U-20 USWNT: USA Falls 0:1 to Japan in Friendly at Nagai Stadium

On Sunday, the United States Under-20 Women’s National Team fell 0:1 to Japan’s Under-20 WNT in a friendly at Nagai Stadium in Osaka. Although Japan dominated possession, probably 60/40, and created more scoring opportunities than the USA, the young American squad was able to hold their own for stretches against Japan’s compact and well-organized defense. The USA’s defense also held up well, forcing the home side to mostly take speculative efforts from outside the box. Weaknesses were exposed, but that is why friendlies are played, especially at this age level.

[Note: A long review for this match and the one on June 20th (2:00 am EDT) will likely be posted sometime next weekend.]

The bottom line for the USA is that they played fairly well against a very strong team that has quite a different style of play then one that most of the American players are used to facing. And, although shot finishing is a major concern, with continued improvement and sound tactical game plans, this USA team should be in a very strong position to defeat Japan or any other opponent at the upcoming U-20 Women’s World Cup.

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Starting XI: Head coach Steve Swanson went with his usual starters, except for two positions. For the holding midfielder spot, Sarah Killion got the nod ahead of Samantha Mewis. According to reports from the U-20s’ recent training camps, both have been performing well, so this switch is not that big of a surprise. For the USA’s centerback pair, Cari Roccaro started in place of Kassey Kallman, who usually anchors the back line.  It appears that Kallman picked up some sort of minor knee injury during practice as her knee was taped up with kinesio tape. Julie Johnston was once again used as a starting centerback.

The starting line-up (4-3-3):

Heaberlin (GK)
Dunn (RB) — Roccaro (CB) — Johnston (CB) — Pathman (LB)
Brian (AM) — Killion (HM) — DiBernardo (AM)
Horan (RF) — Stengel (CF) — Ohai (LF)

Substitutions: The USA made five substitutions.  At half-time, Swanson brought in Maya Hayes and Chioma Ubogagu for Katie Stengel and Kealia Ohai, respectively.

Around the 62nd minute, Samantha Mewis came in for Morgan Brian. In the 70th minute, Mandy Laddish was subbed in for Killion. At the 79th minute mark, Stephanie Amack replaced Crystal Dunn at right fullback.

So, the final formation (4-3-3):

Heaberlin (GK)
Amack (RB) — Johnston (CB) — Roccaro (CB) — Pathman (LB)
Laddish (AM) — S. Mewis (HM) — DiBernardo (AM)
Hayes (RF) — Horan (CF) — Ubogagu (LF)

Mewis played for a while as an attacking midfielder, but some time after the goal was scored, if not before then, she moved to the holding position with Laddish taking an attacking role. After Amack came in, Johnston and Roccaro switched sides.

Also, for a while in the second half, the USA looked to be in a 4-4-2 with Horan and Hayes as the two forwards, while Ubogagu played deeper.

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Japan’s goal was scored on a partially broken play that begun when Japan won a ball on their side of the field, in the center circle. Japan quickly countered with three racing players against three American defenders, with more catching up. The ball was played out to Ayaka Michigami  (#19), above the right side of the USA’s box, who sent the ball back to Hikaru Naomoto (#8)  at the top box, who spun around to block her defender, Stephanie Amack. That attacker tried to send the ball back to Michigami, but Cari Roccaro slide-tackled a clearance, which deflected out to substitute Asuka Nishikawa (#22) , who had some space and laterally dribbled the ball before taking a shot from several yards outside the box. That shot was saved off the hand of the USA’s goalkeeper, Bryane Heaberlin, but rebounded off the crossbar. The rebound found a charging and unmarked Yoko Tanaka (#9) who blasted home a volley just to the left of Heaberlin.

Tanaka may have been in an offside position on Nishikawa’s original shot as Amack was the second to last defender and pushing forward while Nishikawa was about to take up the shot. But, based on the match video and replays available, Tanaka was probably on-side, though it appears to be a very close call.

In any case, leaving Tanaka unmarked was a defensive miscue, and about the only major blemish to an otherwise solid yet scrappy defensive effort by the USA. As to who should have marked Tanaka, Amack and Mandy Laddish were the closest American players. Laddish had been marking Tanaka immediately prior to the Roccaro deflection, but then headed a bit back up field. As she did, Laddish pointed to Tanaka and appeared to say something to Amack, but Amack must not have picked that up.

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These are from the English version of the JFA match write-up.

U.S. coach Steve Swanson said, “Japan deserved to win the game today. They moved the ball very well – very economic and very efficient. Before the game we knew they were very well-organized and are very good on the ball and I think we saw that today.

“Our team is still learning and progressing. I don’t think we are anywhere near to our potential yet. We are still trying things. We’ve come a long way and our team is making progress. Sometimes you need a game like this to push you forward.”

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Passing: This team can really move the ball. Maybe not all the way up on Japan’s level, but this squad can hold possession even under pressure. Turnovers were mostly due to forcing a pass into too tight of a space rather than raw inaccuracy.

Goalkeeping: Bryane Heaberlin made several key saves, including a reaction tip-save over the crossbar. However, Japan did have at least one long range shot to a top corner that would have beaten Heaberlin had it been on target. As to the goal, perhaps Heaberlin should have been able to tip the ball over the crossbar, but she did have the shot covered. And, unfortunately the crossbar rebound found an unmarked attacker. Offensively, a few minutes after Japan’s goal was scored, Heaberlin had a goal kick that was headed by Lindsey Horan up ahead to Maya Hayes, and which almost led to an equalizer.

Defending (Mostly): Except for the marking error that contributed to Japan’s goal, the USA’s defense was able to withstand the pressure of Japan’s attack and stayed relatively well organized during the match. Also, the USA was without their back line anchor, Kassey Kallman, who remained on the bench for the entire match. She had kinesio-tape on her right knee, so it appears that she had picked up some sort of minor injury during practice.

Counter-Attack Build-Up: Japan looked most vulnerable when the USA pushed forward with speed. After Japan’s goal, the USA had two solid counter-attacking chances, one via a Heaberlin goal kick, which was headed up by Horan to Hayes who sped onto goal and sent in a shot that was half-blocked by Japan’s keeper, Sakiko Ikeda, and then acrobatically cleared right on the goal line by Japan’s captain, defender Shiori Kinoshita. A second counter-attack came when Samantha Mewis dispossessed a Japan player in Japan’s own half and fed Horan who slotted a pass up to Ubogagu. However, finishing was lacking.

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Finishing: The USA had a handful of scoring opportunities where just a slightly better struck shot or a different type of shot (e.g., a chip instead of a grounder) would have converted the chance. Regarding the latter, the best example was in the 36th minute, when Katie Stengel was one-v-one with the ‘keeper and had time for a chip shot to loft over the keeper’s reach, but continued to dribble toward the goal line, thus reducing her angle for a shot and allowing the ‘keeper to cover more space.

Use of the Flanks (More, Please): At times the USA’s passing was too narrow, which played into the hands (or, more correctly, feet) of Japan’s compact defense. Also, the speed of Crystal Dunn, Chioma Ubogagu, and even Mollie Pathman was able to beat Japan’s flank defenders. Ubogagu’s crafty dribbling allowed her to penetrate deep into Japan’s box.

Creating Set Piece Opportunities: The USA only had one corner kick (which ended up being poorly taken) and no deep, dangerous free kicks. Thus, the USA was unable to fully exploit their height and sized advantage. More corner kicks need to be earned, even if by the cheap method of just knocking the ball out of bounds off a defender.

Defensive Marking: The goal scored by Japan was due in part to a failure of marking an attacker, after one defender had moved away from that attacker and another defender did not pick that attacker up. That breakdown may have been avoided if the first defender had stayed with the attacker until she knew that she had the attention of the second defender.

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Team: U-20 USWNT
Opponent: Japan U-20 WNT
Date: Sunday, June 20th
Time: 1:00 p.m. local time
Venue: Nagai Stadium (Osaka, Japan)
Weather: Sunny, hot and humid (90°F, 67% humidity)

USA’s Line-Up (4-3-3): Bryane Heaberlin; Crystal Dunn, Cari Roccaro, Julie Johnston, Mollie Pathman; Morgan Brian, Sarah Killion, Vanessa DiBernardo; Lindsey Horan, Katie Stengel, Kealia Ohai.

USA Substitutions:
46′ – Maya Hayes, in for Stengel.
46′ – Chioma Ubogagu, in for Ohai.
62′ – Samantha Mewis, in for Brian.
70′ – Mandy Laddish, in for Killion.
79′ – Stephanie Amack, in for Dunn.

Japan’s Line-Up (4-4-2*): GK: Sakiko Ikeda (#1); Yushika Nakamura (#15), Tomoko Muramatsu (#4), Shiori Kinoshita, Haruka Hamada; Hikaru Naomoto, Yoko Tanaka (#9), Mina Tanaka (#13), Ayu Nakada (#6); Kumi Yokoyama, Ayaka Michigami (#19).

*In the second half,  Yoko Tanaka moved into a withdrawn position behind Michigami. This is is noted in the English version of the JFA write-up.

Japan Substitutions:
46′ – Yu Nakasato (#18), in for Nakada (#6).
61′ – Rihoi Sakamoto (#3), in for Muramatsu (#4).
72′ – Naoko Wada (#17), in for Nakamura (#15).
72′ – Asuka Nishikawa (#22), in for M. Tanaka (#13).

JPN (81′) – Yoko Tanaka

Cari Roccaro (Yellow, 25′; for a late tactical-style foul)

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See Also:

Edit: US Soccer match report is up (The USA had 1 corner kick, not 0)

2 thoughts on “U-20 USWNT: USA Falls 0:1 to Japan in Friendly at Nagai Stadium”

  1. Thanks for this. you make several good points.

    However, the JPN player was clearly offsides for the goal. there is no doubt from the replay. the closest US player was nearly to the top of the box when shot occurs, and JPN player at least 1.5 – 2 yds closer to goal.

    But put that aside — the team needs to finish. It has to find composure inside 20 yds. I don’t know what it is, but I thought the forward play, inside the box, during Concacaf was not good, and they have no combination passing or composure when it gets in close.

    Also, they have 2 larger forward strikers, Horan & Stengel, who appear redundant and unfortunately, neither appears a great header of the ball. (It doesn’t appear Horan can even jump very high). The fact that Swanson took a look at player, Becca Wann, from Richmond (not a powerhouse program) who heads the ball well is telling of his view of the lack of aerial attack from this team. Your analysis mentions lack of width in the US attack, but that is perhaps a necessary by-product of the fact that there are not many US players likely to get on the end of a cross. It is true that effective crosses can travel the ground, but Japan are very quick to recover and cut off passing lanes, so the US really is hurting because they can cross the ball at will (I believe), but cannot make much of the crosses. This was evident in Concacaf play, and Swanson/Heinrichs have done nothing to improve upon it. (Johnston and Brian can head the ball, but Brian isn’t forward enough, and Johnston’s playing center back). Your point about set pieces is also well taken, but again, if players cannot effectively head the ball toward goal or as a pass down to a teammate, then your set pieces cannot be aerial. Relatedly, you note the kick by Heaberlin that Horan headed to Hayes for a late chance on goal, but that was one of the few headers by Horan all day. In my view, if Stengel and Horan are playing, they should be dominating on goalie punts and goal kicks and any other long kick — true target forwards.

    When Kallman returns, Johnston should play center defensive mid. She’s the most athletic player on the team and she should be allowed to play midfield, not center back. Not impressed with Mewis, who appears to have lost a step and played slow and too tentatively, and Killion is too inconsistent and not a defensive force. (Frankly, a friend has suggested Johnston at forward, and I believe she’s played there before in college, and if she played alongside Ohai and Hayes, the team would score more. Stengel and Horan have not gotten it done, and they didn’t perform well during qualifiers.)

    The other reason Johnston should not play center back is because it appears she drops off her mark a bit and the defense never attempted to hold a high line. I don’t know if this is a typical way for the defense to play with Kallman, but it was almost criminally negligent for Coach Swanson to have his defense drop 40 or 50 yards deep of the ball at all times. It was actually a joke, for him to ask his team to chase the ball around that much space. The full WNT would not have fared much better, had they played such a deep defensive line versus this Japan team. There was no effort to compress Japan’s space, and therefore, the player with the ball had all day to pick out passes. (Japan, of course, pressed our back line a lot more, and compressed space more effectively).

    I prefer Ubogagu dropping to left midfield, and Hayes or Ohai teamed with Horan or Stengel up front. Brian should play #10, in a more attacking role, and shouldn’t have to play box to box. Brian needs to almost play a withdrawn forward, at times getting her own shot, and drawing free kick chances close to the box, and feeding the forwards. Let Brian be the creative focal point for the offense — don’t have her chasing opposing players out wide, or retreating to the penalty box defensively.

    Heaberlin is fine for this age group but don’t see her with special qualities that would put her on the radar of the full team coaches. (I’d rate Jane Campbell already equal to her, with a bigger future). Really curious why Emily Oliver isn’t here, because she seems a carbon copy of Heaberlin, except Oliver is arguably a better shot blocker (maybe not as quick laterally or coming out to stuff breakaways??).

    Anyway, there are lots of little nits and comments (defensive marking not an issue, in my view), but overall, the team is solid; the key is finding better finishing and composure and combination play inside 20 yds.

    Final note, not to be cynical, but the team’s grit and physicality was not where it needs to be. Granted, this was a friendly, so I expect more intensity during tournament matches, but I thought the team should have blown up some plays with hard tackles and gotten more physical in the air. the team also just took a lot of pushes and shoves and tackles. It always amazes me when our teams allow Japan’s teams to be so physical, and Japan got away with a lot of grabbing and pushing and nobody looked to push back. Physicality comes with compressing space, and so perhaps the fact that our back line was 50 yards off the ball gave Japan too much room to operate, and there was no way to even get close to make hard challenges. (Today’s full WNT match vs. Japan certainly was the most physical US side I’ve seen in a very long time, more physical than in any WWC match or other tournament, and Japan were slightly shaken. Of course, the WNT back line was always very high).

    1. As to whether there was an offside infraction on the goal, an in-depth discussion was being saved for a follow-up post.

      But, here is a frame right after the initial shot was taken, which was saved and then deflected off the crossbar. Whether or not Yoko Tanaka is level with Amack looks to be a close call.

      USA-JPN U-20

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