The USWNT continued its remarkable Olympic history on Thursday winning its fourth Olympic Gold medal in five tournaments with a 2-1 victory over Japan.
With the win, the U.S. reasserted itself as world champions by avenging their bitter loss to Japan in last summer’s World Cup.
Here are four thoughts from the match.
Amy LePeilbet overcame a rough first half
In the first half, almost every successful attack Japan launched at the U.S. came down the U.S.’ right side.
LePeilbet was too narrow and too high twice in the first 17 minutes, the second time resulting in a very good chance for the Japanese that they failed to capitalize on.
LePeilbet was again beat badly in the 33rd minute resulting in a chance that Japanese put off the U.S.’ crossbar and then shortly thereafter in the 40th minute killed a good attacking opportunity putting her service behind the Japanese goal and out of play.
However, LePeilbet played better in the second half overcoming her difficult start and even had a terrific “hockey stop” late in the game where she went down to her knees to keep the ball from crossing the U.S. goalline.
Hope Solo was HUGE
Time after time, Solo came up with the saves the U.S. needed to stay in the game.
In the 17th minute, Solo came off her line to stuff a second chance opportunity and less than a minute later had a world-class push to stop a Japanese header which was headed into the upper 90.
Solo was big again with a great punch off a set-piece in traffic in the 46th minute and had another world class save in the 83rd minute saving the U.S. after a poor giveaway in the defensive third.
Coming into the tournament with the reputation as the world’s best goalkeeper, Solo did not disappoint.
Japan’s possession game is absolutely beautiful
Japan’s system of play emphasizes possession from endline-to-endline and their performance on Thursday was another demonstration of how well they execute it.
In the defensive third, in situations when many teams simply hoof the ball away, Japan never seems panicked. Instead, they calmly worked the ball out of traffic again and again by using their width and their goalkeeper to break pressure. The added advantage of this tactic was that it forced USWNT forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan to do a lot of extra running as they were forced to chase the game.
In the attacking third, Japan demonstrated a calmness on the ball that can only be rivaled by Spain’s men’s team in the international game. Even when surrounded by two, three or even four USWNT players, the Japanese smoothly moved the ball forward and backwards and side-to-side until they could find a gap in the U.S. defense.
The Japanese strategy of “total football” in the final third is also remarkable as the interchanging of their forwards and midfielders, as well as their flank defenders coming forward, caused problems for the U.S. all night long.
Japan’s one goal came on a beautiful interchange in which they shredded the U.S. defense with a great overlapping run out of their midfield.
The U.S. certainly rode its luck
The U.S. once again had more than a few shaky moments in the back including miscommunication between their center backs, poor clearances, bad giveaways and a non-call on an apparent Tobin Heath handball.
However, the U.S. effort was, as always, world-class, with defenders throwing their bodies on the line, working hard to help each other defensively and proving they were willing to go the extra mile to be champions.
Congratulations to the USWNT on their incredible fourth Olympic Gold medal.
John D. Halloran