Just a few pixels doomed the U.S. women’s national team to elimination at the World Cup. FIFA’s official graphic of Sweden’s winning kick in the penalty shootout shows the ball nearly kissing the goal line, with the tiniest sliver of green in between.
“We just lost the World Cup by a millimeter,” USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said after the game.
Yet while that assessment may hold true for the 5-4 shootout loss to Sweden, the USWNT lost the World Cup before it even arrived in Australia and New Zealand, Tobin Heath said on her World Cup podcast “The RE-CAP Show.”
“It may seem like we lost this game by a millimeter,” she said. “But we lost this tournament by a mile.”
Heath and co-host Christen Press both agreed on the gut-wrenching nature of the Round of 16 elimination, which ended the USWNT’s shortest World Cup run ever,
“I didn’t see a gap between the line and the ball,” Press said. “It was right at the edge. And you just think, this doesn’t make sense.”
“But the whole thing didn’t make sense,” Heath responded. “Like, the whole thing didn’t make sense. The whole tournament didn’t make sense. If you want to go back to the Olympics, that whole tournament didn’t make sense. Like, something’s not making sense here.”
On the previous episode of the podcast, Press had pointed out the larger issues plaguing head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s system, which extended beyond the World Cup group stage to the whole of 2023. She returned to that point after the shootout loss to Sweden.
“I look at the game and like we did not lose the World Cup last night. We lost the World Cup, over weeks, months, days, whatever the timeframe is,” Press said. “It was a slow burn all leading to that moment where the ball was parried and up in the air and it barely went over the line.”
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The misuse of star striker Alex Morgan at the World Cup, including her absence from the penalty kick shootout against Sweden, underscores those larger issues, Heath said.
Morgan was asked to drop back in the attack, taking on more responsibilities as playmaker in contrast to her typical role as goalscorer. She struggled at times to juggle those two sides of her game. And then, in extra time against Sweden, she was removed from the game in favor of Megan Rapinoe, which left her unavailable to participate in the deciding shootout.
“I don’t know in what situation we don’t have Alex Morgan in taking a penalty in what seemingly feels like it’s her last World Cup,” Heath said. “She had to watch that. She couldn’t help the team in that moment… You want your biggest players in the biggest moments. And that was hard…
“Were all the players prepared in the way that (they) needed to be for a world championship? Was the group as a whole prepared in the way that it needed to be for a world championship?”
Press provided a succinct response to Heath’s questions: “Clearly not.”