USWNT concedes two equalizers, plays Japan to a 2-2 stalemate

The United States women's national team opened the SheBelieves Cup in disappointing fashion as it could not make two different leads hold up and finished to a 2-2 stalemate against a tough Japanese team
BY John Halloran Posted
February 27, 2019
8:30 PM
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team opened up the 2019 SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday night with a 2-2 draw against Japan in Chester, Pennsylvania.

After creating a number of early chances, the Americans struck first in the contest when Tobin Heath took her defender endline and laid the ball across the face of the net for a Megan Rapinoe finish in the 23rd minute of play. Controlling the game in nearly every regard, the U.S. took a 1-0 lead into the break.

In the second half, the two teams traded punches with Japan finding an equalizer before substitute Christen Press helped re-establish the lead with a strong assist on Alex Morgan’s goal. Japan, however, earned the last laugh, stealing a draw away from the Americans with a late strike in the 91st minute.

With Lindsey Horan out injured, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis was forced into a difficult decision before the game even began. The coach elected to go with Mallory Pugh in the No. 8 role, a bit of a surprising choice considering she had the talented Sam Mewis at her disposal on the bench.

Pugh, however, acquitted herself well, combining well with Tobin Heath down the right flank for most of the first half and the U.S.’ high-pressure in the attacking third made it virtually impossible for Japan to connect out of the back.

Between Heath on one flank, Rapinoe on the other, and Alex Morgan doing the dirty work to win balls and hold-up play in the middle of the front line, the Americans repeatedly created chances on the Japanese goal and the U.S. looked set to do even more damage in the second stanza.

But despite the solid play through the first 45 minutes, Ellis decided to switch the team into a 5-2-3 to start off the second half and the wheels quickly came off the cart. The momentum of the game swung dramatically with the Americans unable to control the midfield, or effectively pressure the Japan backline any longer. And although the U.S. did eventually switch back to its 4-3-3, the damage had already been done.

Japan, building in confidence, eventually found the equalizer when Tierna Davidson poorly cleared a service directly to Emi Nakajima, who curled in an effort past American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. It marked the low-point of a poor game for Davidson who—still only three games into her recovery from a broken ankle—struggled all night tracking runs and repeatedly lost possession out of the back.

Ellis then made arguably her best decision on the night, subbing Press into the game. Coming off a particularly strong performance in the team’s January matches, Press looked hungry from the start and created two chances in her first minute on the field—the second of which was an inch-perfect cross that Morgan tucked away to re-establish the American lead.

Only 15 minutes away from pulling out a victory, however, the U.S. defense simply wasn’t up to the task.

Shaky all night, and missing wily veteran Becky Sauerbrunn—who missed the game with a minor knee injury—the American backline conceded a goal in stoppage time when Yui Hasegawa beat Crystal Dunn and then laid the ball back across goal to teammate Yuka Momiki for the top-shelf finish.

It was the second time Dunn found herself roundly beaten on the night and summed up an all-around poor effort from the American defense.

Ironically, Kelley O’Hara—in the starting XI for the first time since undergoing surgery after October’s World Cup qualifiers—proved to be the only bright spot on the U.S. backline, before being subbed out at the half.

The draw against Japan will certainly feel more like a loss than a tie for the Americans and the team will have to quickly recover before it faces No. 4 England on Saturday in Nashville (4:30 pm ET, FOX).

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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