USWNT ‘not panicking’ amid ‘frustrating’ criticism of World Cup performance

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — The U.S. women’s national team is “not panicking” after its underwhelming 2023 World Cup group stage, forward Lynn Williams said here Thursday. But its bubble isn’t impervious to the hysteria that has swirled around the team ever since a 0-0 draw with Portugal.

“It is noise,” co-captain Lindsey Horan said. “Sometimes you hear it, you see it, and sometimes it’s hard to get away from it.”

But, Williams said, “that’s the outside world, not us.”

Horan acknowledged that the World Cup feels like a “pressure cooker.” But, she said, “us being the U.S. national team, we’re always gonna have that. You guys always wanna talk about us. And we’re gonna take that pressure, we’re gonna go with it, but we’re gonna focus on ourselves, look at everything internally, try to keep the noise out as much as possible.”

So they’ve been meeting, as players and with coaches. They’ve been talking, individually and as a group, and also “having fun with each other,” Williams said. They’ve been talking about Sweden, their Round of 16 opponent (Sunday, 5 a.m. ET, Fox), but also about trying to refind joy.

“We want this so badly that sometimes I think we lose track of why we started to play, and why we’re here,” Williams said. “It’s because we love the game, and we love absolutely playing, and we love these moments on the world stage. That’s why we put our bodies through so much, and sacrifice so much. And it’s a lot of people’s first tournament, mine included, so you just wanna go out there and perform so badly that sometimes you forget about all the joy.”

Horan added: “Maybe in this last Portugal game, it was so heated the entire game, it felt like it was nonstop, so much going on that you didn’t get a second to just truly enjoy what we were doing. And we couldn’t find that rhythm. … It’s not a good feeling to have.”

After the Portugal game, Horan acknowledged, despite their progress to the Round of 16, “it almost did feel like a disappointing feeling, because we didn’t play as great as we wanted to, we didn’t score.”

But after a full-team huddle, and after a passionate speech from veteran defender Kelley O’Hara, after some players looked spooked, there had been an apparent effort to lighten the mood. Some players were filmed dancing. Others smiled for selfies with fans who’d traveled halfway around the world and hung around after the final whistle at Eden Park.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 03: Lindsey Horan #10 of the United States speaks during a press conference on August 03, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images)

USWNT co-captain Lindsey Horan defended the team from mounting criticism at a Thursday news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images)

After seeing footage of those interactions on TV, Carli Lloyd, a former USWNT star-turned-Fox Sports analyst, criticized her former teammates. She also questioned their “passion” and mentality, calling their performance “very lackluster” and “uninspiring.”

Speaking after the match, head coach Vlatko Andonovski pushed back on that criticism. “To question the mentality of this team, to question the willingness to win, to compete, I think it’s insane,” he said.

Two days later, Horan was asked for her response to Lloyd’s comments. “It’s kinda frustrating for me to hear,” Horan said. “Especially knowing this team, and knowing how much we put into every single game, how much preparation we put into every single game, seeing our trainings, seeing how hard we work.”

She continued after a brief, semi-incredulous chuckle: “You can’t question that we didn’t want to win the game. You can’t question that we weren’t working as hard as we possibly could. We know that things could’ve been better, we know that we could’ve done more, we know that we could’ve scored opportunities. [But] again, it was a really good team that we faced.

“So, for me, it’s like — again, it’s noise, and it’s an opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and we know that’s how it goes. But … I always wanna defend my team, and say, like, you have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, you have no idea every single training what we’re doing individually, collectively, etc.

“So, for anyone to question our mentality hurts a little bit. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really care.”

What matters, Horan said, is “what’s going on inside of here, it’s what’s going on inside of the team, and getting ready for the next game.”

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