AUCKLAND, New Zealand — United States women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski hit back at criticism from former player Carli Lloyd, calling it “insane” to doubt the players’ drive to win after a listless 0-0 draw vs. Portugal in the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday.
The result was a disappointment for the No. 1-ranked U.S. team, the overwhelming favorite to beat No. 21-ranked Portugal, after having won the previous two Women’s World Cups.
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The path for the Americans also hinged on the results of the Netherlands match against Vietnam, played simultaneously in Dunedin. With a decisive 7-0 victory, the Netherlands won Group E, bumping the United States to second place.
Now the USWNT heads to a round-of-16 matchup against Sweden.
Asked about Lloyd’s postgame remarks that the U.S. lacked “passion,” Andonovski said it didn’t match what he saw.
“The one thing I want to say is that this team wanted to win this game more than anything else,” Andonovski said. “They’ve put everything they could in preparation for this tournament and every game that they go into, so to question the mentality of this team, to question the willingness to win, to compete, I think it’s insane.
“I’ve never seen this team step on the field and not try hard or not compete. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, they can say whatever they want, but I just know how this team feels.
“It’s not like we played well by any means. We owned it. We know it’s not good enough. We’re not happy with our performance, but we qualified for the next round. We’re moving on.”
The U.S. won only one game in group play for the first time in tournament history, and scored just four goals over the three games.
“It’s not the result we wanted, but we move forward,” forward Alex Morgan said.
The Americans, the most successful team ever at the World Cup with four titles, have never been eliminated in the group stage at the World Cup.
Lloyd, who retired at the end of 2021 after 16 years on the national team, is now a commentator for Fox Sports, the English-language broadcaster of the Women’s World Cup in the United States.
She has been a frequent critic of the team since retiring, rallying against a culture of the team that she said had moved away from focusing on winning. She offered similar criticism after the match, which a journalist relayed to Andonovski.
“You never want to take anything for granted,” Lloyd said. “You put on that jersey and you want to give it everything you have, for the people that came before you and the people that are gonna come after you, and I’m just not seeing that passion.
“I’m just seeing a very lackluster, uninspiring, taking-it-for-granted, where winning and training and doing all that you can to be the best possible individual player is not happening.”
Ana Capeta nearly scored for Portugal about two minutes into stoppage time, but her shot hit the left post. The Portuguese players sobbed on the field after the final whistle after having come so close to the upset. Capeta’s shot in stoppage time looked so good that her coaches started celebrating and the players on the bench jumped to their feet.
“I truly believed that the goal would be in that moment and I was starting to think, ‘What can I do to help my players if we’re winning 1-0?'” Portugal coach Francisco Neto said. “What I said to the girls, I was very proud. Of course, they are very sad because we have huge expectations of ourselves.”
Lynn Williams, who started for the U.S. for the first time in the tournament, had a chance on a header in the 14th minute, but Portugal goalkeeper Ines Pereira smothered it. While the U.S. controlled possession and had the better chances, the team could not finish.
Rose Lavelle picked up a yellow card in the 38th minute, her second of the group stage, and she won’t be available for the team’s round-of-16 match.
In a postgame huddle, defender Kelley O’Hara, one of the U.S. team’s veterans, shouted at her teammates.
“I just told the team, ‘Listen, we did what we had to do, we’re moving on, the group stage is done, this is over, it’s in the rearview, we have our next game in front of us and that’s the only one that matters,'” O’Hara said. “Maybe we didn’t do it the way we wanted to, or planned on doing it, but we’re advancing and this is the World Cup and that’s all that matters.”
The United States last lost in the group stage to Sweden at the 2011 World Cup, but the Americans still advanced to the final before losing on penalties to Japan.
The Americans have not needed the final group-stage match to learn their tournament fate since 2007, when there was only a slim chance for elimination.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.