Anything less than Olympics final for USWNT would be ‘failure,’ Fox Sports’ Stu Holden says

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When it comes to the United States national soccer teams, the emphasis has been on the men as they head into a crucial summer between Copa América and the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

Meanwhile, it’s expected the women’s national team will have an easier time in Paris as one of the favorites to capture gold in the Olympics.

But after a failed trip to Australia in the Women’s World Cup last year as well as a group stage match loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, former USWNT member Carli Lloyd was blunt about how the U.S. stacks up against the rest of the competition these days. 

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Stu Holden smiles

Stu Holden (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images/File)

“Yes the whole world has caught up… but I actually hate when people say that because the #USWNT started to regress at 2020 Olympics and have gone backwards,” Lloyd wrote in a social media post in February. “.. now they have to rebuild and claw and climb their way back up #NoOneFearsTheUswntanymore.” 

Former men’s national team member and current Fox Sports soccer analyst Stu Holden couldn’t agree with Lloyd more. 

“You look at the soccer Spain played in the World Cup was some of the best I’ve seen,” Holden told Fox News Digital while discussing his love for Lotto, the Italian premier sports and lifestyle brand. “England played some wonderful soccer in the Women’s World Cup last summer.

“These teams have taken the game seriously now, and they’ve invested significantly in their infrastructure, youth development, and it’s all starting to now pay off years and years later. They saw the potential for the sport and young girls that wanted to play and needed avenues to play. You’re going to continue to see that to grow.”

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Holden likened the U.S. women’s team to how Brazil was always dominant on the men’s side with Pele leading the way, but the rest of the world eventually caught up with their team development. European powerhouses like Germany, France and Spain came around, though Brazil seems to have always been among the favorites to make a World Cup Final run or capture gold at the Olympics.

The USWNT is among the top three in the world, Holden said, but they are not unequivocally the best. In fact, they haven’t been able to capture gold at the Olympics since 2012.

That’s why he thinks a winning performance at the Paris Olympics is paramount to restore the fear that may be lost for this group. 

“I’ve seen and heard people talk about this tournament, including my colleague, Alexi Lalas, of, ‘Well, this Olympics is like a development tournament for the U.S., and it’s going to be [Emma Hayes’] first tournament in charge, and it’s going to be her first time with the team, and it’s the next crop of players. Let’s just use this to bring these girls through.’ No, you’re the United States of America. I don’t ever want that mentality to creep into our women’s national team, where we go into tournaments and not winning.”

Sophia Smith battles for the ball

Portugal’s Diana Gomes, left, tackles United States’ Sophia Smith during the Women’s World Cup Group E match in Auckland, New Zealand, on Aug. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

“That’s what makes that team great and made that team great over decades now. I used to love how they went into tournaments with an unapologetic attitude of, ‘We are the best. Come and take it from us. Good luck. We’re going to kick your butt,’” Holden said.

“You’re still the U.S., you still are a top two, three nation globally in women’s soccer, and it’s your duty as an American soccer player to restore that dominance and take that crown back. I hope they go in thinking that way,” he continued.

The USWNT’s recent struggles, by their standards, have led to negativity toward their off-the-field missions. It’s well-known the Megan Rapinoes and Alex Morgans of women’s soccer have been champions of women’s rights, gay rights and many other causes they wish to publicly speak on.

As Holden said, it’s clear “the women’s national team is certainly more than just a soccer team,” which he loves. But when the product on the field isn’t winning games, he feels it’s very easy for people to say it’s because they’re too focused on their off-the-field agenda.

“They are advocates for women’s rights, human rights, gay rights across the board,” he said. “That’s what they represent. I respect and have a lot of admiration for that, that they fight for more. But they also understand in moments when it’s not going well on the field, that’s the first thing (looked at).”

Alex Morgan plays during a soccer match

Alex Morgan of the United States is shown against Japan during the 2023 SheBelieves Cup, Feb. 19, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“I experienced the same as a player. Not about the same type of stuff, but if I was ever doing photo shoots, or this or that, it’s pointed to as a distraction by coaches, and it’s the easy thing for people to say. But I don’t think they care, they understand that’s part of it. They don’t listen to that noise because they feel it’s as important as what they do on the field. It’s just kind of embraced. I’m sure it affects them in different ways, but that will never stop them from doing that and being a part of the national team’s DNA for years to come.”

Holden is intrigued to see how the next generation of players on the USWNT lead the way in that regard, considering Rapinoe is no longer with the squad. 

“Now, it’s going to be Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Alyssa Thompson and some of these younger players, and it remains to be seen how involved and how out front they’ll be about the same types of things. Does it become more back towards performance on the field instead of off?”

Again, the USWNT is still a force to be reckoned with on the international stage. But they’re no longer the indestructible group that teams hated seeing on their schedule.

Former U.S. men's national team member Stu Holden looks into camera

Former U.S. men’s national team member and current Fox Sports analyst Stu Holden discusses the women’s national team ahead of the Olympics. (LOTTO/File)

A way to establish that dominance again for the USWNT could come this summer at the Olympics, where they drew a tough group stage that includes Australia, a team that reached the World Cup semifinals, Germany and Zambia.

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“You should [be] going into that tournament with the expectation to win, and I think anything less than the final is a failure,” Holden said.

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