Alex Morgan Scores, but Japan Gets Late Equalizer in Draw vs. USA

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2019

CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 27:   Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States takes the ball in the first half against Japan at Talen Energy Stadium on February 27, 2019 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The United States women's national team played to a 2-2 draw with Japan in its opening game of the 2019 SheBelieves Cup at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Megan Rapinoe scored the opener for the United States in the 23rd minute. Emi Nakajima equalized in the 67th minute as the U.S. struggled to find a creative spark. Alex Morgan delivered a go-ahead in the 76th minute.

FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

MORGAN GIVES THE U.S. THE LEAD! That would be her first of 2019 and No. 99 for her USWNT career 🇺🇸 #SheBelieves @alexmorgan13 https://t.co/mhggcJk8ah

Into the first minute of second-half stoppage time, Japan took advantage of some sloppy defending by the USWNT, with Yuka Momiki bringing the score level at two.

FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

😳 Japan provide a late twist and score a last-minute equalizer against the USWNT! https://t.co/xCoKzCm9fF


Jill Ellis Must Address Midfield Before Difficult Match with England

USWNT coach Jill Ellis sprang a bit of a surprise when she lined up Mallory Pugh in the midfield to start the match. The 20-year-old had a role in Rapinoe's goal, as her pass down the right flank found Tobin Heath, who delivered the cross into Rapinoe on the edge of the six-yard box.

For the most part, though, Pugh struggled to make an impact. Most of the United States' best attacking moves came out wide, and the team utilized a more direct style at times to counteract Japan's defensive-minded approach. In both respects, Pugh got bypassed as the USWNT moved the ball up the field.

Black and Red United @blackandredU

Game's been quite vertical so far, leaving Pugh and Lavelle with little opportunity to influence the game. #USWNT looking to push the ball very quickly up to their wingers, Japan not able to slow that down much.

Even more puzzlingly, Ellis changed her formation at halftime and seemingly dropped the more creative Pugh even deeper in midfield.

Kimberly McCauley @lgbtqfc

...they put in Sonnett to play wingback in a 3-4-3? With Pugh in a double pivot? Is Jill Ellis OK?

Stars and Stripes FC @StarsStripesFC

Sonnet subs in for O'Hara. This new formation is a... *squints* 5-4-1? That seems to want Pugh to act as a ballwinner? So...that's happening? #USAvJPN

There's no question the United States' defending left a lot to be desired Wednesday. Tierna Davidson effectively gifted Japan its first goal when she passed the ball directly to Nakajima, who then fired a shot into the far post.

Becky Sauerbrunn will help get the defense back on track when she's at 100 percent again. Fox announcer JP Dellacamera said Sauerbrunn was dealing with minor knee irritation (h/t soccer writer Caitlin Murray).

The midfield is a little harder to solve, and Ellis' tactical changes mid-match are evidence of that fact.

Pugh is certainly a large part of the USWNT's future, but one could argue the team works better right now with Christen Press in the starting lineup. Press made an immediate impact when she entered the match in the 76th minute.

Neil W. Blackmon @nwblackmon

Christen Press all over the place tonight since coming on. She does so many things competently it is easy to see why it’s hard to isolate a specific position. That’s an ideal quality for an impact sub though. The speed helps too.

Black and Red United @blackandredU

Christen Press was the best #USWNT player in the previous camp this year, and she's been great since coming on here. Ellis might need to find a way to keep her in the lineup regardless of the other starters.

Much attention will be paid to how Ellis lines up the United States in their next fixture because replicating Wednesday's starting XI would clearly be the wrong move.


What's Next?

The United States will play England on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee. The two teams last played in March 2018, with the USWNT earning a 1-0 win. Japan moves on to a match with Brazil on Saturday.