Japan was hosting the United States on home soil in Sendai in the Kirin Cup, and the two sides played to a 1-1 draw. Japan was looking to continue the domination they have shown over the United States since winning the 2011 Women's World Cup. The United States had never lost to Japan prior to the World Cup, and have not won against them since.
Japan also downed the United States when they played at the Algarve Cup in March of this year.That loss denied the United States the chance to repeat as Algarve Cup champions. Germany eventually went on to win, beating Japan 4-3 in a thrilling final.
United States forward Alex Morgan scored in the 72nd minute in Sendai April 1 to earn the draw and avoid the team losing to Japan three matches in a row. Morgan has now scored 12 goals in 2012 to lead the team. Her goal looked to be in trouble when she was ruled offside, but referee Li Juan went over, there was a brief discussion, and the offside ruling was overturned.
The right call
Replays show it was the correct call. Not only was Morgan in an onside position, but the ball to her actually came off the foot of a Japan defender. What might have looked like a pass in from Carli Llyod was actually a dispossession that Morgan was able to convert into a goal.
As fans we are quick to point out when officials make a bad call, and rightly so. We should also be fast to acknowledge when they get it right.
A better beginning, but still more to do
The United States opened play with a more focused attack this time, but it was still a chippy game early. Japan were able to control the run of play for the most part, playing their technical game and controlling the majority of possession. In spite of that, the U.S. did have their chances to go up early. The excellent defending from Japan kept the net clear.
The United States defense opened just enough for the ball to get in line for a shot from Yukari Kinga, but an outstanding save from 'keeper Hope Solo denied her. Unfortunately for Solo, the clearance went right back to Kinga, who wasn't to be denied on her second opportunity.
It was a better second half of play for the United States, who had the majority of shots after the intermission. If Morgan had not slipped on a chance in the 67th minute, she might have ended the game with a brace. Hope Solo made another great save against Nahomi Kawasumi to hold the lead to one goal in the 69th, allowing Morgan's score to equalize.
Overall, the United States played a more solid match against Japan this time versus the loss in the Algarve Cup almost a month prior. Still, they have work to do with the Olympics coming up. Japan surely will be wanting to follow up the World Cup win with an Olympic gold medal. The competition between the top teams is likely to be the closest of any Olympic tournament.
The United States, Germany, and Japan make up the top three teams by ranking, respectively. The next game for the United States is against Brazil, the side at no. 4. The fixture is part of the Kirin Cup and will be played April 3.
Jeff Musall is a longtime fan of international soccer. He began following the women's game during the 1991 World Cup run.
- Alex Morgan