The USA came out firing on all
cylinders in the opening game of the Tournament of Nations, creating chances from all combinations of players.
The bottom line: Alex Morgan's hat trick -- the fourth of her career -- was the difference as the USA beat Japan, 4-2, in the second game of a doubleheader at Kansas City's Children's Mercy Park.
Defending champion Australia, beat Brazil, 3-1, in the opening game of the four-team tournament that resumes on Sunday.
1. Morgan finds different ways to complete hat trick.
What was impressive about Morgan's hat trick was the different ways she scored. On the opening goal in the 18th minute, Christen Press broke through the middle and laid the ball off to Megan Rapinoe on the left wing to play it back into the center of the box, where Morgan was perfectly placed to slot the ball away.
Japan equalized two minutes later, but the USA didn't waste time to regain the lead, going ahead in the 26th minute when Morgan headed home Emily Sonnett's lofted cross.
Morgan's third goal was the best of the evening for sub Tobin Heath's work to break free of two Japan defenders and put in a cross from the end line and for Morgan's control, playing the ball from her left knee to her left foot, which she used to blast the ball past keeper Ayaka Yamashita from close range.
2. Ellis has lots of (different) options on the wings.
The USA is about the healthiest it has been all year, giving Coach Jill Ellis plenty of options, and the players she used responded by created a flurry of chances. Most impressive was the production from the wings, an issue in the past, and production that came in different ways.
Before she went off for Heath, Press created problems for the Japanese with runs from different positions. She's always been a tweener -- not quite a winger and not an out-of-out striker -- but her unorthodoxy makes her effective, especially when everyone around her is active.
Heath is more of a classic winger, beating defenders from wide positions and getting to the end-line. That's what she did moments after entering game when she set up Morgan.
When you consider there's also Rapinoe on the left wing -- she scored the fourth goal in addition to assisting on Morgan's first goal -- and Mallory Pugh should be available again in the fall, that's quite a quartet to choose from.
3. Japanese scored far too easily.
All was not perfect. Both Japanese goals came far too easily.
Even if her final shot took a fortunate deflection to loop over U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher, Mina Tanaka did great work to turn around Abby Dahlkemper after breaking right through the heart of the U.S. defense.
Following a string of substitutes, the U.S. defense suffered a letdown with the score at 4-1, and Moeno Sakaguchi brushed aside Heath's tackle and was given plenty of time to line up a shot over Naeher from the left side into the far corner.
TRIVIA. Besides Morgan and Rapinoe, the only other player to start every game for the USA in 2018 is Stanford University junior Tierna Davidson.
July 26 in Kansas City, Kansas
USA 4 Japan 2. Goals: Morgan 18, 26, 56, Rapinoe 66; Tanaka 20, Sakaguchi 76.
USA -- Naeher; Sonnett, Dahlkemper, Davidson, Dunn; Ertz (Lavelle, 64), Horan (Mewis, 74), Brian (Zerboni, 46); Press (Heath, 54), Morgan (Lloyd, 73), Rapinoe (Short, 74)
Japan -- Yamashita; Sameshima, Miyake, Ariyoshi (Sumida, 86), Nakajima (Kawasumi, 59), Iwabuchi (Masuya, 60), Tanaka (Yokoyama, 59), Hasegawa (Sugasawa, 67), Sakaguchi, Shimizu, Miura.
Referee: Carol-Ann Chenard (Canada).
USA / JPN
Shots: 15 / 11
Shots on Goal: 7 / 3
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 2 / 1
Fouls: 6 / 3
Offside: 2 / 6