The United States Women’s National Team finished with its strongest outing in months, defeating FIFA’s No. 6 team, Japan, to close the inaugural Tournament of Nations at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA. Alex Morgan came on in the second half and snapped an eight-game goal-less streak in international play, to go with strikes by Megan Rapinoe and Mallory Pugh in a 3-0 win.
The USWNT improved to 27-1-7 against Japan in the all-time series, and 8-0-4 on home soil. The United States finished second in the tournament after Australia had mauled Brazil earlier in the evening.
Jill Ellis didn’t start Morgan or Ali Krieger of the Pride in her 4-3-3, but did give the nod to all four Chicago Red Stars on the roster. She started Alyssa Naeher in net behind a back four of Casey Short, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and Kelley O’Hara. The midfield starters were Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, and Carli Lloyd, with a strike force of Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Pugh.
The Nadeshiko countered with a 3-5-2 formation of goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita; defenders Miho Manya, Aya Sameshima, and Nana Ichise; midfielders Madoka Haji, Rin Sumida, Rumi Utsugi, Emi Nakajima and Mizuho Sakaguchi — with the latter playing below strikers Yuka Momiki and Mina Tanaka.
Rapinoe was the most dangerous player on the pitch in the game’s opening minutes. She skimmed a shot off the top of the crossbar in the ninth minute and then forced a good save by Yamashita in the 10th. Two minutes later, she scored on the break.
After the U.S. stopped a Japanese counterattack, Press slipped Rapinoe into the box. The Seattle Reign star could have shot first touch but waited while Sameshima slid in front for the block, then let the ball run while the defender got up, clearing space for Rapinoe to shoot. She slotted her shot inside the back post to put the Yanks up 1-0 at the 12-minute mark.
Rapinoe tried to return the favor with a pass to Press two minutes after the opening goal but the shot was blocked. Press then fired wide at the 18-minute mark on a volley of a pass from Short, as the U.S. continued to pressure the Japanese.
After that flurry, the Japanese started creeping more and more into the match. Nakajima fired from outside the box after an initial clearance of a Japan corner, and the shot sent Naeher scrambling to make a diving save in the 23rd minute.
After O’Hara picked up a knock at 30’ and had to come off for Taylor Smith, the Japanese picked up the pressure. The Nadeshiko nearly equalized in the 34th minute on the counter, when two deflected balls fell perfectly for Japan. At the end, Tanaka rounded Naeher and had an empty net in front but Ertz hustled back to deflect the ball behind for a corner.
Julie Ertz. JULIE ERTZ. Ertz so good. pic.twitter.com/xHluqHQo6G— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) August 4, 2017
It was a vital intercession for the defensive midfielder, who ran into the post on the end of the play and had to receive treatment before resuming.
Momiki took a shot from the top of the box in the 38th as Japan kept coming at the U.S., but the striker couldn’t get any power on her shot and it was straight at Naeher. Japan finished off the first half’s chances with a curling effort from Sameshima from the right, which fizzed just wide of the back post in the 44th minute, and the USWNT took a slim 1-0 edge into the break.
The U.S. made an effort to get back on the front foot after the restart. Lloyd did well to take down a long pass and get a shot off just seconds into the second half but her effort was off target. At the 48-minute mark, Pugh found Press at the top of the penalty area. Press dribbled left to open space but missed the net with her left-footed shot.
Japan came back two minutes later with a good buildup that resulted in a shot from halftime sub Yui Hasegawa, who sent Naeher diving to make a save on a shot that was well placed but without much pace on it. Two minutes later, the U.S. turned it over and Japan countered again, with Haji shooting from outside the area but it was an easy fly ball for Naeher.
Ertz had to come off for the U.S. at 54’ with an apparent leg injury after a slide tackle that bumped the same knee that hit the post earlier. Allie Long came on to replace her.
Just when the game started to get a bit sleepy, the USWNT doubled the lead in the 60th minute. Smith sent a gorgeous through ball to Pugh, who accelerated past the defense and slotted her shot between Yamashita and the near post to make it 2-0.
Five minutes after Pugh scored, Lloyd was subbed off for Lindsey Horan. With both Ertz and Lloyd out of the midfield, Japan started to create more problems and get forward again. Haji should have scored at 68’ off a turnover in the defensive half but missed the net by about a foot with her shot. Moments later, Japan nearly got in behind but Dahlkemper made a vital challenge from behind to break up the attack.
Ellis made wholesale changes in the 73rd minute, bringing on Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Lynn Williams for Press, Rapinoe, and Pugh. The moves energized the U.S. a bit. After Hikaru Hitagawa buzzed a cross into the six that Naeher caught in the 78th minute, the U.S. got onto the front foot, starting with a counter attack ignited by Short that ended up with a long-range effort from Mewis that was saved.
Two minutes later, a Smith cross found Morgan in front of goal and the Pride striker flicked it off the defender and into the net to make it 3-0. It was Morgan’s 74th career international goal.
Leroux nearly made it 4-0 in the 86th with a wonderful move to get around a defender in the box but her point-blank shot was well saved by Yamashita. From that point on, the Yanks saw out the remainder of the clock and celebrated their finest outing of the tournament.
The USWNT will be back in action against New Zealand in a pair of friendlies on Sept. 15 and 19 in Commerce City, CO, and Cincinnati, OH, respectively.
Australia 6, Brazil 1
In the early game, Australia needed just a win or a draw to capture the Tournament of Nations title, and the Matildas were able to cruise to a laugher after falling behind early. The win by the Aussies eliminated the USWNT before the second match even began, rendering it nothing more than an ordinary friendly.
Pride defender Steph Catley started for the Matildas, along with former Orlando players Laura Alleway and Lisa De Vanna. Alanna Kennedy was on the bench. For Brazil, Camila and Monica started, while Marta was out, although she was listed as being available on the bench. The Brazilian star took a bit of a hard knock on the foot against the USWNT on Sunday night.
Camila drew first blood with a goal off a set piece in just the second minute of the game, giving the Canarinhas a 1-0 lead. It was Camila’s second international goal, with both coming in this tournament.
Unfortunately for Brazil, Australia equalized quickly after the Matildas were awarded a penalty. De Vanna had her spot kick stopped but the rebound fell for her to easily finish to level the game five minutes later.
Camila missed the target about 10 minutes later on a Brazil attack and De Vanna had a shot saved on a 1-v-1 against Brazil goalkeeper Dani Neuhaus in the 25th minute.
The Aussies took the lead in the 32nd minute on a Caitlin Foord counter attack goal from a Sam Kerr pass.
Three minutes later, the Matildas put it out of reach on De Vanna’s second of the game — also set up by Kerr. De Vanna was subbed out in the second half as Australia’s all-time goal-scoring leader, with 42.
Midfielder Katrina Gorry, who narrowly missed chipping the goalkeeper for a goal just minutes earlier, made it 4-1 before halftime with a tremendous strike off the back post and in.
Foord got a brace on a goalkeeping error at 68’, as Neuhaus came off her line to try to get to a long ball over the top sent by Tameka Butt. But Foord beat Neuhaus to the ball and easily rounded her to score an empty-net goal to make it 5-1.
Australia subbed Kennedy on in the 72nd minute for Alleway. She may be able to play on Saturday but Catley went the full 90 and will likely be unavailable for Tom Sermanni against the Red Stars. Camila and Monica also went 90 for Brazil.
Kerr made it 6-1 in the 81st minute as her outstanding tournament — and season — continued.
Stop it right now, Sam Kerr. (No, please don't.) pic.twitter.com/lt3o3lwLMa— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) August 4, 2017
The Matildas saw out the final minutes from there without inflicting any more pain on the Brazilians and celebrated their tournament win.
Congrats to Australia for a deserved result in the first-ever Tournament of Nations, winning all three games by a combined score of 11-4.