What the loss to Sweden in Rio meant to the USWNT
Players past and present explain mentality of being motivated by defeats
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By Erin Fish with USA
Some of the greatest lessons in life come from our greatest failures.
While the US women’s national team has the mentality to always look forward, players also retain images of past defeats - because they are fueled by the emotions those images stir.
The only time the holders have ever been knocked out before the semi-finals in any major tournament was at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where they lost to Sweden in penalties. That defeat shocked the world, coming as it did just a year after the Americans had taken home their third FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“Losing that game and just that feeling when the whistle blew, and you knew it was over, just that feeling, it still hasn’t left,” US midfielder Allie Long told FIFA.com. “And of course, we are looking towards the future but you always kind of want to remember those moments just to drive you to be even better next time.”
This method of motivation is nothing new for the US. Legendary striker Abby Wambach released a book this year titled ‘Wolfpack’. In one chapter titled ‘Make Failure Your Fuel’, she discussed her formative days on the national team and how older players on the 1996 team introduced her to this concept.
“What I remember most vividly is a 5x7 photograph,” Wambach wrote in ‘Wolfpack’. “Someone had taped this small picture next to the door so it would be the last thing every player saw before she headed out to the training field.”
That photo was of Norway celebrating after they had beaten USA the year before in the 1995 World Cup. It was the last time the team had lost. The next year that same team won gold at the 1996 Olympics.
Wambach looked up to these women and soon bought into their theory of changing failures to fuel. This mentality would drive them forward. The drive was passed down from generation to generation.
In 2011, when the USA lost to Japan in the final, they looked ahead to the next with a sense of unfinished business. As defender Kelley O’Hara told FIFA.com: “In 2015 we were just so hell-bent on finishing what we started.”
It should be no surprise therefore that, after the US lost in Rio to Sweden, USA’s defender-turned-midfielder Julie Ertz kept a photo of the match as the screensaver on her phone.
Long, who started in the match against Sweden at the Rio Olympics, described the emotions and thoughts after the game as, ‘What if’? The entire team was left wondering how the outcome could have been different.
“Although it was such an upsetting feeling, I feel like this team needed that,” Long said. “You’re going to learn more in your failures than in your successes and I think that we needed that to kind of shape us into this powerful, united team.”