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Women's World Cup: Who were USA's standout performers in the group stage?

Although the USWNT maintained its record of never going out in the group stage of a Women's World Cup, they are yet to click and standout performers have been few and far between.

Ranked number one in the world, the reigning champions were favorites to lift the trophy for the third straight time and fifth overall, but their performances so far suggest this feat may not be achieved.

After a comfortable 3-0 victory over Vietnam in their Group E opener, the USA had to battle back to draw 1-1 with the Netherlands before then playing out a nervy 0-0 against Portugal.

Had the Americans lost that clash against Portugal, they would have exited at the group stage for the first time and that very nearly happened, with Ana Capeta hitting the post in the 91st minute.

Instead, the US is onto the last 16, and we've selected some standout performers that helped them get there.

Lindsey Horan

Captain Lindsey Horan has been a crucial cog in midfield for the USA and she scored arguably the most crucial goal for her country in the group stage, netting the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with the Netherlands.

That was the Lyon star's second strike of the tournament, having scored in the 3-0 victory over Vietnam, and her brace has her sitting joint-top of her side's goals chart.

A part of the squad that lifted the trophy in 2019, the 29-year-old has been a consistent performer in Australia and New Zealand and her displays in the knockout stages will go a long way to deciding how far the USA go.

Sophia Smith

One of 14 World Cup debutants in the squad, Sophia Smith showed she can cut it on the biggest stage of them all with a brace in the opening win over Vietnam.

Not only did the 22-year-old end that contest with two goals, but she also chalked up an assist for the third in that fixture and she has been a rare bright spark in the final third.

The Portland Thorns ace now has 14 goals in 33 caps for her country and looks set to be leading force in the years to come, especially with Megan Rapinoe retiring and 34-year-old Alex Morgan not expected to feature at another World Cup.

The pressure of being one of the main goal threats has found its way to Smith, but she has so far shown she can handle the increased expectations and that can only bode well for the rest of this tournament and the future.

Issues for the USWNT

With the US finishing second in their group it marks just the second time they have failed to top their pool at a World Cup - the other occasion being 2011 - while it is the first time they failed to win at least two group games at the major tournament.

The stalemate against Portugal is also the first time USWNT has failed to score in a World Cup match since 2015, while their overall tally of four goals in the pool is some 14 shy of the 18 netted in the group in 2019.

It's not like Vlatko Andonovski's side haven't been creating chances, they have had a massive 63 attempts and 17 of those have been on target, but their profligacy in front of goal is a concern.

Injuries ahead of the World Cup have certainly made things harder for the US, with forwards Mallory Swanson, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, midfielders Sam Mewis and Catarina Macario and defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper all absent.

Getting the balance right between youth and experience is proving tricky right now, but it would be foolish to write off the four-time champions and just scraping through their group may jolt them into action.

Next up is a last-16 stage clash against Sweden, the last nation to defeat the Stars and Stripes in a 90-minute game at the World Cup.

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