USWNT 2, Japan 0: Better, But Not Quite There Yet

The USWNT defeated Japan 2-0 in Cary, North Carolina on Wednesday night. Amy Rodriguez scored her second goal in as many matches in the 28th minute before Heather O’Reilly doubled the lead in the 69th minute with a solo effort. In total, the U.S.’s performance was a step up from the team’s 2-0 victory against Japan on Saturday, even if it wasn’t always entirely convincing.

Be sure to read Jeff Carlisle’s assessment and player ratings on ESPN.com.

 

Hope Solo had another solid outing in goal. Her positional sense clearly hasn’t been adversely affected by her long lay-off, as was evident in the 34th minute when she sprinted off her line in a show of tenacity and in the 80th minute when she tipped what was Japan’s best chance of the game over the bar.

Stephanie Cox clicked on and off throughout the match and was rescued by Rachel Buehler on more than one occasion. Japan attacked down the left flank frequently in the first half and Cox didn’t stand much of a chance against the pace of Shinobu Ohno. Disappointing.

Rachel Buehler wasn’t as aerially dominant as she was in the second half of Saturday’s game but her steadfast defending in the center forced Japan to try to sneak something out wide.

Becky Sauerbrunn looked immensely comfortable at center-back once again. She came up with a handful of solid takeaways and helped ping the ball to the midfield as well. Sauerbrunn was hands down the most consistent performer of the two-match series.

Ali Krieger was defensively stout and refused to be muscled off the ball. She also roamed forward and integrated in the attack well in the first half. This series of friendlies have probably been her best national team games yet.

Shannon Boxx had one of her best games in recent memory, even if it was over-praised by Briana Scurry. She was the first line of defense in midfield, but especially excelled in something of a deep-lying playmaker role. She laid the groundwork for the U.S.’s first goal with her deep pass to O’Reilly. She also had some adventurous runs down the left flank and crossed, passed, and shot like a proper winger. Boxx’s attacking qualities were a sight to behold tonight. Assigning a single role to her seems unfair, which is exactly the problem.

Carli Lloyd had an excellent second half. A lion’s share of the U.S.’s chances on the ground emanated from her accurate passing, including O’Reilly’s goal. She had an uninspired first half, however, and couldn’t forge a relationship between the midfield and forwards.

Heather O’Reilly was industrious as ever and remained lively on the right (and sometimes left) flank all night. The consummate team player got to revel in some individualistic glory after finishing a well-struck shot.

Megan Rapinoe wandered a bit in the first half but really came to life in the second. Her crisp crosses and incisive runs helped the U.S. maintain the tempo of the game in the second half. And the delivery on her set pieces was accurate more often than not.

Abby Wambach couldn’t seem to buy a goal, despite her best efforts. She had several gilded opportunities in the second half but couldn’t quite get enough on her headers. She was less involved in the playmaking aspect compared to Saturday’s game as Lloyd really stepped into that role in the second half.  The lack of clinical finishing is the one valid complaint her performance would warrant.

Amy Rodriguez did what she’s supposed to do. Her goal off a one-time shot from a slight angle was the kind of goal she’s expected to finish. That was one of her few clear chances on goal on the night, but she capitalized on it.

 

Substitutes:

Amy LePeilbet looked firm, fit, and self-assured at left-back, which was a welcome sight. It should be noted that Japan stopped pressuring the left flank by the time LePeilbet stepped in for Cox but she certainly did her job.

Alex Morgan squandered a chance shortly after the hour mark that was just begging to be finished. There was an open goal and all. She then wasted a chance that saw her one v. one with the goalkeeper. Her lack of finishing hearkened back to the England game but this was simply on a different level. In other words, Morgan looked like a young, relatively inexperienced forward for once.

Lori Lindsey looked confident in her position as soon as she took the pitch and nearly converted a long-range effort.

Lauren Cheney was asked to play on the right wing and saw limited action, although she did have one hopeful shot bounce off a fellow teammate.

Tobin Heath came on late.

 

Lasting impressions:

  • The central midfield issue continues to puzzle and frustrate. Tonight’s performance proved that both Boxx and Lloyd can play well individually when they aren’t necessarily asked to play off one another. There were moments when the midfield got stretched apart and Japan exploited the gaping seam down the middle. Perhaps they handcuff each other’s attacking abilities? Maybe their styles just aren’t complementary to one another? Sundhage has one more friendly game left to try to crack the code.
  • The USWNT is made up of individually gifted players who can lift the performances of the players around them, but aren’t necessarily cogs in a well-oiled machine. The team’s success in the World Cup won’t derive from periods of sustained possession or patient build-ups from the back. Rather, the team will hope that a player or two can produce a moment of individualistic brilliance. The interplay that created the Boxx to HAO to A-Rod goal was lovely, but was essentially the exception to the rule.
  • The U.S. still look out of sorts at the beginning of matches but weren’t burned for it by Japan who once again showed a lack of true cutting edge. The team builds in confidence as matches wear on, as if it has to convince itself of its own quality first. The lethargy of the first 30 minutes or so was excused by the energy shown in the last hour.  When the team succeeds in not conceding an early goal, the slow start doesn’t really matter, but it’s that kind of frailty that more complete teams will be itching to exploit come World Cup time.
  • Sinead Farrelly’s call-up continues to be so very intriguing. Apparently Pia Sundhage sees it fit to use the 21 year-old as Tarpley’s replacement. If this is the case, Farrelly (a central midfielder by trade) must have made a terrific impression on the USWNT higher-up’s after her few appearances with the Independence this season and her time with the national team in the first Florida training camp. It’s an incredible turn of events for a player who was working as a waitress five month ago.

7 thoughts on “USWNT 2, Japan 0: Better, But Not Quite There Yet

  1. Beau Dure

    Seeing the game live, it’s clear that Boxx isn’t doing much running.

    Then again, neither did Michelle Akers in her later years. Maybe that’s Boxx’s model moving forward?

    But you’re right — she and Lloyd don’t have things on lockdown in the middle. Sauerbrunn and Buehler needed to make many timely interventions.

    Reply
  2. e

    An overall much improved performance. They have to figure out a way to get over that first 25-30 minute slump. My brother commented on the new uni’s…he thinks they look like the uni’s sported by the bad guys (cobra kai) in the movie “The Karate Kid”. He kept yelling out “Sweep the legs!”.

    Reply
  3. random

    Morgan may have been a little too nonchalant with her golden chances, but the thing that really needs to be mentioned is the fact we finally have a fast forward who knows how to hold and bend her runs to stay onside. She did a fantastic job with her runs to stay onside for both of these chances. Hopefully it is out of her system and we will see her start putting those away again. The entire team had a hard time finishing tonight, maybe it was something in the water.

    Reply
    1. WoSo95

      Great point about Morgan’s ability to stay onside. She may have been too casual in front of that open goal (that will surely haunt her for years, but might have been exactly what she needed before the World Cup – she won’t let another like that slip away!), but nearly every run she makes on the forward line is smart and aware, and so unlike the other US forwards; a needed dimension that’s been missing for far too long.

      Reply
  4. Angie

    Farrelly’s call up is confusing. We all know how Pia likes to use players simply to balance out her training sessions without any intention of actually letting them see playing time. I have a feeling that Farrelly’s call-up might be little more than that, otherwise she probably would have been capped last night. Instead, Pia opted to give minutes to Lori Lindsey, which is a telling sign in and of itself, no?

    Reply
    1. Jenna Pel Post author

      The Farrelly call-up might have simply been about letting the player train in the national team environment for a few days before releasing her back to the Independence. She’s a true central midfielder and that should presumably eliminate her from the race to replace Tarpley. However, everyone knows how frequently Sundhage plays players out of their natural positions. Yes, it’s confusing indeed.

      Reply

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