BY MADISON YOUNG, STAFF WRITER ’20
This past summer, the Rio Olympics held many firsts–some good, some bad. The first ever refugee Olympic team made its debut. The U.S. collected a record-setting 121 medals, the most since the Soviet Union in 1988, and golf returned for the first time in 100 years. But for many U.S. women’s soccer fans, the 2016 Olympics was one we’d rather forget.
The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) medaled every year since women’s soccer was included in the Olympics in 1996, until this year. The U.S. came into the Olympics as the number one women’s soccer team in the world with a fresh 2015 World Cup victory under their belts. America seemed unstoppable. They began in the group stages, beating New Zealand 2-0 and then France 1-0. In their last group stage match, the USWNT tied Columbia 2-2, however this did not change much.
The U.S. still finished first in its group, earning the points needed to advance to the knockout round. On August 12th, they played Sweden led by former U.S. coach, Pia Sundhage, in their first knockout game. In the 61st minute, Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius put them up 1-0.
However, the U.S. team was not going down without a fight. Off a lucky break, Crystal Dunn shot a ball that was blocked and then rebounded by Alex Morgan for a goal from six yards out.
Tied 1-1 in the 90th, the game was sent to overtime. The U.S. saw many chances, but could not convert those into goals. That’s when things started to get strange. In the 115th minute, both teams thought they had the game winner. Carli Lloyd headed in a cross from Dunn, but was called for a foul, canceling out the goal. Then, Swedish player Lotta Schelin scored, but was called offside. With no team able to score after 120, the game came down to an old enemy of the U.S. women’s team: penalty kicks.
Fans across the country were on their feet (myself included). Alex Morgan missed the first penalty, putting the U.S. behind. They again fought back with saves from Hope Solo, and goals from Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd and Lindsey Horan, but unfortunately, the U.S. couldn’t hang on, falling 4-3 on penalties.
During an emotional interview after the game, Carli Lloyd spoke well of her team, saying,
“I think overall we played well, and it’s unfortunate to lose, but you best believe, in 2019 and 2020, we’re gonna bite back for the golds…It’s hard to go back, that’s why no one’s done it. And it’s unfortunate, we had the talent, we were playing well, but uh, that’s just the way soccer goes sometimes. Regroup, four years, three years, prepare for the World Cup.”
And that was just the game.
Afterwards, heart-broken fans, including myself, mourned the loss wondering how and why it happened. Fans took to social media to sympathize with players, supporting their efforts, and thanking them for their contribution. Fans on Twitter started the trend #DogsForChristen, for forward Christen Press whose penalty kick sailed inches above the crossbar. Knowing her love for canines, fans, along with some teammates and coaches, tweeted pictures of their dogs using the hashtag. Press responded with a simple thank you and appeared to be moved by the sympathy of the fan base.
But with every good thing comes some bad. The most prominent of the stories emerging from the Olympic upset was that of star goalkeeper, Hope Solo. After the game, Solo was interviewed from the sidelines and said, “I also think we played a bunch of cowards. But the best team did not win today, I strongly, firmly believe that.”
Solo’s spur-of-the-moment comment caught major backlash. The U.S. Soccer Federation released a statement, saying:
“The comments made by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our national team players.”
Following a meeting with the federation, Solo was suspended for six months and her national team contract was terminated. Solo also announced she would not be returning to what would have been the remainder of the season with her National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team, the Seattle Reign, saying, “Mentally, I am not there yet.” The earliest we could see Solo on the field again is February, if ever.
Questions have also been raised as to whether this punishment represents a double standard for female versus male players. Attorney Rich Nichols spoke on behalf of the Women’s National Team Players Association, saying that Solo “…was fired for making comments that a man would never have been fired for.”
Although Solo has experienced other incidents with U.S. soccer and the law, her punishments were harsher than that of her male counterparts.
The NFL was severely criticized in 2014 when it suspended previous Baltimore Raven, Ray Rice, for just two games after disturbing footage was released of him assaulting his wife was publicized.
Even for soccer, Solo’s punishment was harsh. During the World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo said that Iceland had played with a “small mentality.” His statement got almost no media recognition, and he faced no formal punishment. Although Solo’s words and past actions aren’t perfect, she’s clearly not the only one.
The USWNT has already started preparing for the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Head coach Jill Ellis has released statements saying that she plans on filling the team’s roster with youth, and because of this, some fan favorites may not return.
Shortly after Ellis’s statement was released, defender Whitney Engen had been cut from the line-up. Fans have also reacted to this, but in a much less positive way. Since the upset loss, fans have shared what they believed Ellis did wrong in terms of coaching. For instance, where to put players, who to play, and even how to play. Many have talked about what players should have done, and some have even wished for Ellis to be fired. Much to some fans’ dismay, Ellis will remain head coach through these next big tournaments, and most likely afterward.
This shocking and heartbreaking defeat left fans devastated. The U.S. now has a 18-0-3 record in 2016, scoring 58 goals and allowing only 7. Although we mourn the defeat, all we can do is look ahead to 2019 and 2020 and know The Gals will come back bigger and better. After all, we are One Nation, One Team.