USWNT looks to clear Olympic quarterfinal hurdle this time

The sluggish U.S. women’s soccer squad is hoping for a repeat of the euphoric 2019 World Cup, and not the disastrous 2016 Olympic quarterfinals.

The USWNT slogged through a lethargic round-robin stage in Tokyo with just four points (1-1-1) in three games. That sets up a knockout matchup Friday (7 a.m., NBCSN) against the Netherlands — the squad Team USA defeated in the title game for its fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup title two summers ago in France.

The quarterfinal match in Yokohama also represents the same round the Americans were unceremoniously ousted in a loss to Sweden in penalty kicks at the Summer Games in Brazil, a fate Team USA is hoping to avoid five years later.

“Our mentality and our goal doesn’t change. Regardless of anything else going on, our goal is to win,” American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher told reporters in the aftermath of Tuesday’s scoreless draw against Australia. “Every time we step on the field, whether it’s a friendly, whether it’s a world championship, whether it’s an 11-v-11 intrasquad [match], we want to win.

Team USA goalie Alyssa Naeher
Team USA goalie Alyssa Naeher
Getty Images

“That’s what we prepare for, to put ourselves in the best position to try to get that one.”

The accomplished U.S. squad was anything but dominant during pool play in Japan, dropping its opening match to Sweden, 3-0, before rebounding for a 6-1 rout of New Zealand for its lone win in Group G.

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“I think a lot of people understand that we’re here to compete and win a gold medal and however we get there, winning is the most important thing,” starting outside back and Long Island product Crystal Dunn told reporters. “So, yes, fans and outsiders looking in are probably like, ‘Oh, this is so different. You’ve never seen the U.S. do this.’

“At the same time, it’s about executing a game plan, moving on from one round to another. And whatever tactics, plans that we have that we’re given, it’s our job as players to trust and believe in ourselves and each other and live to fight another day.”

But head coach Vlatko Andonovski has yet to find the right attacking combination up front, mixing and matching veteran star forwards Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd in the starting lineup. The opening round resulted in two shutouts after the high-powered USA attack hadn’t been blanked since 2017.

Only Press and Morgan have found the back of the net (once apiece) among that accomplished quintet through three games.

The four-time Olympic gold medalists also are 8-1 all-time against the Netherlands, with the lone loss coming in 1991. But the fourth-ranked Dutch netted a whopping 21 goals — eight by Vivianne Miedema — in the group stage, shattering the previous record of 12 by the U.S. in 2012.

“We have an understanding of what they like to do as a team, and their style of play,” Dunn said. “But we understand that we are in knockout rounds and everything can be completely different.

“It’s about focusing on our game plan and what we’re trying to do because we can’t get caught up in thinking about ‘Oh, we played them before, so therefore, this is exactly what this game is going to be like.’ That is nearly impossible to do in the knockout round.”