The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup won’t begin until June 26, but the U.S. women’s national team looks ready.
Preparations for this summer’s tournament continued for the American women Saturday with a 2-0 international friendly match win against Japan at Crew Stadium.
The U.S. took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute, thanks to veteran forward Abby Wambach’s goal — the 118th of her international career. Just eight minutes later, Wambach assisted on a goal that forward Amy Rodriguez hit off the post to give America a 2-0 lead.
The U.S. went on to win by the same score.
Japan began the match with offensive pressure and threatened American goalkeeper Hope Solo as the U.S. sat back early.
“If you look at the first 25 minutes, I don’t think it’s good soccer,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “(Japan) played good. They kept possession and so forth.”
Momentum swung in America’s favor when defender Ali Krieger provided the free-kick service for Wambach’s goal from about 35 yards away from Japan’s net. Wambach met Krieger’s lofted ball in stride and headed it passed Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori to give the Americans a 1-0 lead.
“We struggled big time until we scored the first goal,” Sundhage said. “Abby was great today. Just look at that goal; it (was) fantastic.”
Wambach contributed to the American attack again just moments later.
In the 37th minute, Wambach assisted on Rodriguez’s goal with a simple pass into Japan’s penalty area. Rodriguez hit the pass in stride, and the ball eventually trickled over the goal line after hitting off Kaihori’s near post.
Despite contributing to both goals, Wambach credited the win to the U.S.’s defenders, saying they had a “strong” performance.
“We have such a great defense,” Wambach said. “Our back four (defenders) are so solid. I like our chances when we score one goal.”
Solo, who collected the 51st shutout of her international career, agreed.
“It’s pretty easy playing with this back line,” Solo said. “My work is half as much as it usually is playing in the (Women’s Professional Soccer league).”
The U.S.’s momentum continued immediately after play resumed in the second half, as the team fired three shots in the first seven minutes. By game’s end, the Americans took nine on-target shots at Kaihori, but none found the back of the net.
Though her team did not score in the final 53 minutes of the game, Sundhage said the U.S.’s performance improved after the team’s early hiccups.
“The second half was so much better than the first half,” Sundhage said. “We can do better.”
Discipline in every facet of the U.S.’s game helped limit Japan’s offense in the final minutes — America went 21 minutes without committing a foul, from the 62nd minute until the 83rd minute.
The 2-0 lead was all the Americans needed.
Sundhage said she was happy with the outcome of the match.
“This is a great team, and the team put it together,” Sundhage said. “We stayed composed and we came back. You don’t have to play beautiful soccer for 90 minutes, but you need to be smart enough to find a way. We did it.”
The U.S. women’s national team will continue its FIFA World Cup preparation with another game against Japan on Wednesday. The match is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. in Cary, N.C.