U.S. Ladies Steamroll Japan

The U.S. Women’s National Team got a powerful header from Shannon Boxx in the first half, and second half strikes from Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach to record a rousing 4-1 win over a feisty Japanese Women’s National Team on a gorgeous night at Spartan Stadium.

A crowd of more than 11,000 saw the USA improve its record to 11-0-2 in 2007 with just two games left in the team’s Send-Off Series before leaving for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China. This year the USA is 9-0-2 against teams that will be playing in the Women’s World Cup.

“I was really happy with the performance,” said U.S. head coach Greg Ryan. “I thought we defended really well. Japan is very quick, skillful and creative, and broke us down in the second half, but overall I thought we defended very well. I was really happy with how aggressive we were in attacking and really going after them.”

The USA has now won three consecutive games against the Japanese after tying the three previous matches. The four goals were the most the U.S. team has scored against Japan in the last seven matches between the two countries dating back to 2000.

The tight dimensions of the Spartan Stadium field certainly impacted play, making for a very crowded midfield, but the Americans dealt well with the conditions, using the flanks despite the 68-yard width as outside backs Christie Rampone and Stephanie Lopez consistently got forward into the attack.

Lopez set up the first U.S. goal and Rampone the second. The USA got on the board through a corner kick in the 17th minute as Lopez swung a whistling cross in from the left side. Boxx lost her mark for a moment, and on the dead run but without leaving her feet, sent a bullet header into the right side of the net from just inside the six-yard box.

It was Boxx’s 15th career international goal, but first she returned from major surgery after suffering a knee injury in the middle of 2006. Boxx was forced to leave the game with five minutes left after cracking heads with a Japanese player and needed four stitches to close a gash above her right eye, but she was fine after the match.

Rampone’s cross from the right wing led to the second goal as the ball glanced off the head of Lindsay Tarpley, which wasn’t enough to send the shot on goal, but just enough to throw off recovering Japanese defender Yukari Kinga, who ran through the ball and inadvertently knocked it into her own net with her shin from a few yards out.

Japan put together a flurry in the middle of the first half, which produced several corner kicks and a well struck shot in the right side of the penalty area from Shinobu Ohno, but U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo easily gobbled it up at the near post.

The U.S. team created chances all night, putting nine of its 16 total shots on goal, and had several near misses. While the USA controlled most of the first half, the second saw the world’s top-ranked team quicken the pace and rhythm as they attacked the Japanese goal relentlessly, peppering goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto with numerous shots and crosses.

The U.S. got its third goal in the 55th minute after Leslie Osborne crossed from the right flank to Lori Chalupny, who was stationed in the middle of the penalty area. Chalupny brought the ball down beautifully with her back to goal, held off a defender and slipped a short pass to Lilly

The U.S. captain bent her first-time left-footed shot into the left side netting from nine yards out, giving Fukumoto no chance. It was Lilly’s 124th career goal and seventh of 2007.

“Each game we feel better,” said Lilly. “Obviously, there are moments we want to change and we don’t want to let in a goal like that. We get little lulls – 15 or 20 minutes – in a game that we want to clean up and end up keeping the ball, but for the most part if we’re scoring four goals, that’s good for us. That means we’re putting more numbers up there and it makes it harder for teams to come back. I thought overall this team did great tonight, all our subs stepping on the field tonight and making a difference, it was really awesome tonight for us.”

The USA went on to threaten with a point blank header off corner kick by Wambach that was cleared by defender, a wide open header that Lilly put over the top, a sneaky shot by Lilly that almost skipped into the near post if not for a Fukumoto smother and a shot from Cat Whitehill that was stuffed by the Japanese ‘keeper almost right on the goal line after the U.S. defender had ran onto lopping ball over the defense.

The final U.S. goal came in the 74th minute after Kinga, on a night she may like to forget, handled the ball in the penalty box after substitute Carli Lloyd had tried to flick the ball over hear head. Wambach sent Fukumoto the wrong way and blasted her shot into the left side of the net for her 75th career goal, tying Cindy Parlow for fifth on the all-time scoring list. Parlow scored 75 goals in 158 career games. Wambach’s 75th came in her 94th career match.

In the 74th minute, Japan came close to pulling one back when Nayuha Toyada dribbled down the left flank and then cut back towards the penalty area. With time, the defender teed up and ripped a shot that got past the outstretched hands of Solo only to find the top of the crossbar and skip out of bounds.

Japan finally found net five minutes later, ending the USA’s shutout streak at 398 minutes over the past four games. The goal was created by a series of nice one-touch passes, but a U.S. tackle pushed the ball right into the path of Yuki Nagasato and she hammered it past Solo from 12 yards out.

“I think a lot of Asian teams are very similar,” said Lilly in reference to how this match can help in the USA’s Women’s World Cup opener against North Korea. “They’re technical ability is probably the best in the world. They are very technical on the ball and they’re very quick. You saw their goal, it was three passes and boom. I believe that’s what North Korea is going to be like. We haven’t seen them in quite a while, but Japan is like that, China is like that, so that’s the kind of Asian technique that they have and it was good for us to see that. We played China, Brazil, Norway and Japan, all different looks and it gives us an opportunity for these players that haven’t had World Cup experience to experience World Cup teams beforehand and know what we’ll be up against this September.”