Megan Rapinoe penalty kick gives USWNT draw with Sweden in final minutes

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Julia Poe, Orlando Sentinel
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A controversial penalty call helped the United States women’s national team extend its unbeaten streak with a 1-1 draw against Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday.

After the U.S. trailed by a goal for most of the match, defender Kelley O’Hara pulled a ball out wide in the box to launch a last-minute attack. Sweden’s Sofia Jakobsson crashed into O’Hara from behind, sending her sprawling to the ground.

The decision drew controversy from fans and analysts on the broadcast because O’Hara appeared to step out of the box during the contact, which would call for a free kick rather than a penalty. But the referee didn’t hesitate to call, awarding the Americans a penalty kick.

Megan Rapinoe buried the penalty calmly to equalize the score in the 87th minute.

The penalty saved the Americans from dropping their first loss under coach Vlatko Andonovski, who has gone 16-0-1 during his first two years in the position. But with the Tokyo Olympics looming, Andonovski was far from satisfied with the team’s performance.

“We were not cleaning up, our touch was off, our pass was off and that was our base on giving up counter attacks,” Andonovski said. “We were not consistent enough in the things we did well.”

Sweden punched first in a challenging, disjointed match for the Americans, scoring off a set piece in the 38th minute. Star striker Kosovare Asllani curled a corner kick into the box to find Lina Hurtig unmarked.

The Swedes carried the 1-0 lead for most of the match, marking the first time the Americans had gone down by a goal since before the 2019 World Cup.

U.S. defender Tierna Davidson said the team’s halftime collaboration was critical to change the tone of the game, with players huddling up to address specific tactical shifts and challenges.

“That’s a position we haven’t been in for awhile, so I think it was a very good challenge for us,” Davidson said. “We definitely were a bit delayed on some of our problem solving. I think that as we approach this summer, we’ll get much sharper on solving problems quickly, not having to wait until halftime, not having to wait until we have long conversations about things and being able to just really read each other.”

Although the Americans created several scoring opportunities throughout the second half, they failed to make any threatening shots on goal. Meanwhile, the Swedish attack appeared to disorient the U.S. backline, tearing up the left flank.

The U.S. nearly conceded again in the second half when keeper Alyssa Naeher mistimed a slide to tackle a ball away from a defender, leaving multiple Swedish attackers with the ball in front of an open goal.

Although she expressed frustration in the team’s performance, Rapinoe said the match delivered a much-needed “punch in the mouth” for the Americans as they prepare for the Olympics.

“The whole game, I was thinking, ‘This is exactly what we need,’” Rapinoe said. “We were very sloppy. Tactically, we needed to be a lot better, but those are the games where you kind of have to dig in.

“The more we can get punched in the mouth, the better.”

The match marked a historic milestone for U.S. star Carli Lloyd, who became the third women’s soccer player to make 300 appearances at the international level. Lloyd joins fellow Americans Kristine Lilly (354) and Christie Pearce (311) in this category.

Although defender Becky Sauerbrunn is the team’s solo captain, Lloyd started the match wearing the captain’s armband.

Orlando Pride star Alex Morgan replaced Lloyd in the 65th minute as she continues to work back into her role as starting striker following her daughter’s birth last year.

The U.S. women’s national team will face France in Le Havre April 13 for its second friendly of the April international window. The match will kick off at 3 p.m. ET with a live broadcast on ESPN2.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.