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U.S. defeats Japan 2-1 in Algarve Cup opener

Amy Rodriguez

Amy Rodriguez scored the opening goal for the U.S. in a 2-1 win over Japan. (Howard C. Smith/ISI Photos)

The U.S. Women’s National Team opened the Algarve Cup on Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over Japan.

Two early goals were the difference for the U.S., which out-shot Japan 14-6. Amy Rodriguez opened the scoring for the U.S. in the eighth minute when she collected goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart’s long free kick, spun and fired the ball past Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukimoto. Midfielder Megan Rapione doubled the U.S.’ advantage ten minutes later when she finished a cross from Heather O’Reilly on the counter attack to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

However, Japan quickly cut that advantage in half when midfielder Aya Miyama, a former WPS player, beat Barnhart in the top right corner. That made it 2-1, but no more goals would be scored in this match.

U.S. Head Coach Pia Sundhage used the second half to tinker with her line-up. At halftime, Tobin Heath replaced Rapinoe and Abby Wambach, who is still not 100 percent recovered from Achilles tendinitis, replaced Lauren Cheney. Young forward Alex Morgan replaced Rodriguez in the 63rd minute and Lori Lindsey came on for Shannon Boxx in the center of the park in the 71st minute.

One noticeable difference for the U.S. came in the back. Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler played center back with Ali Krieger on the right and Stephanie Cox on the left. Prior to this match, the U.S. looked to be settled on a system that featured Buehler playing left back with Rampone and Amy LePeilbet centrally and Heather Mitts at right back. Mitts is injured, which explains Krieger’s spot on the right side, but Buehler’s shift back to center back, her natural position, is interesting. Sundhage may have just been trying different combinations, something the Algarve Cup is usually used for.  LePeilbet missed the game with a “minor knee issue.”  Whitney Engen and Becky Sauerbrunn were the only defenders on the bench.

“The Japanese are very technical so the back line did a very good job of holding the line and staying compact so they couldn’t dink the ball through and we caught them offside a lot,” U.S. captain and defender Christie Rampone said.  “The good starting positions (of the backs) also helped us get into the attack today.  We did really well offensively and our outside backs got forward a lot, so good defensive pressure turned into a good offensive day for us.”

The match should have provided great experience for both the U.S. and Japan, which is ranked No. 5 in the world. Japan, notorious for falling out of the Women’s World Cup in the group stage, has never beaten the United States. With the win, the U.S. improves to 20-0-3 against Japan.

Check out highlights of the game below. Miyama’s goal truly was something special. Barnhart did not even attempt to save it.

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