Editors’s Note: Maura Gladys is a former–reformed :>–ESPN writer trialing for the The Shin Guardian. Please use the comment section to let us know what you’d like to hear about the women’s national team as they prepare for World Cup 2011 and another unique hairstyle from head coach Pia Sundhage.
Going into yesterday’s friendly against Japan, there was speculation that the United States would struggle without their star Lindsay Tarpley, who tore her ACL on May 14 and will now miss all of this summer’s World Cup.
The exquisite play of Heather O’Reilly and some promising flashes from youngster Alex Morgan tonight sought to silence that notion as the US women beat Japan for the second time in five days.
Goals from Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly were the difference as the US ladies defeated Japan 2-0 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. They now prep for their June 5th send-off match against Mexico–retribution or motivation0–and next month’s Women’s World Cup.
Tarpley’s absence is a blow to the US. Her versatile play and ability to come up big in important games is well-stated and on record (re: 2004 Olympic gold medal game). Tonight it was UNC product O’Reilly providing the salve for Tarpley’s injury.
The winger was brilliant, setting up the United States’ first goal and scoring the second, both of which showcased her attacking creativity and gumption. In the 28th minute, O’Reilly received the ball from Shannon Boxx at the near corner by the touchline, charged towards the goal, beat a defender and cooly slotted the ball to a wide-open Amy Rodriguez.
In the 69th minute, O’Reilly did it herself. A deke to the right, opened O’Reilly’s left and gave her more than adequate space.
O’Reilly yanked the cord and mowed the grass with a perfect low strike past Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori. The dicotomy of the scoring plays was obvious and O’Reilly–on her game all evening–will need to “own the play” more as the World Cup group state approaches.
That’s because it’s no secret that the U.S. central midfield of Carli Llloyd and Shannon Boxx haven’t quite hit their grove just yet. At times during the game, lack of central organization saw the US get stretched out of shape and leave dangerous gaps between the mids and the defenders.
Part of the blame of course lies on the cohesion of a youthful backline that’s not quite there yet and needs to move in unison better, but the other part is the pairing of Lloyd and Boxx who together share over 250 caps between them, but have not exhibited that seemless veteran harmony for a consistent game overall.
If O’Reilly can continue to produce and force defenses to respect her–read drop deeper or provide extra cover–it may just open the midfield for Lloyd and Boxx to together find their groove. (Case in point: On the O’Reilly’s first scoring opp, it was a beautifully weighted switch-field ball from Boxx that let O’Reilly got to work.)
Another encouraging game factor was the play of Alex Morgan, a 21-year-old rumbler who proved that she can instantly add a spark to the U.S.’s offense.
Just minutes after entering the match as a substitute, Morgan snuck behind Japan’s defense, beat the offside trap and goalkeeper, and had an empty net to shoot on. Youth took over though and Morgan dillied for an extra touch which proved costly as a Japan defender blocked her play for the mesh on the goal line.
A few minutes later showed that neither Morgan or her foils learned their lesson. The Cal Bear alum got loose again and but this time it was keeper which Kaihori who beat Morgan’s shot and parried it in amazing display of athleticism.
Despite Morgan’s line coming up goose eggs, her performance confirmed the she’s got the goods to be Pia Sundhage’s catalyst off the pine.
Can’t mention a women’s game without mentioning the biggest star, Abby Wambach, who was dangerous at times but left the scoring burden completely to O’Reilly. Meanwhile at the other end goalkeeper Hope Solo was shall we say “outspoken” in goal on the one dangerous attempt that Japan sent her way early.
The U.S will miss Tarpley however and an uneven lead up to this game showed that depth in the “difference maker” category is not a strength of this team. Tonight however showed a larger breadth of weapons for the U.S. and Morgan and O’Reilly–O’Reilly in particular–will need to maintain their attacking verve if the US is to progress deep in Europe.