In its last match, the United States women's national team needed three goals in the final 10 minutes to beat Brazil. No such heroics were required Thursday night when the USWNT closed the 2017 Tournament of Nations with a 3-0 win over Japan in StubHub Center in Carson, California.
Megan Rapinoe got the U.S. on the board in the 12th minute, and Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan scored in the second half.
The United States finished the Tournament of Nations in second place behind Australia, which won all three of its matches, capping off the event with a 6-1 demolition of Brazil on Thursday.
Rapinoe was instrumental in the United States' comeback against Brazil. She assisted Christen Press on the USWNT's second goal in the 80th minute and scored an equalizer five minutes later.
The Seattle Reign midfielder delivered again Thursday. She sent Japanese defender Aya Sameshima to the turf with a deft shot fake and then fired a right-footed shot into the far post as Sameshima attempted to regain her bearings. The USWNT's official Twitter account shared a replay of the goal:
U.S. Soccer WNT @ussoccer_wnt
Pinoe. So hot right now. @ChristenPress feeds @mPinoe for her second goal in as many #ToN2017 games. https://t.co/BiSmk38XrN2017-8-4 02:51:07
American Soccer Now's John D. Halloran thought the goal was part of an encouraging start from the United States:
John D. Halloran @JohnDHalloran
For all the negative talk surrounding #USWNT in last few months, they look absolutely fantastic so far tonight.2017-8-4 02:26:56
While taking an early 1-0 lead was important for the U.S., Julie Ertz, who scored the winner against Brazil, provided arguably the play of the game in the 34th minute.
Mina Tanaka rounded American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and appeared to have an empty net for an easy equalizer. But Ertz continued following the play and knocked Tanaka's shot out for a corner:
U.S. Soccer WNT @ussoccer_wnt
Not on @julieertz's watch 🙅. Japan still scoreless thanks in large part to this goal-line clearance. https://t.co/Pv8TxlM5Br2017-8-4 03:17:21
Ertz immediately held her right knee, which collided with the left post as she slid to make the save. She returned to the match after receiving medical attention, and her club team, Chicago Red Stars, breathed a sigh of relief:
Chicago Red Stars @chicagoredstars
Now that she's back on and we're breathing... Ertz just made a huge goal line save to keep the 🇺🇸 up by one.2017-8-4 02:52:53
Ertz did, however, exit in the 54th minute after clearly favoring her right knee. It's doubtful she would've been available for the Red Stars in Saturday's match against the Orlando Pride given the quick turnaround time, but the knee injury could jeopardize her status for Chicago's matchup with the Portland Thorns on Aug. 12.
Pugh doubled the United States' lead in the 60th minute, beating Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita with a left-footed shot to the far post. The 19-year-old's potential is there for all to see, and the Guardian's Caitlin Murray thought the goal will help her find her comfort zone on the pitch:
Caitlin Murray @caitlinmurr
As good as Pugh, young with lots of potential. Scoring a goal like that will only boost her confidence and let her to play with more flair.2017-8-4 03:36:37
Morgan capped off the scoring in the 80th minute, getting on the end of a low cross from Taylor Smith. The shot took a deflection off Sameshima before finding the back of the net.
The 2017 Tournament of Champions didn't get off to a great start for the United States after they lost to Australia for the first time in 28 meetings. But the USWNT showed a lot of composure to overturn a 3-1 deficit in the final 10 minutes and put together a strong performance on both ends of the pitch Thursday night.
National team coach Jill Ellis will want to see more of the same when the U.S. returns to action Sept. 15 against New Zealand in the first of two friendlies that will take place over five days.