USA-Japan takeaways: 15ers peak at right time

A wait of 16 years to lift the Women’s World Cup trophy ended Sunday in Vancouver when Christie Rampone and Abby Wambachshared the honors to commemorate a 5-2 victory that will put a third star on the U.S. women’s jersey.

Overpowered by Carli Lloyd’s incredible 16-minute hat trick, defending champion Japan battled back with a pair of goals and launched several other dangerous attacks but never caught up. Tobin Heath’s first goal of the tournament restored a three-goal advantage first provided by Lauren Holiday’s thumping volley.

Of myriad storylines and angles that adorned a remarkable triumph, here are three takeaways from a memorable afternoon at B.C. Place.

1. Lloyd scores one more than in gold-medal game.

Japan didn’t learn its lesson from the 2012 Olympic final in which Lloyd scored both goals in a 2-1 victory.

She ran unmarked from a deep position to score the first goal when Megan Rapinoe’s diagonal corner kick on the ground fooled the Japanese defense, and got a second goal two minutes later when a Lauren Holiday free kick that Julie Johnston flicked on wasn’t cleared and Lloyd tapped in the loose ball.

Of course, Lloyd’s audacious chip from the halfway line stunned everyone, especially Japanese keeper Ayumi Kaihori, who slipped as she started to backpedal and though she got her right glove in the right spot the ball glanced inside the post. But before Lloyd launched that incredible shot, she slipped a tackle in the center circle that could have stopped the play in the U.S. half of the field.

After scoring three goals in its opening game, a 3-1 defeat of Australia, the Americans labored through a goalless game with Sweden and beat Nigeria, 1-0, on a Wambach goal. In the round-of-16 game against Colombia, Wambach drilled a penalty kick wide of the post. The Americans went to score 10 goals in less than three and a half games the rest of the way; Lloyd scored six of them, starting with a second penalty kick awarded later in the Colombia game. She scored with both feet and nailed a header for the only goal against China.

In the final, Lloyd drilled a header wide that could have been a fourth goal, which would rank second on the all-time Women’s World Cup achievements. The WWC record is five goals scored by former USA international Michelle Akers in a 1991 quarterfinal against Chinese Taipei. The only other WWC hat trick by an American was scored by Carin Jennings, who bagged three in that same competition.

2. Variety and desire cashed in U.S. set plays.

The taller Americans figured to have a height advantage on set plays yet they changed up personnel as well as strategy to score twice within the first five minutes and struck again on a set piece for the fifth goal.

Rapinoe’s ball along the ground went straight to Lloyd after space in front of Kaihori was cleared out by Alex Morgan and Heath. Japan tracked those players and the obvious aerial target, Julie Johnston, and didn’t react in time to Lloyd’s run.

On the second goal, though it was taken near the right-wing corner flag, instead Holiday delivered it to the near post and after Johnston flicked it on, it bounced off the arm of Rumi Utsugi. As Morgan raised her arm in an offside appeal, Lloyd flashed quickest to the ball and knocked it in.

The USA also conceded a goal on a set play when Johnston’s jump to deal with one of several dangerous deliveries by Aya Miyama deflected the ball into her own net. Its 4-0 lead trimmed to 4-2, the U.S. responded in two minutes; another Holiday corner wasn’t punched solidly enough by Kaihori, and the very under-praised Morgan Brian relayed the loose ball to Heath to bang home the fifth.

The Japanese kept battling and pressing despite the shock of conceding four goals in 18 minutes but losing out on second balls cost them those two goals, plus a disastrous clearance by defender Azusa Iwashimizu that went straight up in the air dropped invitingly for Holiday to volley spectacularly.

3. Replacements for veterans have been groomed.

Criticism of head coach Jill Ellis mounted as the Americans ground out efficient but not effervescent results, but her confidence in Brian, among others, paid off as they outclassed No. 1 seed Germany and stampeded Japan.

Ellis plugged in Kelley O’Hara and Brian to replace the suspended Holiday and Rapinoe, respectively, in the quarterfinal against China, and used the Holiday-Brian-Lloyd triad intact to devastating effect in the last two games.

The 2016 Olympics are a year away. Ellis’ job security has increased greatly and she’s already groomed replacements for veterans Rampone, Wambach and Shannon Boxx, who are the most likely candidates to retire.

Ellis also found scoring alternatives to Morgan, who came into the tournament hobbled by an injury and laden with the goalscoring burden. Wambach scored only once and failed on a penalty kick; she and Morgan finished the tournament with one goal apiece. O’Hara, a forward in college and for her club team, scored her first international goal off the bench as a sub against Germany; in the final Holiday hit a golazo; and once Lloyd had converted her PK, the coach took advantage of a player who can score in bunches.

“After 15 minutes, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” said Ellis. “We wanted to put them under pressure right from the start, and everything fell into place perfectly. To be honest, I couldn’t really have imagined things turning out better. However, I did know that my players were capable of doing something exceptional. That’s what they were born to do. The greater the pressure on their shoulders, the more they perform at a higher level.”

16 comments about "USA-Japan takeaways: 15ers peak at right time".
  1. Tim Gibson, July 6, 2015 at 9:34 a.m.

    Add Carli's name to the list;

    Michael Phelps,
    Carl Lewis,
    Mark Spitz,
    Lance Armstrong*,
    Jesse Owens,
    Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
    Michael Johnson,
    Matt Biondi,
    Jenny Thompson,
    Caitlyn Jenner*,
    Bonnie Blair,
    Natalie Coughlin,
    Apolo Ohno,
    Dara Torres,
    Greg Louganis,
    Eric Heiden,
    Mary Lou Retton

  2. John M Cote, July 6, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    Three words: What a Team!

  3. William Anderson, July 6, 2015 at 10:28 a.m.

    Eating Crow: These girls turned out to be a great team. It is amazing how playing Wambach masked the skill and confidence of the rest of the group. Once she was (reluctantly)benched, the team blossomed.

  4. Garrett Isacco, July 6, 2015 at 10:44 a.m.

    Kudos to everyone associated with US Soccer for a mindboggling performance.

  5. stewart hayes, July 6, 2015 at 12:09 p.m.

    A stunning performance. Kudos to the players and coaches. Japan certainly was hurt by one day less rest and their coach should be questioned on how easily their man marking on set pieces turned into disaster. Of the 1970 WC game Brazil vs Czechoslovakia Pele said he was aware of the keeper's playing well off the line and went into the game ready to exploit it if he had the chance. It would not surprise me if Carly and coaches were not thinking the same. If Carly's shot was not similarly pre-primed then it is even more astounding for it's sheer audacity and cunning. We have all had games where almost every shot taken goes in. It does not happen to teams that have not spent years and years executing to do this very thing. The final is obviously the right time fly free of the nerves and play with absolute confidence. The team had an overpowering mentality going into this game.

  6. Raymond Weigand, July 6, 2015 at 1:07 p.m.

    William: Hah! Very keen observation. Soccer is a team sport and sometimes it only takes one or two personnel changes for the shape of the team to benefit. The USA Program has so many talented players - even if half the team retired ... USA soccer would still find its way into the finals!

  7. Bret Newman, July 6, 2015 at 4:11 p.m.

    Where is Me. Santiago now? He loved to criticize the U.S. women's team, when they didn't win impressively, but is nowhere to be heard the last two games. Well at least he finally used his brain, and kept quiet, and realized this team's greatness. Goodnight Mr. Santiago! Feel free to comment, only when you admit your wrong about this team, and don't forget to bow down when, or if you do.

  8. Soccer Madness, July 6, 2015 at 4:13 p.m.

    So for all this talk about focusing on skill only without worrying about picking strength speed height, can we all admit that Usa's biggest and I obvious advantage was those very factors, that gave them the clear and huge advantage? Japan was equally as skilled if not a bit more but USA outmatched them physically big time. USA had the best blend of skill speed strength and height. This helped them jump to a 4-0 lead right away over a much smaller slower weaker Japan.

  9. Bob Ashpole, July 6, 2015 at 4:31 p.m.

    Talk about clutch players! The US is a clutch team. Japan is acually a very good team, probably the best opponent we faced (although a big team allowed to wrestle is a harder tactical problem to solve). After the initial flurry of 4 goals, Japan did well to come back 2 instead of collapsing in despair. I have no doubt that the coaches had the entire team at the peak of readiness for this match. A stellar performance by everyone.

  10. Miguel Dedo, July 6, 2015 at 6:02 p.m.

    The Women displayed such class in celebrating the victory and receiving the rewards. This contrasts particularly with gridiron football, high school through the NFL. There, every play that is not a disaster is celebrated as if the player had just freed the slaves or found the holy grail.
    The US Women won the World Cup of soccer, were appropriately joyful, graceful before their fans and their opponents.

  11. James Madison, July 6, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    Lloyd's third goal was opportunistic and enterprising, but scarcely a "chip." Trivia item: the last time a US player scored a hat trick in a WCup match it was Carin Jennings (Gabarra) in the 1991 semi-final against Germany, and the final score was the same 5-2.

  12. James e Chandler, July 7, 2015 at 7:43 a.m.

    Amazed and flabbergasted am I that someone that is writing an article as if they know something about the subject matter would write this: ". . . As Morgan raised her arm in an offside appeal . . . "
    Why would an attacking player appeal for an offside call? Obviously she was appealing for the referee to whistle the Japanese defender for "deliberately handling the ball" which she did not do since Johnston's backward flick/deflection hit her arm too quickly for her to react, and even if she did, she did not gain an advantage seeing how the ball made it to the middle of the 6 where Lloyd's boot was waiting. The commentary on these matches was just atrocious. Even Lalas who occasionally brings some valuable insight must have been in "LaLas Land" when he said during one of the games that the team might be better off if Wambach was in the game when it was obvious that it was Rodriquez's tenacity that was creating those threatening services that weren't there when "Stretch" was on the pitch. All I can say about that team of analyst is "Thank You so much for Heather Mitts"

  13. James e Chandler, July 7, 2015 at 7:58 a.m.

    I am so happy for Carli Lloyd, that it was she who filled the nitch that knitted this team together in the final third. Here's the thing. This US women's team can be better than this. Soccer culture in the US is evolving daily, and this World Cup victory is a surge in the right direction epitomized by the first goal from a "ball on the ground passed to feet", something I'm hearing more every day from youth/hs coaches instead of the dreaded "SEND IT!"
    I recall a few years back when the Women's College Cup was won by Notre Dame over heavily favored Stanford with that very method. That too was one of those eye opening moments of the game's evolution. Not only were there talented players in Canada that didn't spend a lot of playing time, there's an amazing pool of even better trained/more sophisticated women's soccer players in college, and the NWSL that can make the appealing play we saw in this final match a mainstay.

  14. James e Chandler, July 7, 2015 at 8:08 a.m.

    Speaking of the NWSL, if you get a chance, welcome the ladies home by attending their NWSL matches. This World Cup team's strength has to be partly attributed to having the league not only as a means for the internationals to play, and train at a consistent high level, but it's also a development tool, and proving ground for the up-and-comers.

  15. Santiago 1314, July 7, 2015 at 10:27 p.m.

    For Bret;... Sorry, I've been on Cyber Sabbatical... Wasn't sure if u saw this on the other Thread...**Santiago 1314 commented on: July 7, 2015 at 5:02 p.m.@Bob, I was very Pleasantly Surprised to see the Level of Skill Displayed over the last 4 games... The Insertion of Brian Morgan to Holding Mid was a Revelation.. So Composed on the Ball... No Panic.. That was also Infectious... The Team really Settled down and Played With Skill and Composure, that I didn't think they were capable of. ..So I'll admit to Underestimating them, and eat some Humble Pie...

  16. Santiago 1314, July 8, 2015 at 10:27 a.m.

    Oh and Bret, Just in case you missed this one....*** Santiago 1314 commented on: July 7, 2015 at 11:29 a.m.** Just Saying ** WE GOT OUR "11" !!! Thank You Carli !!!  *** From #US-Germany Ratings# Santiago 1314 commented on: June 30, 2015 at 10:49 p.m...As for the Players... (10) for Everyone...You just won a World Cup Semi-Final...This is what we Expected from You, This is what we DEMAND of You...Now we will need an (11) to beat Japan...You Can do it... WE BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN !!! "American Exceptionalism"... Worth ONE Goal, Every Game.*** 7/7/15; Coach Jill and Staff; (11) also,... For Wonderfully designed Set Pieces and the Guts to LET THE PLAYERS EXPRESS THEMSELVES... (11) FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED.. YOU JUST WON THE WORLD CUP !!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!! TICKER TAPE PARADE IN NEW YORK !!!

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