Megan Rapinoe's late (and controversial) penalty saves USWNT from first loss in years

Henry Bushnell
·4 min read
SOLNA, SWEDEN - APRIL 10: Megan Rapinoe of USA scores their team's first goal from a penalty during the Women's International Friendly between Sweden and USA at Friends Arena on April 10, 2021 in Solna, Sweden. Sporting stadiums around the Sweden remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)
Megan Rapinoe converts a late penalty for the USWNT in Stockholm. (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)

The U.S. women's national soccer team has not lost in over two years.

It hasn't lost since winning the 2019 World Cup.

Hasn't lost under head coach Vlatko Andonovski.

Hasn't lost in 38 games.

Sweden almost ended all of that on Saturday. But Megan Rapinoe's 87th-minute penalty stole a 1-1 draw for the USWNT in a pre-Olympic friendly, and kept a remarkable unbeaten streak alive.

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The penalty, though, arose from a bit of good fortune and controversy. Kelley O'Hara was fouled on the edge of the penalty area as the U.S. pressed for a late equalizer. Replays showed that the brunt of contact appeared to occur outside the box.

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But the referee pointed to the spot, and allowed the Americans to snatch a result.

"We don't have [video review], so I'll take it," Rapinoe said. "I'm not asking any questions."

Perhaps, on the basis of a strong second-half push, they deserved it. For the first time under Andonovski, though, they were largely outplayed. Sweden created the game's two best chances. Lina Hurtig's first-half header gave the hosts a 1-0 lead.

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Rapinoe, who came off the bench in the second half, preserved the unbeaten streak, but didn't completely mask a flawed team performance. 

"If we play the way we played today, it's not good enough," Andonovski said after the match. He "wasn't happy" with the players' "cleanness of touch," and said they "made way too many mistakes." Rapinoe said they were "very sloppy."

The draw ended Andonovski's unblemished record since taking over for Jill Ellis in the fall of 2019. And it snapped the USWNT's 16-game win streak two short of a program record.

It also sparked a bit of concern with just three months to go until Tokyo.

But not much. This, more importantly, was a valuable test for the U.S. "We're all very happy to have had this game, and to have had this challenge," defender Tierna Davidson said postgame.

"A great challenge," Rapinoe added. She found herself thinking throughout the game: "This is exactly what we need." 

Why Saturday's draw could help USWNT at Olympics

Prior to Saturday, the USWNT had scored 61 goals and conceded three under Andonovski. Since the start of Olympic qualifying in early 2020, it had scored 52 and conceded one. Andonovski is more tactical than Ellis, his predecessor, and his teachings appeared to have strengthened the USWNT machine.

Competition, though, had been underwhelming since the start of 2020. "The games that we've played, up until this point, we've pretty much been able to play the way that we want," Rapinoe explained. "Things have looked pretty spot-on to what Vlatko and the staff have prepared us for."

On Saturday, things didn't quite go to plan. Sweden interrupted the USWNT's attacking patterns with a slightly unexpected tactical approach. "I don't think we adjusted quick enough," Rapinoe said.

The hope, though, is that lessons learned Saturday will allow them to adjust on the fly in Tokyo, where they'll meet teams of Sweden's caliber — and perhaps meet the Swedes themselves.

"They're a tough team," Andonovski said. "That's why we came here. To play this team, to get exposed to physicality, to tactics and sophistication like this, so we can prepare to be the best version that we can be going into Olympics."

In this sense, Saturday wasn't dissimilar to the team's last loss, 3-1 to France in the buildup to the 2019 World Cup. The Americans were outplayed that day, just as they were outplayed for long stretches on Saturday.

But they were also a bit short-handed that day, just as they were a bit short-handed Saturday. Center back Abby Dahlkemper missed out with an injury. Rapinoe and Alex Morgan didn't start.

And just as they were still World Cup favorites two years ago, despite that loss in France, they're still Olympic gold medal favorites now.

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