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Dorrance: Domination no assurance of victory

Statistical advantages in possession and shots was not enough to see the United States past Sweden. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Statistical advantages in possession and shots was not enough to see the United States past Sweden. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Statistics can be used in the same way a drunk uses a light pole – for support instead of illumination. However, when reviewing the USA’s shocking quarterfinal loss to Sweden in penalties, statistics from the game do both.

Not only do the stats support the idea that the U.S. was the dominant team, but they also shine a light on what Anson Dorrance describes as “this bizarre game we all love.”

In the days leading up the U.S.-Sweden match, Dorrance, the head coach of the 21-time NCAA champion University of North Carolina, believed the U.S. would dominate Sweden.

“Trust me, there are 1,000 ways you lose a soccer game,” Dorrance told the Equalizer last week. “And as I mention every time I make a prediction, anything can happen in a soccer game, but here’s what I know –I know we will dominate Sweden, and usually if you dominate, you win.”

{LAULETTA: Five reasons the Olympics are over for USWNT}

Dominate is one of the most over-used and incorrectly used words in sports. For example, the U.S. Under-15 national team recently outshot Trinidad and Tobago 36-0 and won 22-0. That, on the most definitive end of the scale, qualifies as a dominant performance. Domination, however, can also be relative to the tournament, and in the Olympics, the USA’s performance against Sweden seems to qualify.

Let’s look at the stats for support. The USA outshot Sweden 27-6 (6-2 on goal). The corners were 12-3 in the USA’s favor. Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl made five saves, while Hope Solo made one. The Americans had possession of the ball for 64 percent of the 120 minutes.

“This game we are involved in is so difficult to win,” says Dorrance. “Dominating doesn’t deliver a victory, and there’s no better example than our game with Sweden because we were certainly the dominant team.”

The lopsided statistics also add illumination to Sweden’s game plan. Knowing it is far easier to destroy than create, especially when faced with a superior opponent, coach Pia Sundhage used her knowledge of the U.S. style and system to create a patient, destructive, counter-attacking plan her players executed well.

“A soccer game is really bizarre,” Dorrance says. “I think you can predict who is going to dominate before the game begins. The interesting thing about our game is domination doesn’t deliver victory. You can outshoot a team 40-1 and lose on that one shot. We have all been involved in games like that.

{CURREN: Things learned from USWNT loss to Sweden}

“There are strategies now to beat dominant teams, and I felt Sweden played theirs well — the bunker and counter and counter-pressing. I thought they did a really good job and made it very difficult for us to play. Not that the goal was a fluke. It was a well-executed counter-attack. But we sat on them, and why did we sit on them? It was because we are a better team. But the better team was not delivered a victory.

“If we take the goals out of it and talk about it, the U.S. clearly deserved to win. To some extent, Sweden dodged a lot of bullets and the U.S. didn’t dodge any.”

Something Missing

It may have been the disjointed flow of the game, which Sweden interrupted with 15 fouls (to the USA’s four), or the way the Swedish bunker took space away in the USA’s attacking third, or maybe it had to do with travel after the Colombia game in Manaus. Or it might just have been one of those things involved in the frustratingly weird game of soccer.

“I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason we just didn’t play dynamically,” says Dorrance. “We looked sluggish. We just didn’t look ourselves.”

Whether the USA didn’t bring in, or Sweden took it away has and will be debated for a long time. But one of the strengths of the U.S. team was missing

“I think one of the best qualities that we possess is how quickly we can play and how quickly we can move,” says Dorrance.“I think that seemed to be missing some of the time against Sweden.

{MORE: Solo calls Sweden cowards for defensice game plan; Pia unfazed}

“There are three people who I thought played dynamically. Dunn did when she came in. The game changed when she came in. Obviously, Pugh did, and I thought Christen Press, who came in late, did. But I don’t think we played the game at a sprint, and I think that hurt us.”

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Watching the game unfold, through the frustrating 90 minutes, into the odd extra time, and watching each team have what appeared to be legitimate goals disallowed, Dorrance had a bad feeling as the shootout began.

“The thing that always scares me about PKs is that usually the team that dominates the game loses in penalty kicks,” he says. “But the mitigating factor, the reason I thought we had a chance to win, is there is a cliché that the better goalkeeper will win. And I thought we had the superior goalkeeper. But Sweden were very good at penalties.”

There is a lot of time now. The 2019 World Cup seems like a long, long way off because it is. There is plenty of time to debate what went wrong – player selection, mentality, tactics, game plans, the list is as long as the time available to discuss it. But the bottom line for now, is that the U.S. lost.

The time to use the light pole for support is past. The U.S. coaches will turn their attention to illumination, and part of that is to understand that sometimes the reason is that soccer is a strange game.

“We came up against a good team and got knocked out,” says Dorrance. “I don’t think that’s indicative of Sweden’s strength as a team. For example, I don’t think they are going to advance to the medal round, and I think we could have.

“But that’s the nature of a tournament where you don’t play the best of seven. Obviously if we played Sweden seven times, we would beat them five or six times and probably tie once.I don’t think we have anything to complain about other than the nature of the game. Sometimes there is absolutely no justice in our game. I thought this was an example of it.”

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