Anything short of an Olympic gold medal simply won’t be good enough for the U.S. women’s national soccer team. That’s the level of expectation and pressure the USWNT is facing when it plays its opening match at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday (4:30 a.m. ET), entering the tournament on a dominant 44-match unbeaten run.
But the U.S. women, heavy favorites to win their fifth Olympic soccer gold medal, will be facing a long-time nemesis in that first group-stage match: Sweden, ranked No. 5 in the world, is also the last team to bounce the U.S. from a major tournament in the quarterfinals of the last Olympics. The USWNT players say that early elimination will be plenty motivation in Tokyo.
Sweden will be the USWNT’s toughest opponent in Group G, which also includes Australia (ranked No. 9 in the world) and New Zealand (No. 22). In addition to the 2016 Olympic victory (in a penalty-kick shootout), the Swedes are also the last team to hold the USWNT to a draw: 1-1 in an exhibition match played on April 10 in Sweden (photo below). It’s the only match that the USA has failed to win since January of 2019, and it needed a late penalty kick just to come away with a tie.
Should history repeat itself on Wednesday, and the USA fails to beat Sweden, it won’t carry the same consequences. In the group stage, all the USWNT has to do is finish among the top two in Group G and it will advance to the single-elimination quarterfinals. The two best third-place finishers also get through.
How to watch USA vs. Sweden Olympic soccer
- Date: Wednesday, July 21
- Time: 4:30 a.m. ET
- TV channels: USA Network
- Spanish-language TV: Telemundo
- TV replays: NBCSN (8:30 a.m. ET & 6 p.m. ET)
- Streaming: fuboTV, NBCOlympics.com, TelemundoDeportes.com, NBC Sports app and Telemundo Deportes app (with user authentication)
USA vs. Sweden will air live on USA Network and Telemundo at 4:30 a.m. ET. It’s also scheduled to be replayed later that day on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. ET and 6 p.m. ET. NBCSN can be streamed on fuboTV (free 7-day trial).
All Olympic soccer matches will be streamed in the USA on NBCOlympics.com, TelemundoDeportes.com, NBC Sports app and the Telemundo Deportes app — all with user authentication.
MORE: Complete Olympic women’s soccer schedule
USWNT vs. Sweden projected lineups
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski is in his first major tournament at the helm of the USWNT and it’s not expected that he’ll spring any surprises with his lineup selections, which are sure to come under heavy scrutiny, as has been the case with USWNT coaches at major tournaments.
The only real question is the status of holding midfielder Julie Ertz (above), who’s normally a regular starter, but has been sidelined with a knee injury since May. She did not recover in time to play any of the tuneup matches prior to the Olympics, but she’s been seen in full practice in Tokyo.
Although the conventional practice is to ease players into action after a long injury absence and give them minutes off the bench, Ertz is such an important part of the team and this is such an important game, that it wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see her start. If she doesn’t, Lindsey Horan would once again deputize in the Ertz role, as she has throughout her injury layoff.
The Swedes played with a five-defender back line against the USA in April and it’s expected they roll it out again to ensure they can once again frustrate the Americans with a strong defensive stance. But even if the Swedes sit back, they’re talented in attack and their three forwards will prove a challenge.
MORE: U.S. women Olympic team roster
USWNT projected starters (4-3-3, left to right): 1-Alyssa Naeher — 2-Crystal Dunn, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 17-Abby Dahlkemper, 5-Kelley O’Hara — 3-Samantha Mewis, 9-Lindsey Horan, 16-Rose Lavelle — 15-Megan Rapinoe, 10-Carli Lloyd, 11-Christen Press
USWNT projected substitutes: 18-Adrianna Franch-GK, 12-Tierna Davidson, 14-Emily Sonnett, 8-Julie Ertz, 19-Catarina Macario, 7-Tobin Heath, 13-Alex Morgan. Projected to sit out: 22-Jane Campbell-GK, 20-Casey Krueger, 6-Kristie Mewis, 21-Lynn Williams
Sweden projected starters (5-2-3, left to right): 1-Hedvig Lindahl — 2-Jonna Andersson, 6-Magdalena Eriksson, 14-Nathalie Bjorn, 13-Amanda Ilestedt, 4-Hanna Glas — 17-Caroline Seger, 9-Kosovare Asllani — 8-Lina Hurtig, 11-Stina Blackstenius, 10-Sofia Jakobsson
Sweden projected substitutes: 12-Jennifer Falk-GK, 3-Emma Kullberg, 5-Hanna Bennison, 15-Olivia Schough, 7-Madelen Janogy, 19-Anna Anvegard, 18-Fridolina Rolfo. Projected to sit out: 22-Zecira Musovic-GK, 16-Filippa Angeldal, 20-Julia Roddar, 21-Rebecka Blomqvist
USA vs. Sweden odds & prediction
The USWNT can hear the noise and when the pressure is greatest, it’s a team that always seems to respond. Even though it’s only the opening match, there will definitely be an urgency to its game, fueled by revenge for 2016.
And the numbers definitely point to a USWNT opening win. The team’s all-time Olympic record is 25-2-5 (outscoring teams 64-32) and it’s won the first match in five of six trips to the Olympics with the lone blemish being a loss to Norway in 2008 (2-0).
MORE: Best bets for the USWNT Olympic tournament
But this will be a tight game because these two teams know each other all too well. The USA has faced Sweden at major tournaments more than any other nation (nine times) and the familiarity shows up in the results: The USA is only 7-3-6 in the last 15 meetings dating back to 2010 and seven of the last eight meetings between the USA and Sweden have finished in either a draw or a one-goal victory for one of the teams. The USA won the other match by a 2-0 result at the 2019 World Cup.
Given all the above, the published odds for a one-goal victory by the USA are not attractive. The way to play a tight matchup could be a look at the first-half draw (+110) or both-teams-to-score (+125) — there’s that much attacking talent on both sides. A halftime draw coupled with a fulltime U.S. win is available at +255.
Prediction: USA 2, Sweden 1
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- Sweden to win: +750
- Draw: +320
- USA to win: -235
- Both teams to score: +125
- Sweden double chance (win or tie): +185
- First-half draw: +110
- Tie at halftime / USA win at fulltime: +255