.
Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: U.S. Offense Keeps Attacking
It's 30 minutes in, and the U.S. has taken six shots, including one on goal. Sweden has taken one shot. Because of the shadows in the stadium, the players are in the full sunshine when they're near the Swedish goal, and in total shade when they're near Hope Solo and the U.S. goal. At this rate, everyone but Solo's going to get a sunburn today.
Update at 12:26 p.m. ET: Sweden Finally Has The Ball
Play had largely been centered in the Swedish half of the field, but now they have a throw-in. And the Americans swipe it and set up another attack. The U.S. is pounding on Sweden's defense, which is proving unflappable.
And just like that, the U.S. manufactured two excellent chances that didn't find home — a long ball to the right side and a nice run by Morgan that set up a shot by Lloyd that was turned away.
Update at 12:18 p.m. ET: Alex Morgan Goes Down
In a scene that surely had U.S. coaches worried, Alex Morgan went down and stayed down on a corner kick. It seems she's OK, though: replays showed a Swedish player stepped on the inside of Morgan's ankle.
This happened moments after a Swedish player, Fridolina Rolfo, went down awkwardly with a leg or ankle injury. She left the game and was replaced.
Update at 12:15 p.m. ET: Physical Play Early On
It's 15 minutes into the game, and so far it's seen strong defense and physical play. The U.S. has dominated possession — more than 2/3 of the time they've had the ball — but Sweden has ended the chances the Americans engineered.
We've seen several collisions and tackles; so far, it seems the officials are letting the players dictate the game's physicality.
Our original post continues:
After passing progressively harder tests against New Zealand and France, an attack led by Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan couldn't overcome Colombia in the final match of group play — and goalkeeper Hope Solo, who had been impenetrable, allowed two goals in a game that ended in an 2-2 tie. The game did bring the first Olympic goal by America's Mallory Pugh, 18.
In a preview for today's game, here's what NPR's Russell Lewis had to say:
"There's always intrigue in the Olympics and here it is for this game: the Swedish coach is Pia Sundhage who guided the U-S to Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012. After Sundhage stepped down, the U.S. never slowed. It won the World Cup last year and is favored to win gold again here in Rio.
"The U.S. was not as dominant, though, in its last game tying Colombia 2-2. The winners of the day's three other matches – China vs. Germany, Canada vs. France and Brazil vs. Australia – will set the Olympic women's soccer semifinals."