A hat-trick from Alex Morgan propelled the USWNT to a 4–0 win over Sweden to claim third place at the 2012 Algarve Cup on Wednesday.
But the thoughts of many US Soccer fans—and the team—surely lingered on the 1–0 loss to Japan on Monday in the first meeting of the two countries since the US lost to Japan in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. As in the World Cup final, it was a patient Japan waiting out a US team that could not finish there chances.
Morgan scores first career hat-trick
In their previous three meetings with Sweden, the USWNT had lost 2–1 in January of 2011 at the Four Nations Tournament in China, was then defeated 2–1 in group play at the Women’s World Cup, and tied 1–1 in the final friendly of 2011 in Arizona. Morgan made clear her intentions to reverse that winless streak in the 4th minute when she ran on to a Heather O’Reilly pass from deep in the US half to beat two defenders. Finding Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl off her line, Morgan calmly delivered a curving chip into goal.
Morgan scored again in the 33rd minute. Running onto a pass sent from Tobin Heath to the left side of the penalty area, Morgan’s first touch took her past the defender. With Lindahl coming out out to close Morgan’s angle, she blasted a shot that deflected off the keeper’s right hand and inside the left post.
Three minutes later, Abby Wambach met Christie Rampone’s long and well-struck free kick to head home the third goal.
In the 72nd minute, Morgan completed her hat-trick. A chip from Lauren Cheney, who had just entered the match, again found Morgan on a run with the keeper off her line. Morgan lobbed the ball in from 12 yards out to record her 5th goal of the tournament, her 21st in 36 appearances.
Japan downs the US, again
The US must have liked their chances heading into Monday’s match against Japan for a tie would have been enough to send them through to their tenth straight Algarve Cup final. Instead, for the first time 57 matches since a scoreless draw with South Korea in 2008, the US failed to find the back of the net and were handed their first loss of 2012. While the US had seven shots in the match only two were on goal; Japan put four of its five shots on frame.
Each team had only one corner kick in the match, but Japan managed to take advantage of their to score the lone goal when Megumi Takase headed Aya Miyama’s 84th minute corner kick past Hope Solo.
It was Morgan who had the best US chance of the first half, but her left footed effort in the 26th minute from 16 yards out banged of the right post. A last gasp cross from Stephanie Cox to Shannon Boxx was headed just over the crossbar from 10 yards out.
USWNT coach Pia Sundhage said after the game, “I think the first half we looked very nervous and the decision making was off. Too many times we gave away the ball in situations when we were not even under pressure or in tight spaces. We couldn’t keep the ball enough to be dangerous. When you give away the ball against Japan, they keep it.”
Abby Wambach said, “They keep such good possession that it’s really difficult to get a rhythm because you don’t have as much possession as you normally do.” She added, “You have to stay patient and not get so frustrated with the lack of possession. Japanese players are so technical, they force you into pulling yourself out of shape defensively. You have to stay very committed and be patient in the defense and take advantage of the few opportunities you get in a game like that.”
Sundhage also pointed to a lack of good service from the wings. “The fact that we do have good players in the box, I expected more crosses. That’s one way to be dangerous for this team, find a way to change the point of attack and hit quality crosses. It was a little better in the second half I think.”
But the lack of possession was echoed by Morgan. “They are a very possession-oriented team and we struggle with that at times. It was difficult for us to keep possession. We gained some momentum in the second half, but we never fully got it…I don’t think we did enough to win this match.”
O’Reilly said of the loss, “I think more than anything, it opens our eyes to areas we can improve in. Better now that we have this experience than later during the Olympics. I think we have a lot to learn from and a lot grow from, but we’re trying to pull the positives out of it.”
The USWNT will soon have an opportunity to show they have learned their lessons from the loss to Japan. Their next match is April 1 in the three-nation Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup tournament in Sendai, Japan (6:30am, ESPN2, ESPN 3). Their opponent? You guessed it, Japan. The US then faces Brazil on April 3 (7am, ESPN, ESPN2).
Germany wins Algarve Cup
Germany would avenge their loss to Japan in the 2011 Women’s World Cup on Wednesday when they defeated Japan 4–3 in a fast and furious match. Do yourself a favor and turn off the volume on the highlight clip below.
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