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Second Half Goal from Natasha Kai Gives USA 1-0 Win vs. Japan


- USA Sweeps Two-Game Series, Remains Undefeated Under Ryan
- Kai Comes Off Bench To Score Winning Goal in 65th Minute
- U.S. Defense Limits Japan to One Shot on Goal

OSAKA, Japan (May 9, 2006) – The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team finished its two-game tour of Japan with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the host country as forward Natasha Kai came off the bench to head in the winning goal in the 65th minute in front of a large crowd at Nagai Stadium.

The USA had won the first leg between the two teams last Sunday, 3-1, but this match produced few offensive fireworks from either nation. The U.S. defense, marshaled by Cat Whitehill, was especially stingy, allowing Japan just three total shots, all coming in the first half, and only one on goal.

Kai came on in the 55th minute and made an immediate impact, stretching the defense with several streaking runs down the right side, but it was team captain Kristine Lilly who set up her heroics.

The goal came in the 65th minute as Lilly played a short corner kick to midfielder Aly Wagner on the right side. Wagner played it back to Lilly who dribbled at her defender, froze her with a shimmy, and then played a crisp wall pass to Wagner who sent a perfectly weighted ball back to Lilly making a run to the end line. Lilly then lifted a wonderful chip to Kai at the far post and the Hawaiian rose over a defender to power her header into the net from four yards away. It was Kai’s third career international goal in just her fifth career match.

The USA had earned the corner after Whitehill sent a long free kick over the defense that was met by Shannon Boxx with an acrobatic volley from the penalty spot. Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto came up with a spectacular save to bat the ball away, but the Americans then capitalized on the well-executed set play.

The match was played as the first part of a double-header that also featured the Japanese Men’s National Team against Bulgaria, and by the second half, the 50,000-seat stadium was filling up to its eventual sell-out capacity. During the last 15 minutes, the home fans urged their team forward with chants and drums, but the U.S. defense stayed tight as ever. The Americans did have to withstand a last-minute flurry from Japan, which earned a late corner kick and sent a 92nd minute free kick into the penalty box that was cleared away as the final whistle blew.

Japan’s most dangerous chance of the game came not on a shot, but on a 10th minute cross by captain Homare Sawa from deep on the end line that flew over the goal box, but found no one at the far post.

Fukumoto played extremely high out of her goal for the entire match and was able to cut off numerous dangerous-looking U.S. through balls and early crosses. Both teams were very strong defensively throughout and the first shot of the second half didn’t come until the 58th minute, at which time it seemed like one goal would be enough to win.

Japan did have better rhythm than in the first meeting, and on the very large field, also had more possession than two days ago. The USA didn’t see as much of the ball as they did in the first leg although, with some sharper finishing, the match wouldn’t have been so close.

Forward Heather O’Reilly had two good chances in the first half, the first one coming in the 14th minute as she burst through a seam in the left side of the penalty box only to slap her left-footed shot from 14 yards wide right.

O’Reilly got in behind the defense again in the 19th minute on a 30-yard sprint down the left flank, for a moment putting daylight between her and the Japanese backs, but once in the penalty area, she tried to cut back inside and the ball was swept away by a retreating defender.

Abby Wambach had two dangerous chances in the game, the first coming in the 33rd minute as she slipped in behind the defense in the right side of the penalty box and dribbled at the near post almost right down the end line. She tried to cut the ball back into the middle on the dribble to prepare for a left-footed shot from a sharp angle, but Fukumoto swept the ball away with her legs on a slide and then pounced on it.

Just after coming into the match in the 58th minute, Kai got around the defense in the right side of the penalty box and took a great touch down the end line towards goal. She then cut a short cross back into the seam, where Wambach had a swing at it, but the ball got stuck under her feet. Japan still couldn’t clear and the ball bounced to Lilly, but the chance jammed into her body, and she skied it over the goal from seven yards out.

U.S. head coach Greg Ryan played his entire roster of field players, making six substitutions in the second half and, with the win, moved his career record to 14-0-4 since taking over the U.S. team in March of 2005. Defender Heather Mitts, who played a stellar match at right back, earned her 50th international cap.

The USA will return home tomorrow and resume its Residency Training Camp on Friday at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The USA’s next match will be its first domestic contest of 2006, facing European power Sweden on July 15 at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

Tickets for the match are on sale now online at ussoccer.com, at all Minnesota and Wisconsin area Ticketmaster outlets (including Cash Wise Foods, Hy-Vee Foods, and Marshall Field’s) and by phone at 651-989-5151. Groups of 15 or more can purchase tickets by logging onto ussoccer.com or calling (312) 528-1290.

U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT

Match-up: USA vs. Japan
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Nagai Stadium; Osaka, Japan
Date: May 9, 2006; Kickoff – 4:00 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET
Attendance: 15,908
Weather: Cloudy, breezy – 72 degrees

Scoring Summary:
           1    2    F

USA   0    1    1
JPN   0    0    0

USA – Natasha Kai (Kristine Lilly) 65th minute.

Lineups:
USA - 18-Hope Solo; 2-Heather Mitts, 4-Cat Whitehill, 8-Tina Frimpong (14-Amy LePeilbet, 70), 3-Christie Rampone (15-Stephanie Lopez, 46); 7-Shannon Boxx, 11-Carli Lloyd (5-Lindsay Tarpley, 46), 10-Aly Wagner (12-Leslie Osborne, 69); 9-Heather O’Reilly (6-Natasha Kai, 55), 20-Abby Wambach (19-Christie Welsh, 65), 13-Kristine Lilly – Capt.
Subs not used: 1-Briana Scurry.
Head Coach: Greg Ryan


JPN - 12-Miho Fukumoto; 2-Hiromi Isozaki – Capt., 7-Kozue Ando, 5-Kyouko Yano, 14-Azusa Iwashimizu; 6-Tomoe Sakai, 10-Homare Sawa, 19-Shinobu Ohno, 18-Iya Miyama (23-Rumi Utsugi, 55), 11-Mio Otani (13-Maiko Nakaoka, 80), 20-Yuki Nagasato (9-Eriko Arakawa, 61).
Subs not used: 4-Nao Shikata, 15-Tomoko Suzuki, 16-Karina Maruyama, 17-Emi Yamamoto, 21-Tomomi Akiyama, 22-Nayuha Toyoda.
Head Coach: Hiroshi Ohashi


Statistical Summary:
USA / JPN

Shots: 8 / 3
Shots on Goal: 3 / 1
Saves: 1 / 2
Corner Kicks: 6 / 1
Fouls: 12 / 8
Offside: 10 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Shannon Boxx (caution) 92+.

Officials:
Referee: Hong Eun Ha (Korea Republic)
Asst. Referee: Hisae Yoshizawa (Japan)
Asst. Referee: Satomi Hamasaki (Japan)
4th Official: Pannipar Kamnueng (Thailand)

Sierra Mist Woman of the Match: Cat Whitehill

U.S. Women’s National Team Quote Sheet:

GREG RYAN, U.S. Head Coach
On the match:
“I thought Japan made it very difficult for us, I thought defensively they played very well. We created enough chances to win the game, we deserved to win, but it was a game where we needed to make more of our chances and read our opponent’s defense better. Their goalkeeper played on the near side and cut a lot of balls out. We needed to play a little bit away from her more. It gives us some stuff to go back and work on.”

On the overall play of the team over the two matches:
“I’m very pleased with the team. We’re a young team that is still growing and developing. The past stars are gone, other than Lilly, Abby and Shannon, so we’re a work in progress, but I am very, very happy with how the team performed, especially the players who came off the bench for us today. I feel like that was critical. Abby carried it for us in the last game. She got a break today and the others came in and did the job.”

On back line:
“I think our defense is really gelling and becoming a great unit. Today, we brought on Amy (LePeilbet) and Stephanie Lopez, and we didn’t miss a beat. (Assistant coach) Bret Hall has done a great job training them and they are growing in their understanding of how to defend, both individually and as a group, and it’s just paying off. We’re so hard to get a chance off of right now, and (Japan) is a very good attacking team, I love their attacking players, but (the U.S. defenders) did a great job of shutting them down.”

On how the young U.S. team is developing:
“They are maturing quickly. We knew we couldn’t bring this team along slowly, we have to just throw them into the fire. We expect them to perform well and they expect themselves to perform well. (The two games have) been great for them. Being behind in the first game was good for us. I think today, with Japan playing very defensively and keeping so many numbers behind the ball, making it very difficult to get a winner, that was good for this team. We are going to get to those games that are tough and we have to go through these types of experiences to have the confidence to win.”

On making the second half subs and bringing on Kai:
“At that point, Japan was playing better than we were and I made the changes because I felt that bringing in some fresh players on the front line gave us a better chance to win the game. At the same time, I am committed to playing the young players because they need the experience.”

NATASHA KAI, U.S. Forward
On her role coming off the bench:
“It means a lot to the team to come off the bench and get a goal so I was proud to come in and do that. I knew it was 0-0 and we were taking out the tired players that played 90 minutes in the first game so I knew I needed to step up.”

On the goal:
“I connected with (Lilly’s) eyes and I knew the ball was coming. I just had to beat my defender to it.”

HEATHER MITTS, U.S. Defender
On the back line:
“I think we are coming together. The main thing was that we had players come off the bench and there was never a lull in the game. We are able to play together, and they had a lot of attacks coming at us, but were able to deal with it well.”

On Japan:
“They throw a lot of numbers at you and they are very technical. They like to ping it around and try to get in behind you, but we were really organized today, and didn’t let that happen.”

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