USWNT Take Down Netherlands In Penalty Shootout To Advance To Olympic Semifinals
by Kara Tanner
TOKYO – The USWNT is back, and moving on to the semis.
With a rough start in their bid for Olympic gold, the U.S. women’s national team made it clear tonight why you can never count them out.
In what felt like a 2019 World Cup rematch, the United States emerged victorious over a strong Dutch squad.
The last time these two teams met for a competitive game on the pitch was on July 7, 2019 for the 2019 FIFIA Women’s World Cup final. USA defeated the Netherlands, 2-0, in Lyon, France to capture the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup title – their second straight title.
In their last meeting in November 2020, the Americans posted a 2-0 win over the Netherlands.
And tonight, inside an empty Yokohama International Stadium, two of the best women’s teams in the world faced off once again.
“This team just never really quits,” said veteran forward Megan Rapinoe. “We’re still going to go out there and play as hard as we can.”
Just five years ago, the USWNT was knocked out in the quarterfinal game at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. The team went home empty handed after falling to Sweden in penalties.
Their loss to Sweden in 2016 was the first-time the USWNT has failed to reach the gold medal game since women's soccer was introduced at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996. The USA won the inaugural gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta, won silver in 2000 in Sydney and then won three straight golds after standing atop the podium in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
Tonight, felt a little like déjà vu for the women's team, but this time with a much better outcome.
“We just wanted to put it all out there,” said Rapinoe. “Obviously it’s a tough tournament and tough conditions, on and off the field.”
Alyssa Naeher saves a penalty at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 30, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan.
“We always believe we are going to find a way to win,” said goalie Alyssa Naeher. “I think you saw that tonight.”
Prior to today’s game, the USWNT struggled in the beginning stage of the Olympic tournament. They women fell 3-0 to Sweden in the opening game of group play, and drew 0-0 against Australia. After finishing second in their group, the United States were met with a tough Netherlands team.
In their first-ever Olympic debut, the Netherlands scored 21 goals in group stage competition. In just three games the Netherlands broke the Olympic record for most goals in a single tournament, which was last set by the USWNT at the Olympic Games London 2012.
The Dutch’s star forward, and Olympic record holder for most goals, Vivianne Miedema earned her 100th cap against the U.S. She opened the game with a goal in the 18th minute to put the Netherlands up 1-0 over Team USA.
But just 10 minutes later, midfielder Samantha Mewis, with an assist from rookie Lynn Williams, responded to tie the game 1-1 in the 28th minute.
As for Williams, her night just kept getting better.
Williams, who was originally was listed as an alternate, made her first start of the Olympic Games and earned her first Olympic assist and scored her first Olympic goal within just a few moments of each other. Williams’ goal in the 31st minute gave the U.S. their first lead of the game (2-1).
Due to a rule change from the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. was allowed to bring 22 players to Tokyo rather than 18. While you can still only have 18 athletes on your game day roster, the new rule allows countries to reconstitute their teams ahead of every match.
“When everything first happened, I didn’t think I was ever going to see the field,” said Williams. “Then the rule changed, and I still didn’t think I was going to see the field after the Australia game. To come in and have my teammates believe in me, the goal and the assist were just the cherry on top.”
Additional alternates Catarina Macario, Jane Campbell and Casey Krueger all made their Olympic debuts in Tuesday’s match against Australia.
“My teammates are incredible, and those moments are incredible,” said Williams of her performance. “But I just want to be able to get out there and do what they need me to do to win the game.”
In the second half, Miedema scored her second goal of the night, and her 10th goal of the Olympic Games, in the 54th minute to level the game 2-2.
In the 81st minute, the Dutch had a chance to take the lead with a penalty kick.
Lynn Williams competes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 30, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan.
“There’s no one else I’d rather have in the net than her,” said midfielder Rose Lavelle of her teammate. “She’s saved us so many times.”
Naeher was able to make the save to keep the USWNT alive.
“She’s been huge this whole tournament,” said Rapinoe of Naeher’s save. “Obviously to take a penalty from them in the run of play is huge.”
After a scoreless 30 minutes of extra time, the teams were forced into penalties, and it was up to Naeher again.
Naeher saved two of the four attempts from the Dutch, and the U.S. didn’t miss. Rapinoe took the fourth penalty to end the game and secure Team USA’s spot in the semis.
“I just want to help my team win a gold medal,” said Naeher. “Tonight, I’m proud of what I was able to do to get us one step closer to that goal.
With the Netherlands’ loss tonight comes the conclusion of Sarina Wiegman’s career as their head coach. She will take over as the head coach for England. Succeeding Wiegman will be Mark Thorns; the current head coach of the Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL.
The road to the gold will continue for the U.S. women’s national team in the semifinals against Canada on Monday at 4 a.m. ET.
“We won tonight as a team,” said Naeher. “I could not be more proud of the way this team fought tonight, and to get the win just feels very, very satisfying.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.
Kara Tanner is a sports journalist and creative based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is the head digital content manager and editor for TeamUSA.org.