The USWNT’s final Tournament of Nations match will pit them against a familiar rival on August 3rd: Japan, the #7-ranked team in the world. The match will take place at 10pm ET on August 3 at the StubHub Center in Carson City, CA, where the US last faced Romania in November 2016 and netted an exciting 5-0 win. Fans can catch the game on ESPN2.
Jill Ellis has called up an interesting mix of veteran and new players for the Tournament. While she’s said that GK Alyssa Naeher will start all three matches, it might be nice to get Jane Campbell some minutes in a high-pressure game like this, especially as it seems like she’s being groomed for the #2 spot.
- Goalkeepers: Alyssa Naeher, Jane Campbell, Abby Smith
- Defenders: Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Julie Ertz, Abby Dahlkemper, Casey Short, Taylor Smith.
- Midfielders: Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Morgan Brian, Allie Long, Samantha Mewis, Margaret Purce.
- Forwards: Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, Christen Press, Sydney Leroux, Mallory Pugh, Lindsey Horan, Lynn Williams.
Players who were not called up due to injury or other reasons include: Tobin Heath (back), Meghan Klingenberg (other), Rose Lavelle (hamstring), Ashlyn Harris (quadriceps).
Japan is a little bit of an unknown entity right now, which could work in the US’s favor as easily as it could work against them. They had a rough 2016, losing several long-term players and failing to qualify for the Olympics. But Coach Asako Takakura (hired in 2016) is confident in her team, especially in the four players who could potentially earn their first cap in this tournament: GK Saitoh, DF Sakamoto, MF Haji, and FW Tomari. “This time,” she said, “I want the matches to have two different main things: broaden the team’s capacity and improving the team’s strengths.” If Japan manages to succeed, they’ll be a formidable opponent, for sure.
- Goalkeepers: Ayaka Saitoh, Sakiko Ikeda, Ayaka Yamashita
- Defenders: Aya Sameshima, Miho Manya, Riho Sakamoto, Hikari Takagi, Ayumi Oya, Hikaru Kitagawa, Nana Ichise
- Midfielders: Mizuho Sakaguchi, Madoka Haji, Rumi Utsugi, Emi Nakajima, Hikaru Naomoto, Yu Nakasato, Rin Sumida, Yui Hasegawa
- Forwards: Shiho Tomari, Yuika Sugasawa, Kumi Yokoyama, Mina Tanaka, Yuka Momiki
Notable players out due to injury: Kaede Nakamura
In the past five years, Japan has played a major role in the US’s drive for excellence, facing them in three major tournament finals: 2011’s WWC in Germany, 2012’s Summer Olympics in London, and the unforgettable 2015 WWC final in Canada, where Carli Lloyd dashed Japanese hopes of back-to-back World Cup victories in just sixteen short minutes. Overall, the US is 26-1-7 against Nadeshiko Japan and has scored 97 goals to Japan’s 25 against them.
The last time the US played the Japanese women was in June 2016, as they geared up for Rio. The Japanese did not qualify for the tournament but traveled to the United States for two summer friendlies in the last month before the US team headed down to Brazil. It was the first time they’d played each other since the WWC final in 2015, and Japan was eager to show that their absence from the Olympics was a fluke, and not due to a talent vacuum in the wake of several retirements. The teams drew 3-3 in the first of two friendlies, but just three days later in Cleveland, OH, the USWNT defeated Japan with a 2-0 victory.
The United States need to win this match–and win with a high goal differential–in order to have a chance at coming in on top in their home tournament. And even then, they’ll need Australia to lose to Brazil. Luckily for them, they’ll be coming in on a high note after a fabulous nine-minute and three-goal drive at the end of their match against Brazil. Unfortunately for them, however, coach Jill Ellis has continued to experiment with formations, and neither Japan nor the fans will have any idea what to expect when the Starting XI is announced on Thursday. (Becky Sauerbrunn at Defensive Mid? Really?) In order for the US to find any sort of rhythm in this game, they’re going to need to play fluidly and intelligently. And they’re going to need to get on the scoreboard as early as possible while keeping a tight defensive line. Both of these things have proven complicated for the team in their first two games of this tournament, so we’ll see how well they can adapt and regroup for their final match-up.
Japan will be coming in frustrated, held to a 1-1 draw against Brazil and a 2-4 loss to Australia. They set their defensive pressure too high against a volatile Australian offensive–i.e., Sam Kerr–and they paid for it. Kerr destroyed their backline, breaking through time and time again, and capitalizing three times. While the US’s offense hasn’t been as dynamic as Australia’s in this tournament, if Japan leave that much space between their pressure and their keeper, eventually the US will find a way to get behind and make a play for the net. This Japanese team is experiencing the same kind of transition to a new era as the US, and that can be painful. But experimentation can have unexpected (if sometimes irreproducible) results. In the end, all either team will need is a lucky break to build their confidence, and they’ll be off to the races.
US supporters will want to watch for Christen Press. Press has been on a roll for her club, the Chicago Red Stars, and once she came onto the field against Brazil the entire tone of the game changed. She found the net in the 80′ minute, just seconds after Brazil’s final goal of the match, and sparked a nine-minute scoring spree for the US that gave them the unexpected but not unwelcome win. Ideally, I’d like to see Press in the Starting XI, but even if she’s a second-half substitute, the dynamic will shift in the US’s favor the moment her boot hits the pitch.
Fans of the Seattle Reign will recognize midfielder Rumi Utsugi, of course, who signed with Laura Harvey’s team in 2016. But one player to watch will be veteran Aya Sameshima, who was a member of that 2011 Women’s World Cup winning team and scored a goal in the 2015 WWC in a match against Cameroon. Sameshima’s talent on the backline could spell disaster for a US attack that has struggled to find the net against upper-level opponents in recent memory. Combine that with the scoring potential of Japan’s Kumi Yokoyama, who’s scored 11 goals in 20 appearances for her national team, and the US’s final match could be their most difficult.