All four Washington Spirit players at the Tokyo Olympics have advanced to the knockout round, though it hasn’t exactly gone to plan for their teams. The USWNT, featuring Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett, only came in second place in their group after a 0-0 draw with Australia, while Saori Takarada and Japan needed a late goal against Chile to guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals as a third-placed team. Julia Roddar and Sweden have also not ended up doing what was expected, but in their case it’s a positive, as they won all three of their group games by multiple goals.
Here’s how yesterday’s games went for the entire quartet:
After getting a game off against New Zealand, O’Hara returned at right back in the U.S.’s 0-0 draw with Australia. She wasn’t given a ton to do in the first half, as an extremely cagey tactical approach from both teams saw little in the way of notable action. A scripted set piece early in the second half seemed to set her up for a glorious chance to cross low to multiple runners, but the offside flag ended the threat (though O’Hara’s cross ended up behind her options anyway).
If it seems odd to take note of one play where nothing really happened, well...the game didn’t give us much to discuss! The USWNT played out of a low-press, didn’t engage in much counter-pressure, and didn’t do much to bring O’Hara or Crystal Dunn into the game. The conservative approach from both teams meant the fullbacks just didn’t have much to do, and their responsibilities became about maintaining team shape and balance. In that regard, O’Hara did the job well; it just wasn’t a thrilling viewing experience.
Vlatko Andonovski opted to leave Sonnett out entirely yesterday. It’s not clear whether that’s simply the rotation plan or an injury, but it did leave an interesting situation where Casey Krueger was the only defensive option available off the bench. The rest of the group included back-up goalkeeper AD Franch, three forwards (Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, and Lynn Williams), and two midfielders (Lindsey Horan and Kristie Mewis).
It remains to be seen how the USWNT will approach their 18 for their quarterfinal, in which they’ll face the Netherlands on Friday at 7:00am Eastern in Yokohama. If the plan is to rotate O’Hara and Sonnett from game to game, that would leave Sonnett on the field for the quarterfinal, and any potential medal game. It seems most likely that Andonovski wants to have O’Hara ready to play the semifinal and then with a medal on the line, which would point to Sonnett having a pretty solid chance to return on Friday.
On the other hand, O’Hara is clearly his first choice, and facing a Dutch side that scored 21 goals in Group F, we may see Andonovski lean on the veteran for the entire knockout stage.
Speaking of right back, Roddar started there for Sweden, going the full 90 in a 2-0 win over New Zealand. Roddar didn’t end up with an assist, but she did play a role in the second goal, overlapping to the endline before turning back to pass to Hanna Bennison, whose cross was headed in by Madelen Janogy. She also showed some shiftiness on the ball, coming forward in possession and looking to draw defenders before finding a midfielder or winger.
Roddar was initially an alternate, but has now played in both games that Peter Gerhardsson named her to the 18, which is a great sign for her to get more minutes in the knockout round. By winning Group G, Sweden heads back to Saitama (where they beat Australia 4-2) for a quarterfinal against Japan, who finished 3rd in Group E. That game will kick off on Friday at 6:00am Eastern.
Takarada made her Olympic debut in Japan’s must-win third game, starting at center back in their 1-0 win against Chile at Miyagi Stadium. With Chile showing a mix of a low line of contention broken up by some smart selective high pressing, Takarada and Japan’s back line had a pretty intriguing challenge to handle.
The Nadeshiko out-shot Chile 21-4, but made the game tough on themselves by settling for lower-quality shots and rarely showing creativity in the final third. They finally broke through in the 77th minute, but only after seeing Chile come a couple of millimeters from scoring a goal of their own after a mistake from goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita.
Takarada had to make a big play late, lunging in to deny a dangerous Chilean cross after Japan had taken their lead, and showed a knack for breaking Chile’s first wave of pressure with some cleverly disguised passes into central midfield. All in all, she looked like she’s growing increasingly comfortable in the center back role Japan has focused on for her.
Getting through in 3rd place doesn’t reflect all that well on the hosts, though, and it comes with a daunting quarterfinal assignment against Sweden Friday morning.