Starting XI: Adrianna Franch, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O’Hara, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Tobin Heath
Perhaps the United States women’s national team was full of pent-up anger from dealing with infuriating statements from their federation over the past few days, or perhaps it was just the last of a three-game stretch and they knew they could burn some energy. Whatever the reason, they blasted off at top speed against Japan. Julie Ertz had them in the box literally within 15 seconds, hitting Megan Rapinoe on a diagonal, although Rapinoe was just off.
Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan similarly stomped around like titans in the midfield, at least for the first five minutes. Horan got tugged down early, with Japan’s Tanaka falling awkwardly and painfully on her shoulder. She did return to the field, though, and the resulting free kick - well, just look at this top skill from Rapinoe.
Rapinoe was one who started the game looking a little slow; she definitely hasn’t been as energetic as in the pats in this tournament, not making runs she might have made a year ago. But against Japan in the first half, Rapinoe was covering a lot of ground defensively, and certainly didn’t go to waste in trying to play in Christen Press. She took advantage of sloppy play from Japan to set up the second US goal, cutting off a pass from the goalkeeper and hitting Press at the top of the box. The center backs tried to converge on Press, but she simply reached into her skill toolbox.
The US continued shifting to try and smother Japan as they probed up the sides of the field, often trying to get Tanaka past Dunn. Dunn was on it, though, thoroughly winning her one-on-ones.
The US kept their heads up, often betting on Press to be faster and in better position with mid- and long-range balls. But Japan got steadier, resisting US pressure, which began to fall off a little bit. Japan got a corner kick late in the half and got the first touch on it, but Franch was well-positioned to gather it. The last push was through Horan and O’Hara, with Horan taking it to the corner and nutmegging a player with her pass to O’Hara on the underlap.
The second half started with Tierna Davidson coming off for Becky Sauerbrunn. Davidson may still not be totally 100% as she returns from an injury last fall, right before the NWSL championship. As for Japan, they looked like a very different team. They took more and more control of the midfield, moving the ball neatly into space, pulling US players out of position and stitching together long sequences of possession.
The US resorted a bit too much to relying on Christen Press to get the space she needed, seeking her with some balls over or threaded through. Ertz hit a really nice one over the head of a central defender in the 55’, and then Dunn again in the 56’ was looking to play Press for the shot on goal. But Japan took it back to the United States, again playing out of the midfield to advance on the US’ defensive third. As the defense dropped, the midfield didn’t do a great job covering the space they left behind, and Mana Iwabuchi took advantage of some ballwatching to place a nifty goal cleanly in the net.
The US made two subs in the 60’ with Rapinoe and Dunn coming off, and Mal Pugh and Casey Short coming on. It must have been a bit of a relief for Pugh and Short, both of them drifting back towards the fringe of the WNT in recent months. Carli Lloyd joined in them in the 71’, coming on for Press, and Rose Lavelle coming on for Mewis. With Lavelle pushed higher than Mewis had bin, it looked like there would be some hope that the US could resume their high press, but Julie Ertz couldn’t be everywhere at once, and Lindsey Horan wasn’t distributing that well out of those deeper pockets.
The last US sub was in the 78’ with Lynn Williams coming for Tobin Heath. It wasn’t a super great night for Heath, who, while doing some defensive work, also gave up turnovers and dead-ended attacking momentum. The front line of Pugh, Lloyd, and Williams with their fresh legs began stretching Japan a little bit, looking for the quick play to keep Japan off-kilter. But the third goal came off another set piece, this time with Horan’s succinct header off a Pugh corner kick sealing the result.
The last big chance of the game was a very cheeky long-range chip attempt from Carli Lloyd, as if to remind Japan of 2015. It went over, though, and the game ended at 3-1.
Next up: the USWNT has two April friendlies scheduled, one against Australia on April 10 and one against Brazil on April 14. Given that during the game itself the NBA announced it was suspending play due to the COVID-19 outbreak, who knows if the sports world will be back to normal by April. We will, of course, keep you updated on any change in plans.