It wasn’t a great Tournament of Nations for the United States up until this game. A 1-0 loss to Australia started things off (although looking at what Australia did to Brazil and Japan, a 1-0 loss in the proper perspective starts to seem not as bad) and a mad scramble to come back 4-3 against Brazil, a team that Australia promptly demolished 6-1.
But the USWNT seemed to really think on their mistakes, because they came out of the gate against Japan already mid-sprint, and for about 20 minutes looked like a bright, possessing team able to quickly put the ball into the 18 for a couple of different attackers. Part of that was a changed lineup that was more dominant and connective in midfield, and part of it was the forwards looking much more relaxed.
For the most part that was Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press, who worked in a very fluid front line that had them playing off of each other early and often. With Julie Ertz commanding the midfield and setting up Sam Mewis to put the ball in for the forwards, the US created plenty of early chances.
They paid off in the 11’ as a great stop from Abby Dahlkemper led to a fast counter to Christen Press. Press put Pinoe in with a lovely ball slipped through two defenders and Pinoe had the presence of mind to fake out her defender before finishing it.
The US stayed compressed in pretty tight lines around midfield to press high but Japan eventually began stretching them out, winning back the ball with patient possession and probing for weaknesses in the defense.
There was a slight spanner in the works when Kelley O’Hara had to sub out in the 31’ with an as-yet-unknown ailment, replaced by Taylor Smith at RB. Then in the 34’ Japan spotted their opening and a series of botched clearances and strange ball bounces had them in on goal until Julie Ertz slid in for the goal line clearance. She went bodily into the goalpost and had to come of for treatment, though she eventually returned.
Japan continued to try and play their game for the rest of the half but couldn’t find the way through, and teams went into the halftime at 1-0 with the US in the lead.
The United States didn’t really find that fire again in the second half, but they did put together a very solid, consistent performance. This despite Ertz having to come off in the 54’ as her goalpost collision caught up with her. Allie Long came on in a like-for-like sub and the difference was noticeable as Long wasn’t quite as commanding of that space in front of the back four. But it was enough, as Japan looked a bit timid on the attack, and the United States managed to score again in the 60’ as Taylor Smith perfectly fed Mal Pugh on the run and Pugh finished at an angle to make it 2-0.
The next sub was in the 65’ as Lindsey Horan came in for Carli Lloyd. Lloyd was a bit quiet on the night and Horan had a livelier presence, using her connection with Portland Thorns teammate Long to her advantage to help get the attack moving forward.
Japan had a chance in the 68’ as they were able to slip Madoka Haji in behind Becky Sauerbrunn, but Haji’s shot was wide as Naeher came off her line and closed down the angle.
Ellis made a full line change in the 73’, subbing in Alex Morgan, Lynn Williams, and Sydney Leroux for Press, Rapinoe, and Pugh. It took a little bit, but Morgan, Williams, and Leroux eventually looked fairly fluid as a front line of three. They were helped by Horan, who made a nice simple pass in the 78’ to Casey Short that really opened up the field and let them pour some numbers into the box.
Sam Mewis continued to help set the pace in the midfield and kept control in the final 10 minutes of the game. She fed Taylor Smith a beautiful ball in the 81’ and Smith found Alex Morgan’s foot right in front of goal. Alex Morgan touched the ball in, a deflection unable to save Japan from the United States making it 3-0.
The US closed out the game with a really nice spell of possession as they tried to pull Japan out of their disciplined deep lines, but it was to be three and no more. Still, those were three nice goals from open play from three different scorers, and even if the US backed off their high tempo, they didn’t go into full sleep mode. It was more patient than that, which might not be super exciting, but is definitely not nearly as anxiety-making as their previous games against Australia and Brazil. They finish out this tournament in second place with six points and seven goals in three games.
Next up: a mad dash back to their NWSL clubs, as teams are playing this weekend. Teams playing Friday won’t get their players back in time, but some NT players will be expected to show up for their clubs on Saturday.
The USWNT will be in action again in mid-September for a two-game series against New Zealand in Denver and Cincinnati.