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