The standards are such with the No. 1-ranked U.S. women’s national team that it’s a failure merely to be playing in a bronze medal match. If the defending World Cup champions miss out entirely on the podium, it would be considered a competitive catastrophe that would lead to plenty of soul-searching in the U.S. women’s program.
That’s the kind of pressure facing a USWNT that’s previously featured in five of the six women’s soccer gold-medal matches that have been played. In its first bronze medal match (Thursday, 4 a.m. ET), the USA will be facing an Australian women’s team that is playing for a medal for the first time in its history and riding real momentum, outshooting Sweden 13-9 in a 1-0 semifinal loss. The two teams have already faced off in the final match of the group stage — a 0-0 draw during which neither team forced the issue in the second half given it was a convenient result for both to advance.
Since that game, the two teams are riding very different vibes. Outside of a 6-1 win against New Zealand in the group stage, the USA has struggled to play well or find a rhythm to its play, and the usual high-flying attack has sputtered during an unthinkable three shutouts in five matches. The Americans outshot Canada 13-3 in the semifinal, but only got four of those shots on target and lost the match 1-0. More concerning to U.S. fans in that match was the fact that the team looked out of energy, ideas and fight, and there was no cohesion to its play. It’s unclear whether the U.S. women can just flip the switch from one game to the next. Should the American fall to the Aussies, it will be their third loss in six matches in Tokyo. Coming into the Olympics, the USWNT had lost just three times in its previous 68 matches.
Australia, which qualified to the knockouts as the third-place team from Group G, has a win against Great Britain (4-3 in the quarters), the 0-0 draw against the No. 1 team (USA) and the Matildas have also given Sweden its toughest matches at the Olympics despite losing both (4-2 in the group stage and 1-0 in the semifinal). They’re playing the game with fearlessness and scoring goals (star forward Sam Kerr has five of them). And the Aussies are speaking like the intimidation factor the USA used to have will not be there in the bronze medal match:
“Nah, we can beat them. Doesn’t matter who it is,” Australia goalkeeper Teagan Micah said when asked if Australia was worried about the USWNT. “We feel like we were the better side last time [in the group stage]. We just gotta go out there and do it again.”
How to watch USWNT vs. Australia bronze medal game
- Date: Thursday, Aug. 5
- Time: 4 a.m. ET
- TV Channels: USA Network
- Spanish-language TV: Telemundo
- Streaming: fuboTV, NBCOlympics.com, TelemundoDeportes.com, NBC Sports app and Telemundo Deportes app (with user authentication)
The USA vs. Australia bronze medal match will air live on USA Network and Telemundo at 4 a.m. ET. Both networks are available to stream on fuboTV (free 7-day trial).
All soccer matches are also streamed in the USA on NBCOlympics.com, TelemundoDeportes.com, NBC Sports app and the Telemundo Deportes app — all with user authentication.
USWNT vs. Australia: Projected lineups
Since it’s the final match for the USA at the 2021 Olympics and anything short of a win would mean the Americans go home without a medal, it’s safe to assume there won’t be any more calculated player rotations or other number crunching by the U.S. coaching staff when it comes to player minutes.
MORE: USWNT prize money for winning bronze medal
Adrianna French will be the starting goalkeeper in place of Alyssa Naeher, who hyperextended her right knee in the first half of the semifinal vs. Canada. And you’ve got to figure that 36-year-old Megan Rapinoe and 39-year-old Carli Lloyd will get the start in what is likely to be their last Olympic match.
The USWNT, and specifically Rapinoe, will be fortunate not to have to deal with the suspended Australian defender Ellie Carpenter, who’s one of the best in the world and received a red card at the end of the semifinal match against Sweden. Outside of the forced Carpenter replacement, other changes are unlikely. Although several starters have logged significant minutes during these Olympics, it’s hard to see manager Tony Gustavsson disrupting the group chemistry which has delivered strong results so far.
Projected starters (4-3-3, left to right): 18-Adrianna Franch-GK — 2-Crystal Dunn, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 17-Abby Dahlkemper, 5-Kelley O’Hara — 9-Lindsey Horan, 8-Julie Ertz, 16-Rose Lavelle — 15-Megan Rapinoe, 10-Carli Lloyd, 11-Christen Press
Projected substitutes: 22-Jane Campbell-GK, 12-Tierna Davidson, 14-Emily Sonnett, 3-Samantha Mewis, 7-Tobin Heath, 13-Alex Morgan, 21-Lynn Williams
Projected to sit out: 1-Alyssa Naeher (injured), 20-Casey Krueger, 19-Catarina Macario, 6-Kristie Mewis
Projected starters (3-4-3, left to right): 18-Teagan Micah-GK — 7-Steph Catley, 4-Clare Polkinghorne, 14-Alanna Kennedy — 13-Tameka Yallop, 6-Chloe Logarzo, 10-Emily van Egmond, 16-Hayley Raso — 9-Caitlin Foord, 2-Sam Kerr, 17-Kyah Simon
Projected substitutes: 1-Lydia Williams, 5-Aivi Luik, 8-Elise Kellond-Knight, 21-Laura Brock, 3-Kyra Cooney-Cross, 15-Emily Gielnik, 11-Mary Fowler
Projected to sit out: 22-Mackenzie Arnold-GK, 12-Ellie Carpenter (suspended), 19-Courtney Nevin, 20-Charlotte Grant
USA vs. Australia: Odds & prediction
This has been a transformative tournament for Australia’s Matildas, who will come away from it feeling they can compete and win against some of the best teams in the world. Boosted by that injection of belief, they’ll play with the urgency and energy of a team that’s in its first medal match.
Against a USWNT that is still trying to find its way, the Australian team will make this a close game, as has been the case in each of its previous five matches in this competition. Even if they fall behind, the Aussies have shown they can come back, and they’ll also have the most in-form forwards in this matchup to do it, led by Kerr (below).
The 0-0 tie in the group stage was a unique case given what it meant for advancement. A scoreless draw is probably not in the cards with both teams going all out to claim the bronze medal. In the last 11 matches in the series (since 2008) both teams scored in eight of those 11 matches.
Although it didn’t work out in their first matchup, playing the “both teams to score” (BTTS) could actually work this time (-130 and +160 with no draw). Also, if you buy into a close game, the Australia double chance (+110) or the +0.75 Asian Handicap spread (-115) are attractive odds.
Prediction: Australia 2, USA 1
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- Australia to win (90 mins): +400
- Draw (90 mins): +260
- USA to win (90 mins): -130
- Both teams to score: -130
- Both teams to score, no draw: +160
- Over 2.5 total goals: -120
- Double chance: Australia win or draw: +110
- Australia +0.75 Asian Handicap: -115