The bane of sports analysis, especially when it comes to soccer in a nation that has become too mature in its fandom of the sport to accept this kind of drivel, is to default to claiming something unquantifiable as the reason a team won and a team lost. “Wanted it more” is a phrase you hear all too often. Heart is referenced. Know-how another. This gets old fast, because it’s highly unlikely that whoever ends up on the losing end, especially in competitions as massive as the World Cup, didn’t also want to win just as badly. We can do better.
That didn’t stop Carli Lloyd, Fox’s studio analyst and former star of the USWNT, reverting to the full Bane speech from Dark Knight Rises, “Victory has defeated you!” in the immediate aftermath of the hairball the USWNT coughed up last night:
Lloyd has been banging this drum since well before she retired, in what was, at best, an indirect way of highlighting her own commitment. There’s no question that Lloyd is a soccer legend in this country and the world, but she also never hesitated to make sure everyone knew just how much she was working, and more than her teammates if she could help it. Her running wind sprints after the US was knocked out of the Olympics by Canada in plain view of the media is the kind of performative, Jimmy Butler-esque horseshit that most should see through. It’s a way of shirking responsibility for what the team just did, by showing everyone that it couldn’t be your fault, look at how hard you’re training!
It’s hard to know what Lloyd is referencing exactly, though we know she’s taken aim at a host of subjects before. She was the lead voice in calling Megan Rapinoe’s kneeling a “distraction.” She went All Lives Matter/Only Soccer Matters when the whole team kneeled at the Olympics. Is she talking about players getting bigger endorsements? So the players aren’t capable of compartmentalizing? Sophia Smith’s touch has disappeared because she’s thinking about her next Nike ad? Rare do we hear this as an affliction on the men’s side.
It should also be stated that Lloyd wasn’t exactly the perfect teammate when her starting role disappeared before the 2019 World Cup. Or airing out former teammates for actually having a thought other than “kick ball.” Megan Rapinoe was the best player at the 2019 World Cup while fighting with the fucking president. It seems like Lloyd has been waiting to pounce to prove herself right.
As my patron saint Jurgen Klopp likes to say, “Football problems have football solutions.” The USWNT have football problems, not mental problems. They’re easy to see to anyone paying attention. The attack couldn’t be more static. All three forwards, whoever they are, are simply playing off the shoulder of defenders and hoping to get in behind. Which doesn’t work when the midfield can’t complete three consecutive passes, and the whole attacking plan seems to be “shovel it up the sideline through Crystal Dunn and Sophia Smith and just hope three defenders fall down.”
Defensively, the US constantly seems surprised at whatever quality opposition have thrown at them, and as soon as their high press is broken once in a match, they fall out of it. But that only leaves opposing defenders and deep midfielders all the time in the world to pick out passes to teammates dropping in behind the US’s two No. 8s, and an overmatched Andi Sullivan is overwhelmed. Naomi Girma is having to bail out a wayward Julie Ertz because Julie Ertz is not a centerback. We could do this for a while, and probably will when Sweden or Japan rub this team’s ass in the moonshine if they don’t make major changes.
Players are certainly off form, but the idea that it has to do with everyone more focused on how they can monetize their inclusion in the squad is ludicrous. This is Smith’s, Rodman’s Girma’s, and Sullivan’s first World Cup. Are we really supposed to believe they’re just happy to be here? Ertz fought back from injury hell to be in the squad (and it is worth asking if a player who’s played barely 10 games in three years should be included, but that’s another discussion). Is she just going through the motions or simply rusty?
The US is certainly being let down by some abstract coaching from Vlatko Andonovski, and certainly creating harmony and togetherness throughout the team is part of a coach’s job. But only Lloyd has ever said that there are cultural and personal problems in the dressing room, which may not have amounted to more than everyone else tiring of her get off my lawn act. Certainly this team is covered thoroughly enough that any disharmony in the past few years almost certainly would have leaked out. Maybe that’s coming, but it’s been a long time.
The US’s biggest problem is that there no longer is a technical skill gap from the rest of the world, and if there is they are now at the ass end of it. The athleticism gap has closed too, which leaves the US with no advantage. These are football problems, and they aren’t solved by some mythical thought police that Lloyd uses to glorify herself.
Or maybe at the travel team and showcase and college level, they’re just teaching everyone in the pipeline about how to want it more, and how to be socially conscious, and also how to maximize TikTok. Sure, that’s the problem.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social