Split Decision In Sendai: Japan 1, USWNT 1

*Spoiler alert for those deterred by the 6:30 A.M. ET kick-off time*


The USWNT earned a 1-1 draw against Japan in the first match of the inaugural Kirin Challenge Cup.  It was the latest episode in the burgeoning rivalry between the sides. Japan reigned victorious in the sides’ two most recent meetings.

Unlike the World Cup final and the Algarve Cup semifinal, Japan did not easily cede possession to the U.S. The hosts took the initiative from the get-go. They controlled the tempo of the match by bossing the center of midfield, this despite the absence of Homare Sawa. As a result, outside midfielders Lauren Cheney and Heather O’Reilly were largely marginalized figures. Central players Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, and Shannon Boxx struggled to maintain possession, thus starving lone striker Alex Morgan of much service.

The U.S. defense came under pressure early. The back four did well to read and deal with incoming passes. Clearances were another issue, though. A failed clearance resulted in Japan’s first goal. Yukari Kinga exploited the mass confusion in the box and tucked away the first goal of the match.

Per usual, the U.S. looked slightly sharper in the second half. Also per usual, Alex Morgan (because who else, really?) came through with the game-tying goal in the 73rd minute. The goal was initially called back for offside but was eventually validated after the match official counseled with the assistant referee.

The U.S. has traditionally dominated the series against Japan and went into the World Cup final with a record of 22 wins and three draws. The USWNT has failed to beat the Nadeshiko since. The hoodoo has seemingly been reversed.


More notes:

–  Kelley O’Hara is steadily improving. At first it was hard to make sense of her switch from outside attacker to left-back. O’Hara looked more comfortable in her position today, showcasing the characteristics that help define her: tenacity and speed. She’s in for a bit more refinement, but has been making steady progress.


– Alex Morgan’s numbers are staggering. She’s now scored 12 goals in 2012 alone, two more than she did in 2011 and 2010 combined. She’s also scored 10 of the U.S.’s last 18 goals. Not quite Celia da Mbabi Okoyino numbers (who has scored 10 goals in her last three appearances for Germany), but still quite impressive.  Today’s goal brings her up to 19th on the all-time USWNT list, tying her with Shannon Boxx on 22 total.


–  Speaking of Boxx, at half-time ESPN broadcast a piece about the midfielders’ struggles with lupus. Much respect to Boxx for sharing her story and refusing to let the energy-sapping condition slow her down.


–  The atmosphere looked fantastic on television with the constant drumming and chanting. Fans apparently showed up in costume hours before kick-off. It was a rather chilly night in Sendai (the official match report has it at 46 degrees), but that didn’t prevent the 15,159 frenzied spectators from making their presence known.


–  So this was the first match of the first edition of a women’s soccer tournament in Japan and it occurred at a rather unsociable hour for American viewers. None of that seemed to matter to ESPN, who pulled out all the stops with Julie Foudy and Adrian Healey on the call and Tony DiCicco in studio, who managed to sneak in a blurb about WPS’s demise whilst on the topic of Shannon Boxx.

Twitter was also abuzz with devoted USWNT fans who obviously paid no mind to the pre-dawn hour. It was probably the same during the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but it’s hard to imagine it was as much fun in a Twitter-less world.


Let’s do it all again on Tuesday when the U.S. take on Brazil. More exclusive coverage of this game to come.

11 thoughts on “Split Decision In Sendai: Japan 1, USWNT 1

  1. Terry Lash

    Japan looked very good, possessing the ball with crisp 1-2 passes. With better finishing Japan would have won 3-1. Japan was definitely the better team and a joy to watch. The US passing was frequently inaccurate, resulting in lots of easy giveaways. There should have been subs by the US at the beginning of the second half. Unless US players improve their technical skills getting the Gold in London will be unlikely.

  2. LookAtThat

    Notice how Buehler again was guilty of kicking the ball at her own for. I guess she was still in the same mindset as the WC Final. “Frantic”

    Cheney needs to replace Lloyd sooooooo badly. Cheney brings a better sense of PASSING. Cheney delivers the best balls to Morgan and Wambach….Doesn’t Pia look at the stats………..Lloyd only has 1 assist ALL 2012!!!???? And She’s an “offensive” “midfielder”??????? Bring Cheney in and put Arod or Rapinoe on the outside. PROBLEM SOLVED in midfield.

  3. necron99

    Hmm. I thought the US was much more than slightly better in the second half. They pressured Japan everywhere on the ball, and they gave it up often. Of course Japan had some amazing passing even in the 2nd half that lead to some strong counter attack, but they hurried many passes write to US players of out of bounds. I wish we had stats for possession. It seemed the US had the majority in the 2nd half, and most of it was on the Japanese end of the field. The biggest thing that still stood out even when we had possession in their end of the field, was how solid their defenders are. US was not able to easily break them down working into the middle on the edge of the box. We were able to put some crosses in, but when players tried to dribble in 1v1, the defenders deftly took the ball off of their feet.

  4. cow pasture alum

    Someone mentioned an interesting factoid on another blog: the USA has never had a three-game losing treak against any other national team. They came awfully close today.

    1. cow pasture alum

      Actually, upon further consideration, I realize that what I read on that other blog is not strictly accurate. The WWC final ended in a draw. A shootout to determine who advances in a tournament is regarded as distinct from the match that precedes it.

  5. cambridge_footie

    Frustrating game to watch. Last year we had flashes of one touch football now we just give the ball away.

    O’Reilly and Boxx are the only players who consistently find a teammate. Players that have been historically dependable like Cheney, Wambach and LePeilbet are turning over the ball. And its growing … Rampone seems to have contracted this habit. Then there are players who you just expect to give the ball away like Llyod and Rapinoe. Rapinoe because she does too much and Llyod because she takes risks. Llyod in particular is a liability as she gives the ball up in horrible positions. Llyod can thank Solo (and Barney) for her not being responsible for a number of goals over the last few games. I’d think she has great qualities but I’d rather see her as an sub when we are down and need to take a risk on her.

  6. john

    Has anyone read the post-game quotes on US Soccer? It was a pretty day, I saw a bunny rabbit, and we were happy w/ the draw. Come on, people-you did not play well and if Japan had seized the moment 3-0 @ half.
    I’m curious about this new “rivalry”. Everyone talks about the mutual respect, Hope states its a clean rivalry, we visit the devastated area before the game, pal around w/ the kids, Abby says she wants to play in Japan. This is a “rivalry”- it seems more like a commune. Please don’t get me wrong I’m all f/ being supportive of Japan’s healing, but I question the timing of the activities and many of the US players’ comments. If the US had lost to anyone, but Japan in the WWC final the reaction would not have been “it’s nice that they won”.
    Other thoughts: Pia has no faith in any other back line, so Buehler is going to play and we’re all going to alternately scream, hold our breath, and occassionly cheer.
    Cheney’s weakest game ever? She offset 2 beautiful balls into Morgan’s path w/ some dreadful giveaways, especially when she played wide. Also, the Japan goal was scored by her player when she failed to finish tracking back. If one rewatches the game it was not the only instance when she didn’t track out wide. Is she unfocused playing wide, unhappy not be chosen f/ the central role as a starter, is she drifting in so far she can’t recover?
    If one of the game strategies was to pressure Japan in the back why not switch to a 4 3 3. Abby, Alex and Sydney running at you will rattle most players and besides where do you want to win the ball-their end or your end? Tighter marking utilizes the American advantage of being stronger and fitter.
    And yes my prediction that a more relaxed US would win was wrong. However, i’m not sure how composed they were.

    Please don’t give Brazil a reason to hope going into London.

  7. Blather

    Pia has been fiddling with our possession game ever since the WWC final, but our team played a better possession game in the WWC final than they have in the last 6 months.

    (Sorry, possession against the Dominican Republic doesn’t count as possession. Marta-less Brazil also doesn’t count for much.)

    Sweden in Phoenix, Canada, New Zealand, Japan…not good possession games for us. They are not getting better at it.


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