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USA vs. Japan Women's Soccer: Score, Grades and Reaction for 2014 Algarve Cup

Oct 30, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; USA forward Sydney Leroux (2) celebrates after scoring against New Zealand at Columbus Crew Stadium. The match ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2014

The United States and Japan traded second-half goals en route to a 1-1 draw in the opening match for both teams in the 2014 Algarve Cup.

Even though the Americans were able to control possession and generated more chances, the finishing ability was lacking and it allowed Japan to steal a point. The U.S. must elevate its level of play in the final two Group B fixtures to reach the championship match.

Let's check out how the match played out at the Stadium Bela Vista in Parchal, Portugal and handed out grades for the starters on both sides.

 

Group B Standings

2014 Algarve Cup - Group B Table
TeamGPWDLGDPTS
United States101001
Japan101001
Sweden000000
Denmark000000
ScoresWay.com

 

Match Recap

The United States almost opened the scoring just over a minute into the match. After Christen Press had an attempt blocked, the loose ball was picked up and finished by Carli Lloyd, then she was deemed offside to halt the early celebration.

It was a wake-up call for the Japanese squad, which immediately started pushing more players back to defend against the American attack. Even without Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, the group pushed forward aggressively.

That was probably by design from head coach Tom Sermanni. U.S. Soccer's official site passed along comments from the manager after he named the tournament squad and he said these matches would be a very good test for his side:

The group we're in at the Algarve Cup will probably be the most significant test since I've come aboard and a different kind of challenge as we will be playing teams that have the belief and aim to come out to attack us and beat us. The dynamics of these games will be different than some of the more recent matches, and that's something that we want, that we need and that the players are looking forward to.

The Americans continued to pressure the Japan back line with constant pressure in the final third. Sydney Leroux had a chance just inside the quarter-hour mark, but the shot was parried by Erina Yamane and cleared off the line.

As Japan pushed more numbers back to withstand the pressure, the absence of Wambach and Morgan became more obvious. Wambach wasn't selected for the starting lineup in the opener while Morgan is recovering from an ankle injury.

While the United States controlled the pace of play, it was missing the finishing touch that comes along with its two most dangerous strikers. Add in Japan's defensive style and the frustration began to mount for the U.S.

The final notable scoring opportunity of the half came as Heather O'Reilly found some rare space behind the Japanese defense and sent a hopeful ball across the mouth of goal. Leroux attempted to get a foot on the pass, but couldn't connect as it slid wide.

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 13: Heather O'Reilly #9 of the U.S. Womens National Team plays against the Scotland Women's National Team at LP Field on February 13, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Following a more level start to the second 45 minutes, a mistake by Japan allowed the United States to break the deadlock just shy of the hour mark.

A pass was dropped back to Yamane, who had been terrific in net for the Japanese side to that point, but the inexperienced goalkeeper held the ball for one extra touch and it cost her. Leroux tracked her down, completed a perfectly timed slide and blocked the ball into the net.

It was a bit of a fluky goal because the ball could have redirected anywhere on the attempted clearance. That said, Leroux deserves credit for sticking with the play and it was definitely a learning experience for the 23-year-old keeper.

The United States wasn't able to add to that lead despite good chances for O'Reilly and Leroux.

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Japan took advantage of that by equalizing in the 82nd minute. Aya Miyama stepped up to take a free-kick from long range and beat Hope Solo to level the score.

As Fox Soccer Trax noted, it won't be a moment for the Solo highlight reel. She took a couple quick steps in the wrong direction and by the time she reacted to the hard shot all she could do is deflect it into the top corner.

It was an uncharacteristic error by the American goalkeeper and came at an inopportune time. The United States attack, which had slowed down as more players pushed back in an attempt to preserve the 1-0 lead, had to pick up the pace again.

Leroux, who generated at least a half dozen scoring opportunities in the match, had one last chance to grab the three points in the 89th minute. She worked her way into the box and tried to find the far corner with a shot from just outside the six-yard box, but missed.

Neither side could find the winner in the final few minutes.

Looking ahead, both teams will return to the pitch for their second match of group play on Friday. The United States will face another tricky test from Sweden while Japan faces off with Denmark, the weakest side in Group B.

In order to reach the final, which will pit the winners of Group A and B against each other, the Americans will probably need to win both of their remaining matches. Otherwise, it opens the door for Japan to advance by doing so.

Finding the finishing touch is the biggest key for the U.S. moving forward. It was absent in the opener.

 

Player Grades

United States Starter Grades
PositionPlayerGrade
GKHope Solo6
RBAli Krieger6
CBBecky Sauerbrunn7
CBWhitney Engen7
LBStephanie Cox7
RMHeather O'Reilly8
CMMorgan Brian7
CMCarli Lloyd8
LMMegan Rapinoe6
FWChristen Press7
FWSydney Leroux8
2014 Algarve Cup

 

Japan Starter Grades
PositionPlayerGrade
GKErina Yamane6
RBYukari Kinga7
CBAzusa Iwashimizu6
CBSaki Kumagai7
LBSaori Ariyoshi4
RMAya Miyama8
CMMizuho Sakaguchi7
CMHomare Sawa7
LMNahomi Kawasumi6
FWYuki Ogimi6
FWShinobu Ohno7
2014 Algarve Cup

 

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