The U.S. Women's National Team would not allow history to repeat itself.
Not when the team waited five years to avenge a shocking quarterfinal loss on penalty kicks in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Not when the team found themselves facing that same scenario again on Friday in Tokyo. Not when the team could be participating in the final Olympic run for a veteran core looking to restore the team’s pride and long-established gold standard.
They’ll continue to get the opportunity to do so after the U.S. defeated Netherlands 4-2 in penalty kicks during their quarterfinal knockout matchup of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. It was one of those gold-medal winning veterans, Megan Rapinoe, who scored the winning PK, firing into the upper corner of the net to send the United States to the semifinals against Canada.
Rose Lavelle, Alex Morgan and Christen Press also scored during penalty kicks. U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher made two stops - plus another on a penalty kick late in regulation to protect a 2-2 tie - to seal the dramatic victory.
It was what could be viewed by many as an upset win for a U.S. team not accustomed to being titled the underdog. After the USWNT won just one of its three group play games – getting shutout in the opener by Sweden and in a scoreless draw with Australia – the team no longer could be considered the overwhelming favorite it had been while winning four of six gold medals since women’s soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996.
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Still, the USWNT is looking to become the first to win Olympic gold directly after winning the World Cup. To continue its quest to do so, the team first had to defeat the opponent they beat in the final of the World Cup two years ago.
Netherlands, the reigning European champions, entered Friday’s quarterfinal scoring goals at a record-breaking pace, tallying 21 in group play to break the previous record of 16 set by the U.S. in 2012. The team has been led offensively by striker Vivianne Miedema, who entered with eight goals, also an Olympic group stage record.
The U.S. came out as aggressive on the attack as the team had been in Tokyo, spending the majority of the opening 18 minutes dominating possession in Netherlands’ half.
The USWNT had a goal negated by offside in the 10th minute after Julie Ertz set up Tobin Heath for the score. Another near goal came when Lynn Williams sent a cross to Lindsey Horan, whose header required a diving stop by keeper Sari Van Veenendaal in the 14th minute.
Dominant as the USWNT had been to that point, the team soon found itself facing an early deficit. With the U.S. unable to clear the ball in the box, Miedema turned while surrounded by defenders and fired just inside the post to give the Netherlands a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
What had been a mostly stagnant U.S. attack throughout the Tokyo Games then responded with a pair of goals in a 2:24 second span to take the lead. Sam Mewis knocked in a diving header off a feed from Lynn Williams to even the score at 1-1 in the 28th minute. Following a corner kick, Williams' strike from the box found the back of the net to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead over Netherlands in the 31st minute.
The U.S. carried that lead into the half before Miedema struck again early in the second half, finding a gap and firing from the top of the box in the 54th minute to even the score at 2-2. It was her 10th (and final) goal of the Tokyo Olympics.
The challenge for the U.S. was not just to find the back of the net, but to do so and have the goal count. An ugly trend for the USWNT during the Tokyo Olympics continued Friday as multiple offside calls negated U.S. goals. The astounding total, with four more disallowed goals against Netherlands, reached nine, all by way of offside. That means the U.S. has more disallowed goals (9) than goals scored (8) in Tokyo.
Press knocked in a cross from Lindsey Horan in the 63rd minute for what seemed like a crucial go-ahead goal to break a 2-2 tie, but it was waived off for offside and the call was upheld after a lengthy review.
The score remained tied, and Naeher made sure to keep it that way with some foreshadowing of what was soon to come.
After a penalty on Kelly O'Hara in the box in the 80th minute of a 2-2 game, Naeher made a potential medal-saving diving stop on the ensuing penalty kick by Lieke Martens to keep the U.S. tied.
Then came extra time, where Netherlands had a disallowed goal in the first session, and the U.S. had two disallowed goals in the second session as the two teams were held scoreless through 30 additional minutes.
That set the stage for penalty kicks, which concluded when Rapinoe’s strike found the back of the net. She turned - arms crossed for her latest big-game, post-goal celebratory pose - and was swarmed by her teammates. The U.S. advanced to play Canada in the semifinals on Monday at 4 a.m. ET.
There the USWNT will look to continue its quest for gold, its restoration of pride, and its rewriting of the history books.