31 March 2012
Tomorrow morning at 6:30 am ET (ESPN 2, ESPN3) the US Women’s National Team will face Japan on their opponent’s home turf and look to exact revenge after back-to-back losses to this Japanese team. The aforementioned losses include the Americans devastating World Cup final defeat that saw the US give away two leads and then dramatically “collapse” in penalties.
The Lady Yanks will also be taking on Brazil in the coming days, as part of this 3-team friendly tournament that features the top 3 teams in international Women’s football. US and Brazil have had a tumultuous past as well, propelled by the controversial yet exciting US World Cup quarterfinal win over Brazil. Thanks to Abby Wambach’s unbelievable header goal in the last seconds of that game, this match on Thursday (7 am ET) between the US and Brazil will have plenty of juice as well.
To get you ready for tomorrow’s match, I have recapped the last two meetings between the US and Japan as well as offer my analysis on what the Lady Yanks need to do in order to avoid losing 3 straight to Japan.
World Cup Final:
With the sound of the opening whistle, the US women took control of the match and had a few quick opportunities, but nothing came of it, as the score remained 0-0 after 45 minutes.
Then, in the 69th minute Alex Morgan scored the first goal of the match putting the Yanks in front and at that point it looked like the World Cup trophy was won. Japan responded well, however, because 12 minutes later Aya Miyama tied it up. Soon after, the regulation whistle blew and the game headed into extra-time.
14 minutes into extra-time Alex Morgan crossed the ball to Wambach who easily headed in the go-ahead goal above the Japanese defenders. Once again it looked as if the US would win the coveted World Cup tournament but only a short 13 minutes later Japan answered again. Yukari Kinga took her chance well and chipped the ball over Hope Solo, who was standing way too far off her line, for the equalizer. Even Christie Rampone’s speed couldn't chase the shot down as the ball broke the line and trickled into the net.
The game eventually ended in disaster for the Americans, who had a shockingly poor showing in penalty kicks gifting Japan the World Cup trophy. Despite the US’ +14 scoring opportunity advantage, Japan was able to beat the US Women's team for the first time in 26 tries.
US vs. Japan at Algarve Cup:
Japan did not leave their scintillating form in Germany, the host of the 2011 World Cup, and have since defeated the US women once again. This time the Lady Yanks lost 1-0 in Portugal at the Algarve Cup. However, this 1-0 loss was uncharacteristic of recent US performances as the Lady Yanks scored 38 goals combined with zero goals against in 5 games en route to qualifying for the Olympics, a feat the U-23 Men’s Team failed to do.
This loss was the first time the Women’s National Team got shutout since they tied South Korea 0-0 all the way back in November 2008. Japan carried the momentum of the US win, to capture yet another trophy as they went on to win the Algarve Cup.
During an interview after the game, head coach Pia Sundhage admitted that her team came out and played nervous soccer for the first half. This timid play caused the Lady Yanks to give away the ball far too often. Meanwhile, Japan did a great job of keeping possession and capitalizing on the turnovers from their opposition, which forced the US to play on the back foot for the majority of the match. Even though the US came out stronger in the second half with an exponential increase in the amount of goal-scoring chances created, they were never able to find a goal.
Analysis of US Team vs. Japan:
The strengths of the current USWNT lie in the speed and skill of their outside flank players, along with the height and aggression of offensive players like Wambach in the box. As a result, success would be found if they utilized these strengths by sending in dangerous crosses into the box and starting the offense from the wings. Instead, the US has played a more direct brand of football and has struggled as a result due to poor possession when facing Japan.
Controlling the match with long stretches of possession is something that Japan has had a lot of success with in recent matches against the US. The way Japan keeps the ball prevents the US from getting into a rhythm, which we all know is the most mentally frustrating thing to deal with while on the pitch. Not only does Japan’s possession tire out the opposition mentally and physically, but their playing style facilitates the break down of the US defense, constantly dragging defenders out of position. As a result the Lady Yanks need to avoid being lulled to sleep by Japan’s possession oriented offense and instead limit turnovers and dictate the pace of the game themselves. They will have a great chance to defeat Japan tomorrow by slowing down the game and keeping possession to limit a lot of unnecessary defending, which we have witnessed in prior meetings.
Will the US finally defeat Japan and breakdown their possession? Share your comments below…
Follow @emilymenges to get real-time updates on the Women’s National team as they continue to prepare for the London Olympics coming to a television near you this summer.