The United States beat Australia 4-3 on Thursday, sealing a women’s soccer bronze medal in what could be a final prize in the international careers of several iconic American stars.
Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe sealed the Olympic medal for Team USA with two goals apiece in Kashima, aided by a late defensive effort to survive a dramatic comeback.
The team’s quest for another gold was ended in a 1-0 semifinal loss to Canada, which faces Sweden on Friday in the gold medal match.
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The USWNT will leave Japan disappointed with a third-place finish, in a scene starkly different from just 23 months ago.
That’s when the Americans swaggered their way to the World Cup championship in France and were celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York City days later.
The Americans also won gold medals at the 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games, as well as a silver in Australia in 2002.
But there was no such glory at the Tokyo Olympics, where the team looked out of sorts throughout the tournament.
They did at least deliver a performance with a medal on the line.
Rapinoe put the U.S. in front after 8 minutes with an unorthodox goal direct from a corner kick — fittingly named an Olimpico.
Australia’s legendary forward Sam Kerr briefly leveled after 17 minutes as the game threatened to become the latest titanic battle between the two countries across Olympic sports.
But Rapinoe restored the American lead with a stunning volley soon after, and from that point there seemed only one winner.
Lloyd scored either side of half time to surpass Abby Wambach as the leading American scorer at Olympic games, in what is surely her final appearance.
Australia scored again minutes later but the U.S. appeared set to ride out a comfortable win until a stoppage time goal from Emily Gielnik made it 4-3.
It was too little, too late for Australia’s ‘Matildas,’ however and the U.S. survived to seal a bronze end to a golden era in women’s soccer.
The U.S. roster that just concluded play in Japan included nearly a dozen players, 30 or older, who have become household names thanks to mantles filled with Olympic medals, World Cup trophies and individual honors.
When the USWNT forms for the 2023 World Cup, it’ll be difficult to picture forwards Lloyd, 39, and Rapinoe, 36, and defender Becky Sauerbrunn, 36, packing for Australia and New Zealand.
And U.S. fans could have to brace themselves for a World Cup side that could exclude — or bring reduced roles for — goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, 33, defender Kelley O’Hara, 33, and forwards Tobin Heath, 33, Alex Morgan, 32, and Christen Press, 32.
These U.S. veterans have been the backbone of World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019 and the 2012 gold in London. Lloyd and Heath were on the 2008 golden team in Beijing.
Not only has this group brought home hardware, they’ve also been responsible for some of the sport’s most memorable moments over the past decade.
Lloyd introduced herself to the world soccer stage in 2008, scoring an iconic extra-time winner in the gold medal match against Brazil. Her hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final famously included an absurd strike from midfield that stunned Japan.
Morgan will forever be known for the 123rd-minute header she scored in the Olympic semifinals in London 2012, handing the U.S. an epic 4-3 victory over Canada. Her tea sipping and Rapinoe’s outstretched arms were among the most meme-able images of the 2015 World Cup, which the U.S. won behind a Lloyd hattrick in the final against Japan.