Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By CAITLIN MURRAY
Facing their toughest challenge of the year, the U.S. Women’s National Team tied Japan 1-1 Wednesday to open the prestigious 2014 Algarve Cup on a goalkeeper error forced by Sydney Leroux.
The USWNT went into Wednesday’s match with a 42-game unbeaten streak, with their last loss being at the 2012 Algarve Cup against Japan. Though the unbeaten streak survived, the U.S. struggled to finish chances in their first match against the reigning World Cup champions in two years.
It seems to be a testament to the closeness of these two sides that the USWNT’s goal came from an unusual forced error by Japan’s 23-year-old goalkeeper Erina Yamane in just her fifth cap. With the ball at Yamane’s feet from a routine back pass in the 59th minute, Leroux charged the keeper to block a clearance that deflected back into the net for an easy goal.
Japan equalized in the 82nd with a soaring free kick from Aya Miyama 30 yards out. A diving Hope Solo was able to get a hand on it, but only enough to deflect it into the side netting behind the line. The bulk of Japan’s chances up to that point were from distance, but never really tested Solo much.
Coming out in a 4-4-2, coach Tom Sermanni benched mainstay forward Abby Wambach and started Leroux with Christen Press up top in only their third time starting together. Alex Morgan was left off the Algarve Cup roster due to injury.
The USWNT outshot Japan 20-8, but settling for poor shots, and compact defending from Japan, stymied what might have been a field day against a lesser team for the U.S.
Since Sermanni had declared 2013 was for experimentation and 2014 is about results, Wednesday’s match-up was the USWNT’s first serious threat of the year. Japan, No. 3 in FIFA’s world rankings, had memorably beaten the No. 1-ranked USA for the 2011 World Cup in dramatic fashion in a penalty kick shootout.
The Algarve Cup will continue to be a good test for the American side as Sermanni looks to whittle down a deep bench for next year’s World Cup – the USWNT faces No. 6-ranked Sweden Friday. The matches are not being broadcast in the U.S.
What do you think of this result? Does the USWNT have more work to do before they are ready to seek redemption against Japan at next year’s World Cup? What do you think of the Leroux/Press pairing?
Share your thoughts below.