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US beats Australia 4-3, wins Olympic bronze in likely end for golden era of women's soccer

Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe sealed the Olympic medal for Team USA with two goals each, aided by a late defensive effort to survive a dramatic comeback.
USA's forward Carli Lloyd is congratulated by teammates after scoring during the 2020 Olympic Games women's bronze medal football match between Australia and the United States in Tokyo.Jeff Pachoud / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

The United States beat Australia 4-3 on Thursday, sealing a women's soccer bronze medal in what could be a final prize in the international careers of several iconic American stars.

Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe sealed the Olympic medal for Team USA with two goals each in Kashima, Japan, aided by a late defensive effort to survive a dramatic comeback by Australia.

The team's quest for another gold ended in a 1-0 semifinal loss to Canada, which faces Sweden on Friday in the gold medal match.

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After the match, Lloyd, 39, strongly hinted it could have been her final, major international match.

"I've had a different ... mindset going into this one," she told reporters. "No, I haven't made any official announcement yet. But obviously I am at the tail end of my career. Physically I feel really good, but at some point I have to hang up the boots and live life."

As the team traveled to Ibaraki Kashima Stadium for the match, Lloyd said, even that short journey seemed to have special meaning.

"It's been 17 years of just grinding away," she said. "So yeah, I took it in. I think that the drive over to the game was different. I was just thinking about a lot of things and just wanted to do everything possible to help this team to win a medal."

Lloyd put the best face possible on the U.S. team that will leave Japan disappointed with a third-place finish, in a scene starkly different from just 23 months ago.

United States v Australia: Bronze Medal Match Women's Football - Olympics: Day 13
Megan Rapinoe celebrates the United States' victory after the women's bronze medal match between the U.S. and Australia.Elsa / Getty Images

That's when the Americans swaggered their way to the World Cup championship in France and were celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York City days later.

The Americans also won gold medals at the 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games, as well as a silver in Australia in 2000.

“It’s very satisfying. I think we all realized we didn’t play the best this entire tournament,” U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn said.

“So to have the response that we did after a very disappointing semifinal, to show the USA mentality and the resiliency, to put the performance in that we wanted to be playing the entire time and to finally find it in a game like that — very satisfying.”

But there was no such glory at the Tokyo Olympics, where the team looked out of sorts throughout the tournament.

It did at least deliver a performance with a medal on the line. Lloyd said a team meeting after the semifinal loss to Canada put the Americans in a better frame of mind.

"We kind of got slapped in the face the first game against Sweden [a 3-0 loss], and then we just couldn't find our way and then the loss against Canada didn't sit well with any of us," said Lloyd, a native of Delran, New Jersey.

"The general theme was people talked about what they were feeling. But at the end of the day it's about a mentality that this team has had forever."

She said Thursday's match was more indicative of what women's American soccer is all about, especially in the opening minutes.

"It was important for everybody to hear that ... this medal, this third-place game that we're fighting for, is just as important [as] if we were in a gold medal match," Lloyd said.

Rapinoe put the U.S. in front after 8 minutes with an unorthodox goal direct from a corner kick — fittingly named an Olimpico.

Australia's legendary forward Sam Kerr briefly leveled after 17 minutes as the game threatened to become the latest titanic battle between the two countries across Olympic sports.

But Rapinoe restored the American lead with a stunning volley soon after, and from that point there seemed only one winner.

Lloyd scored either side of halftime to surpass Abby Wambach as the leading U.S. scorer at the Olympic games, in what was surely her final appearance.

Australia scored again minutes later, but the U.S. appeared set to ride out a comfortable win until a stoppage time goal from Emily Gielnik made it 4-3.

It was too little, too late for Australia's "Matildas," however, and the U.S. survived to seal a bronze end to a golden era in women's soccer.

The U.S. roster that just concluded play in Japan included nearly a dozen players 30 or older who have become household names thanks to mantels filled with Olympic medals, World Cup trophies and individual honors.

When the U.S. team forms for the 2023 World Cup, it will be difficult to picture forwards Lloyd and Rapinoe, 36, and defender Sauerbrunn, 36, packing for Australia and New Zealand.

And U.S. fans could have to brace themselves for a World Cup side that could exclude — or have reduced roles for — goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, 33, defender Kelley O'Hara, 33, and forwards Tobin Heath, 33, Alex Morgan, 32, and Christen Press, 32.

Those U.S. veterans were the backbone of World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019 and the 2012 gold in London. Lloyd and Heath were on the 2008 golden team in Beijing.

Not only has the group brought home hardware, but it has also been responsible for some of the sport's most memorable moments over the past decade.

Lloyd introduced herself to the world soccer stage in 2008, scoring an iconic extra-time winner in the gold medal match against Brazil. Her hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final famously included an absurd strike from midfield that stunned Japan.

Morgan will forever be known for the 123rd-minute header she scored in the Olympic semifinals in London 2012, handing the U.S. an epic 4-3 victory over Canada.

Her tea sipping and Rapinoe's outstretched arms were among the most meme-able images of the 2019 World Cup.

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