By Simon Evans
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Tokyo Olympics was supposed to be a celebratory farewell for a ‘golden generation’ of U.S women’s soccer players but it ended up with an unconvincing attempt to put a brave face on the disappointment of a bronze medal.
The world champions beat Australia 4-3 in the bronze medal game on Thursday and fittingly Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, their two veterans, almost certainly playing in their last major tournament, scored two goals each.
That would have been a fairytale ending had their final bow come, as expected, in the gold medal game but the victory merely served as a reminder of how much the Americans, four times Olympic champions, had under-achieved in these Games.
“We may look like the most talented team on paper. And if you look at our roster, one through 22, we would probably win every major tournament just by looking at that roster,” said Lloyd.
“But as we all know, talent doesn’t win you championships, and without the mentality, without the heart, the grit, the fight, we won’t win anything,” she said.
The Americans were stunned by their 1-0 semi-final defeat against Canada on Monday and held team meetings to try to find a way to at least end the Olympics in the right fashion by what Lloyd called refinding their mentality.
The conclusion was that the U.S had to go out and attack Australia and beat them — and they did just that.
But while Lloyd and other American players talked about their pride in the bronze medal, there was no escaping the fact that the tournament had been well below expectations.
It began with a 3-0 defeat by Sweden in the opening group stage game — a result which Lloyd conceded had shocked the team.
“We kind of got slapped in the face, the first game against Sweden, and then we really couldn’t find our way.
“And then the loss against Canada obviously didn’t sit well with any of us,” she added.
At 39, Lloyd knows that with the World Cup two years away and the next Olympics a further year off, she is close to the end.
“I haven’t made any official announcement yet, but obviously I am at the tail end of my career,” said Lloyd.
“Physically I feel really good, but at some point I have to hang up the boots and live life and I know my husband is eagerly waiting for me to switch off because it’s been 17 years of just grinding away,” she added.
Lloyd said she had approached the game in the knowledge that it could be her ‘last dance’ on the global stage.
“The drive over to the game was different. I was thinking about a lot of things and just wanted to do everything possible to help this team win a medal because it’s not a little chintzy third-place, World Cup medal. This is a medal, just a different colour, but we’re going home with that medal and it’s really, really special,” she said.
But the forward, twice a World Cup winner and gold medallist in 2008 and 2012, said that even if this was the end of the road for her and other older players on the team, the U.S would continue to be at the top in the sport.
“It’s really hard to get to this level, but it’s even harder to stay here for as long as some of us have,” she said.
“I can’t speak on behalf of others and I haven’t made a decision, just yet, but there’s always that chance that it may be (farewell). You don’t know what’s going to happen in a couple of years.
“This team will continue to go on and be successful. Remember that we don’t win championships without the U.S. mentality. That probably has been the biggest takeaway from this tournament.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ken Ferris)