It's not often that the United States women's soccer team enters a competition with something to prove, but the reigning World Cup champions headed to Tokyo looking for redemption on the OIympic stage.
The U.S. failed to win a medal for the first time In its history when it exited at the quarterfinal stage in Brazil, and celebrated players like Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, and Rose Lavelle arrived in Japan seeking a first Olympic medal.
How's that quest gone so far? Well, there's been a little of everything.
- Team USA saw its 44-game unbeaten streak end as Andonovski lost for first time as the side's head coach... and lost big. Sweden clobbered the U.S. 3-0.
- A response? Of course. The United States took out its frustrations on New Zealand to the tune of a 6-1 win.
- So after a valley and a peak, the side didn't do much of anything in drawing Australia 0-0 to advance to the knockout rounds in Group G's second place.
A gold medal has arrived off of a substandard start for the team in a prior Olympics. Beijing 2008 started with a 2-0 loss to Norway and didn't see another setback en route to the podium.
What will Vlatko Andonovski's team have to do to get there next week?
What's gone right and wrong?
Let's begin with the obvious: The U.S. has been kept off the scoreboard in two matches. The clean sheets were quite different in nature, but have a few things in common.
The Americans lost the possession battle in both matches, allowed chances, and got nothing from some of its biggest names.
Megan Rapinoe is without a goal or assist and has been substituted after 65, 65, and 68 minutes of the three starts.
And the best attacking play hasn't come from Carli Lloyd or Alex Morgan, though the latter has shown the best of the three mentioned names, but from midfielder Rose Lavelle and marauding fullback Kelley O'Hara.
Lavelle is also a part of one of two positional combinations that are working for the team. Lavelle, Julie Ertz, and Lindsey Horan should be paired in any knockout round midfield, and Tierna Davidson has made a case to be teamed up with Becky Sauerbrunn. O'Hara has also been solid defensively and Ertz has delivered the goods in all areas of the pitch as a midfielder.
What's the path forward?
The path to gold is fraught with tough opponents thanks to the Americans' status as runners-up in Group G.
The bottom of the bracket has the No. 1 ranked USA, No. 4 Netherlands, No. 7 Brazil, and No. 8 Canada.
The top, where the Americans would be had they won the group or finished third, features the Nos. 5, 9, and 10 teams in addition to Great Britain, which features mostly players from No. 6 England but also some from Scotland and Wales.
First up for the U.S. is their 2019 World Cup final opponents Netherlands, who scored 21 goals in a weaker Group F but also allowed eight. Arsenal star Vivianne Miedema has scored multiple goals in each of their matches.
Should the U.S. beat the Dutch, they'll need to beat either Brazil or Canada to reach the Aug. 6 final in Tokyo.
Are the Americans still favorites to win gold? In the big picture, yes, but the Netherlands and Sweden have both looked much more dangerous than the U.S. and Brazil is coached by ex-USA coach Pia Sundhage. She led the Swedes to oust the U.S. from the 2016 games.