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Rapinoe, Pugh, Morgan lead USWNT to 3-0 win over Japan in ToN finale

Megan Rapinoe's first half goal ends up being the game winner in the USWNT's 2-0 win over Japan in the finale of the Tournament of Champions

Megan Rapinoe’s first half goal ends up being the game winner in the USWNT’s 2-0 win over Japan in the finale of the Tournament of Champions

In a match that, before this tournament started, many thought may have decided first and second place of the inaugural Tournament of Nations, the United States defeated Japan 3-0 thanks to goals by Megan Rapinoe, Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan. After Australia took the title in tonight’s earlier match up, this win gave the USWNT a second place finish and the loss for Japan left them in third place after three games a side.

In a rematch of the last two FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals, Jill Ellis’ side came out in a 4-3-3 really looking to build off of the momentum from their most recent come from behind, thrilling victory against Brazil over the weekend. Julie Ertz, Christen Press, and Mallory Pugh returned to the starting line up for the United States ahead of kick off against Japan. Asako Takakura’s Japanese side came out with a 3-5-2 looking for their first win of the Tournament of Nations.

In the 35th meeting between these two women’s soccer powerhouses, there was a quick start for the United States with two back to back corners in the fifth minute. The first went wide after a few deflections and the second was headed right for Carli Lloyd on the far post, but she was unable to direct it back on goal. Despite a few early attacking moves from the United States, Japan kept possession and were able to get down the field. The United States, inside 10 minutes, showed their most impressive start so far this tournament- confidence and urgency seemed to be prevalent on the field for the women in red.

In the first dangerous chance for the United States in the 8th minute, Megan Rapinoe rocketed one outside the box, but it went right over the cross bar. One minute later, it was Rapinoe again with another stellar chance for the USWNT. Julie Ertz won the ball back in the midfield and was able to  spring a ball forward to Rapinoe who was in against the keeper, but it went just wide into the side netting.

The first goal of the game came in the 12th minute, from none other than Megan Rapinoe, the most dangerous U.S. player in the opening 10 minutes. Christen Press settled a ball and slotted one into Rapinoe who was inside the box, with one defender on her. Rapinoe took a few touches and faked a shot which forced the defender to slide and then she put one into the back of the net just inside the low far post to give the United States a 1-0 lead. Rapinoe, who’s currently leading the NWSL in goals with 12, locked in her second goal of the three-game tournament with her finish.

Japan saw it’s first real chance of the game in the 22nd minute when USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was forced to make a save off a shot from Mina Tanaka from outside of the box. As the 30 minute mark approached, the tone of the game started to shift as Japan started to find its footing and began to own some of the the possession game in the middle of the field. In the 33rd minute, Japan almost had its equalizer as Tanaka was in behind Naeher but her shot was denied by Ertz who saved the ball off the line preserving the U.S. lead, despite colliding with the post. Thanks to the Rapinoe goal, the USWNT look the 1-0 advantage into the half time break after out-shooting Japan 8-6.

The start of the second half began much like the first with the USWNT coming out of the gates flying. Within the first 10 seconds of the second half, Lloyd took a ball out of the air from Abby Dahkemper and after a few touches in front of goal, she ended up hitting the ball over the cross bar. In the 48th minute, Christen Press had a great look on goal at the top of the box, but her shot went high and wide.

Mallory Pugh beats her defender during the second half against England. (MEG LINEHAN/Equalizer Soccer)

Mallory Pugh scored the second goal on the night to extend the U.S. lead to 2-0 in the second half. (MEG LINEHAN/Equalizer Soccer)

In the 50th minute, Japan saw it’s first dangerous sequence of the second half when Yui Hasegawa was in close and able to get a shot off against Naeher that forced her to make a diving save. But, the USWNT increased their lead in the 60th minute as Mallory Pugh scored her fifth international goal off a Taylor Smith through ball to put the United States ahead by two with 30 minutes to play.

Madoka Haji got on the end of a through ball behind the USWNT defense but her shot went just wide as she missed a big opportunity to bring the game back within one goal with a little over 20 minutes to go. Six minutes later, it was Japan again as Hikaru Kitagawa got a shot off that Naeher needed a concerted effort to hold onto as Japan continued to drive trying to find a goal. Unfortunately for Japan, Alex Morgan swung the momentum back in the USWNT’s favor by putting one away off Taylor Smith’s second assist of the night to give the United States a 3-0 lead. The goal for Morgan was her first in her last eight USWNT games.

In the 85th minute, Sydney Leroux almost made it onto the USWNT score sheet but a great reaction save from Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita forced the ball wide outside of the goal. After 90 minutes of play, the United States locked in their 3-0 defeat over Japan in the last game of the Tournament of Nations, ensuring a second place overall finish in the tournament.

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