USWNT Japan Draw: Disappointed, But Learning Lessons For Olympics

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(Editorial) – In performance, it was a good start. In scoreline, it was a bad start. The United States Women’s National Team was down 2-0 after 22 minutes of play against the Japanese Women’s National Team at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Thursday night.

“Being down 2-0 was the kind of adversity this team needed to face especially with the young players,” said forward Alex Morgan after the match. Morgan added “there were times when we broke down too easily and that’s where we need to be more engaged easily.” While Japan did well moving the ball on both goals, the US could have done better defensively. This is something that will come with time but will need to emphasized going forward.

The team battled back to tie the game 2-2 after Japan was reduced to 10 players when Yuki Ogimi got a second yellow card for a slide tackle on Julie Johnston in the 57th minute. “I think all of our attacking players had flashes of good moments, but can they be consistent throughout the game,” said head coach Jill Ellis after the game.

Then in the 89th minute, substitute and Colorado native Lindsey Horan scored on the header to give the US a 3-2 lead. It seemed to be the storybook ending of another exciting US-Japan game.

But that evaporated in the third minute of stoppage time when Kumi Yokoyama scored on a defensive breakdown at the top of the box. The match ended 3-3.

While Ellis and company are disappointed, they took a lot from the lessons learned from this game. “The last goal I sum up to positioning. We had a bad turnover and we were out of shape,” the coach said in the post game.

This relatively young squad believes this was a game and experience that will help better prepare them for the Olympics. “Everything that we’re doing right now is to prepare us for the Olympic Games,” Ellis said about moving forward beyond the match. “We learned a valuable lesson. Unfortunately it is a tough lesson, but if it helps us down in Brazil, I’ll take it.”

Ellis and Morgan were happy with the way the new and younger attacking pieces performed in the 4-3-3. Morgan felt that “although we do have a young team, that belief is always there, that mentality is always there. [Mallory Pugh] always looks like she has a lot of confidence, taking on players.”

Pugh feels she and Morgan have already developed chemistry on and off the field: “Ever since I came into the first team, she’s been very helpful and supportive. We’ve just had a connection.”

“They’re young players, but to see them come in and change the game . . . I was pleased,” said Ellis about the Colorado girls, Horan and Pugh. “For Lindsey, it was good that she got the 45 [minutes]. It’s the experience of the thing than the actual game.”

The result didn’t seem to bother anyone in the locker room considering the opponent and the developing rivalry between the Americans and Japanese. Ellis: “It doesn’t matter what players are in the uniforms, it’s Japan-US. Both teams have such a competitive rivalry and incredible respect for each other.” Pugh added “this was the World Cup final game. Getting this experience and being surrounded by players who had been in World Cups was humbling.”

The focus now shifts to the next match and their preparation for the Olympics. “We’re turning our focus towards the next game. We’ve got to keep learning,” said Horan after the match.

The USWNT is clearly bothered by the result they let slip away, but they aren’t licking their wounds. Ellis has more information on the newer and younger players. She can now continue to modify and refine the depth chart. She also knows what needs to be tweaked going forward, in the attack and defense.

Morgan and the other veteran leaders see the promise many of these young players have. They’re helping to shape the kids, like Pugh and Horan. The rookies seemed bright-eyed but unfazed by the big stage, result, or quality of their opponent.

The entire squad had a “oh well, lesson learned, on to the next one” feel. This was a good thing in the long run even if the loss stings right now. Hopefully it’s stung enough that they won’t let this happen come the Olympics. They’ll be sound enough to not give up a 2-0 lead. They’ll be clinical enough finish off a team that’s down a woman and hold that lead.

These are the World Cup champions after all. Anything less than a Gold Medal is a failure.