USWNT Squanders Two Leads In Disappointing 2-2 Draw Against Japan

The USWNT wants to peak this summer at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The three-time Women’s World Cup champions certainly aren’t peaking right now.

The U.S. opened the SheBelieves Cup with a 2-2 draw with Japan, twice squandering leads and showing an inability to close out a tight match on Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan both found the back of the net, but their goals were countered by a pair from Emi Nakajima and Yuka Momiki, the latter of which came in the 91st minute. 

With England’s 2-1 come-from-behind win over Brazil earlier in the day, the U.S. and Japan are in a tie for second in the four-team competition. The U.S. plays England on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee, and Brazil on Tuesday in Tampa, Florida. 

The U.S. went 18-0-2 in 2018 as part of a 28-match unbeaten streak, but 2019 has not started well. A shorthanded USWNT squad was beaten 3-1 by France in January, though the U.S. responded by edging Spain 1-0 three days later. 

Closer to full strength on Wednesday (but still missing a few key players like Lindsey Horan and Becky Sauerbrunn), the U.S. again struggled. 

In a rematch of the last two Women’s World Cup finals, both teams were created chances early and often — through different methods. The USWNT used width and speed to get around and behind the Japanese defense. Japan used intricate passing and well-timed runs to trouble the USWNT defense. 

Megan Rapinoe got in behind the defense in the eighth minute but her touch inside allowed the defense to get back and the chance dissipated. Not long later, Japan’s Kumi Yokoyama struck the crossbar in the 11th minute.

A goal was certainly coming and it arrived in the 23rd minute. 

Tobin Heath whizzed past Saori Ariyoshi and played a low cross into the middle of the box where Rapinoe had an easy tap-in to make it 1-0. Rapinoe, knowing the goal was more about Heath than her, barely celebrated the goal instead going over to celebrate Heath’s move to set it up.

Rapinoe nearly doubled her tally in the 39th minute when Japan keeper Erina Yamane just got a fingertip to her free kick, sending the shot off the post and out for a corner kick. 

In the second half, Emily Sonnett replaced Kelley O’Hara at right back and the U.S. switched from a 4-3-3 to a 5-2-3, Julie Ertz dropping to center back. After struggling to maintain any possession, with both midfielders Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh losing the ball in dangerous areas, Jill Ellis reverted back to the 4-3-3 after about seven minutes. Lavelle and Pugh looked much better in midfield when rejoined by Ertz. 

Despite the tactical switches (or perhaps because of them), Japan was able to find an increasing amount of space in the U.S. defensive half. The result was Japan’s first equalizer in the 67th minute when a cross from Nakajima was cleared back to her by Tierna Davidson. The Japanese No. 7 then buried a low shot into the far corner to stun the crowd in Philadelphia. 

Not long later, Ellis brought on Christen Press, who made an immediate impact.

Press' first touch saw her fly down the right flank to start an attack, which after a while came back to Press on the wing. The Utah Royals forward then connected with Alex Morgan, who chested the ball into the back of the net to regain the lead for the U.S.

The goal was Morgan’s 99th for the USWNT, though we don’t recall any quite like that.

The star forward enjoyed herself out there until she was subbed out in the 85th minute, replaced by Carli Lloyd, the player who eviscerated Japan in the 2015 World Cup final. 

But Lloyd couldn't help the U.S. hold onto the lead. 

In the 91st minute — after a delay for an injury to an assistant ref — Japan scythed through the U.S. defense to knot the game at 2-2. Yuka Momiki finished the attacking play with a thoughtful assist from Yui Hasegawa. 

The U.S. can still win the tournament for a third time in its fourth year by winning out and doing so in better fashion than whatever Japan is able to do in its next two matches, but the draw certainly leaves a much tougher task with no room for error for the USWNT. 

The match, televised by FS1, was called by Aly Wagner and JP Dellacamera, who earlier in the day were announced as the lead broadcast team for FOX’s coverage of this summer’s Women’s World Cup

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