The U.S. WNT finished off the inaugural Tournament of Nations in fine style Thursday night in Carson, California with an impressive performance in a 3-0 victory over Japan.
After starting the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Australia the Americans turned their TON around with a thrilling 4-3 comeback victory over Brazil to go into the third and final round of matches with an outside chance at overtaking Australia and winning the event.
The Matildas took that possibility off of the table when they brushed aside a second-minute goal by Brazil’s Camila to overpower the Canarinhas by a 6-1 scoreline to finish the tournament a perfect 3-0-0 and claim the inaugural Tournament of Nations Champions.
Congratulations to Australia.
Perhaps knowing that first place was off of the table eased some of the pressure on the host nation, or maybe Ellis got her first 11 and tactics correct this time.
Whatever, the Americans were on the front foot from the beginning versus Japan, with Megan Rapinoe continuing her fine play to lead the American effort.
Pinoe came close early when her shot clipped the top of the crossbar in the ninth minute. Rapinoe also fired a shot into the side netting before opening the scoring in the 12th minute off a pair of fine passes. First Kelley O’Hara found Christian Press with a long pass out of the back. Then in a repeat of the Brazil game Press fed Rapinoe and the winger was coolness personified as she toyed with the Japanese defense before rifling home a perfectly placed shot.
The Americans would dominate most of the way, although the 1-0 score stood until he hour mark when substitute fullback Taylor Smith found a streaking Mal Pugh who finished in style to double the U.S. lead.
Smith replaced an ill O’Hara in the 30th minute, and whatever problems Ellis is having with her team, right fullback looks to be just fine. Smith, who plays her club soccer for the North Carolina Courage, would pick up a second assist 20 minutes later when, after receiving a fine ball from Sam Mewis, she found Alex Morgan for Morgan’s first international goal of 2017.
Morgan had some good fortune from a deflection but it may be what the struggling striker needs to get going.
Perhaps Ellis, who has been rivaling Mexico’s Juan Carlos Osorio with her squad rotation, got word from on high to stop with the tinkering, or maybe the coach decided on her own that a win was needed. Either way against Japan Ellis pulled the right strings and was rewarded with the team’s first complete effort of the tournament.
Casey Short started at her best position left fullback, flanked by O’Hara with Becky Sauerbrunn back where she belongs at center back, alongside Abby Dahlkemper, who was very solid as she bids for the role of Sauerbrunn’s sidekick.
Sauerbrunn’s ex-partner, Julie Ertz was rewarded for her play off of the bench versus Brazil and the versatile Chicago Red Star was excellent providing athleticism, passing ability and bit of swagger from the center of the midfield while combining very nicely with Sam Mewis, who was honored for her efforts as the Woman of the Match.
Carli Lloyd was also more involved as the third midfielder in the U.S. 4-3-3. That midfield provided plenty of ball for the three frontrunners, Press, Pugh and Rapinoe.
Finally fit after a long recovery from ACL surgery Rapinoe is having a monster season for Seattle in NWSL and has reasserted her place in the U.S. side while making a case for herself for year end honors.
Pugh was her old self, if such a thing can be said about a 19-year-old, shredding defenders and finishing a chance for her first U.S. goal of the year.
Then there is Press. The 28-year-old has been around the U.S. team long enough to rack up 43 goals in 90 caps, but somehow Press has failed to cement a place for herself as a front line player for the U.S. WNT.
In 90 caps Press has often been used off of the bench, finding her path to the starting lineup blocked by Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and other high wattage stars.
But Lloyd will be pushing 40 come Russia 2019 while Morgan has struggled with injury and consistency. All the while Press has been outstanding for the Chicago Red Stars and with her play at the international level Press is making a case that she needs to be in the first 11.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 2 3
JPN 0 0 0
USA – Megan Rapinoe (Christen Press) 12th minute
USA – Mallory Pugh (Taylor Smith) 60
USA – Alex Morgan (Taylor Smith) 80
USA : 1-Alyssa Naeher; 14-Casey Short, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Abby Dahlkemper, 5-Kelley O’Hara (16-Taylor Smith, 30); 8-Julie Ertz (20-Allie Long, 54), 3-Samantha Mewis, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.) (9-Lindsey Horan, 65); 22-Mallory Pugh (12-Lynn Williams, 73), 23-Christen Press (13-Alex Morgan, 73), 15-Megan Rapinoe (2-Sydney Leroux, 73)
Subs not used :, 11-Ali Krieger, 17-Margaret Purce, 18-Jane Campbell, 21-Abby Smith
Not available: 6-Morgan Brian, 19-Crystal Dunn
Head coach: Jill Ellis
JPN : 18-Ayaka Yamashita; 4-Miho Manya (19-Hikaru Kitagawa, 46), 3-Aya Sameshima, 23-Nana Ichise; 6-Rumi Utsugi, 10-Mizuho Sakaguchi (capt.), 7-Emi Nakajima (17-Yui Hasegawa, 46), 5-Madoka Haji (22-Shiho Tomari, 85), 16-Rin Sumida; 15-Yuka Momiki (14-Yu Nakasato, 79) 11-Mina Tanaka (9-Kumi Yokoyama, 64)
Subs not used: 1-Sakiko Ikeda, Hikari Takagi, 8-Riho Sakamoto, 12-Hikaru Naomoto, 13-Yuika Sugasawa, 20-Ayumi Oya, 21-Ayaka Saitoh
Head coach: Asako Takakura
Final Stats Summary: USA / JPN
Shots: 19 / 11
Shots on Goal: 7 / 5
Saves: 5 / 4
Corner Kicks: 7 / 2
Fouls: 4 / 6
Offside: 5 / 1