WNBA | JWS

The U.S. women’s national team suffered an uncharacteristic 3-0 blowout loss to Sweden in the squad’s first group stage game at the Tokyo Olympics. Sweden completely dominated the game, suffocating the USWNT with relentless pressure and exploiting space in the final third. The U.S. had no answer for Sweden’s expertly executed game plan, leaving the team (and its fans) stunned and the path to the gold medal more difficult.

Here’s what went wrong for the USWNT.

Is Julie Ertz too essential?

The U.S. looked lost without Julie Ertz. It has been an open question how the national team would fair without Ertz since she suffered an MCL injury back in May. USWNT fans finally got their answer to that question on Wednesday: not well.

Lindsey Horan has been filling in for Ertz in the defensive midfield position and looked overwhelmed and out of position against Sweden. Kosovare Asllani smothered Horan for the Swedes, cutting off the USWNT’s build-up play before it could ever begin.

The midfield as a whole was overrun, with Sweden prohibiting Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis from passing out of pressure. The group was also unable to blunt Sweden’s ceaseless counterattack, leaving the midfielders disorganized and chasing the ball.

Ertz was eventually subbed in at the half to take over the No. 6 position, but it’s still unknown how many minutes she will be able to play during the rest of the tournament.

Crystal Dunn was overloaded

Sweden ran much of its attack through the United States’ left flank, leaving Dunn outnumbered multiple times. With little support from other areas of the field, Dunn was forced to make a few last-ditch tackles.

Sweden’s aggressive press rattled the USWNT’s backline, including Dunn, who turned over a dangerous pass out of the back that nearly resulted in a goal for the Swedes.

The immense pressure also stifled the USWNT’s attack, which starts with the outside backs getting high up the field. Sweden’s fierce counterattack, however, often caught Dunn and Kelley O’Hara in advanced positions and recovering too late.

Holes in the backline

The U.S. looked completely out of sorts defensively against Sweden. One of the most egregious breakdowns resulted in Stina Blackstenius’ second goal of the game, with the striker left unmarked at the back post during a Sweden corner kick.

“It felt like there were holes everywhere defensively,” Alex Morgan said after the game. Indeed there were, particularly between the center and outside backs. With the backline stretched, Sweden pounced on the ensuing gaps, resulting in a scrambled and disorganized defensive effort.

Next up: The USWNT will look to correct course when it faces New Zealand on Saturday.