U.S. WOMEN PRIMED FOR JAPAN: The U.S. Women’s National Team will face Japan on Sunday, May 7, in the first of two matches between the teams. The first game will be contested at the KK Wing Stadium in Kumamoto with a kickoff of 1 p.m. local time (Midnight ET), as Japan is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States. It will be the first meeting between the two teams since the quarterfinal of the 2004 Olympics, a 2-1 U.S. win in Thessaloniki, Greece. Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach scored in the match that sent the Americans to the semifinal and an historic win over Germany before winning the gold medal against Brazil in the championship game. The USA’s preparations for the match have included four days of training, just enough time for the players to get acclimated to the time change. There have been small crowds for each U.S. training, including a girl’s “state” team from the local prefecture, who were thrilled to watch some of the world’s top players in their home area and surrounded the U.S. team for autographs and pictures on the way to the bus. The U.S. trained on Saturday at KK Wing Stadium, an aging but beautiful venue with arching roofs covering both sideline stands and an almost perfect playing surface. In the final pre-game practice, the USA played some small possession games before spending the majority of the short training working on set plays.
SECOND GAME IN OSAKA: After playing Japan in Kumamoto, the USA will leave immediately for Osaka, where it will meet Japan in the second leg on May 9 at the 50,000-seat Nagai Stadium with a kickoff time of 4:30 p.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET). It will serve as the opening game of a doubleheader that also features the Japanese Men’s National Team against Bulgaria in one of their final tune-ups for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Nagai hosted three 2002 FIFA World Cup matches. The Japanese women are currently 11th in the FIFA Women’s World rankings.
Date Match-up City Venue Kickoff
May 7 USA vs. Japan Kumamoto KK Wing Stadium 1 p.m. local time (Midnight ET)
May 9 USA vs. Japan Osaka Nagai Stadium 4:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. ET)
GOALKEEPERS (2): 1-Briana Scurry, 18-Hope Solo;
DEFENDERS (6): 8-Tina Frimpong, 14-Amy LePeilbet, 15-Stephanie Lopez, 2-Heather Mitts, 3-Christie Rampone, 4-Cat Whitehill;
MIDFIELDERS (5): 7-Shannon Boxx, 11-Carli Lloyd, 12-Leslie Osborne, 5-Lindsay Tarpley, 10-Aly Wagner;
FORWARDS (5): 6-Natasha Kai, 13-Kristine Lilly, 9-Heather O’Reilly, 20-Abby Wambach, 19-Christie Welsh.
GOALKEEPERS (2): 21-Tomomi Akiyama, 12-Miho Fukumoto;
DEFENDERS (7): 2-Hiromi Isozaki, 4-Nao Shikata, 7-Kozue Ando, 5-Kyouko Yano, 22-Nayuha Toyoda, 14-Azusa Iwashimizu, 23-Rumi Utsugi;
MIDFIELDERS (6): 6-Tomoe Sakai, 10-Homare Sawa, 17-Emi Yamamoto, 19-Shinobu Ohno, 18-Iya Miyama, 13-Maiko Nakaoka,
FORWARDS (5): 11-Mio Otani, 9-Eriko Arakawa, 15-Tomoko Suzuki, 16-Karina Maruyama, 20-Yuki Nagasato.
USA vs. JAPAN HISTORY: Japan has never beaten the USA as the Americans hold a 14-0-3 all-time record against the long-time Asian power, but the last four matches have featured three draws (two 1-1 games and one scoreless tussle) and the U.S. win at the Olympics. Of their 17 all-time encounters, only three have been played in Japan, those coming on the USA’s three-game tour of this country in 1998. The Americans won 2-1 in Tokyo, 2-0 in Kobe and 3-0 in Yokohama, where they played in the stadium that would host the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final. The USA and Japan are intertwined in Women's World Cup history, having met in both the 1991 and 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments. The USA won 3-0 in the first round in 1991 in China, and knocked the Japanese out in the quarterfinals in the 1995 tournament in Sweden, winning 4-0. The usually high-scoring U.S. attack has managed just four goals in the last four matches against the Japanese and will be looking for ways to break down their organized, low-pressure team defense that features quick players all over the field. The USA needed a quirky second-half goal in the Olympics to win that game, with the score coming after Shannon Boxx beat the Japanese offside trap and raced in uncontested at goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago before passing to Abby Wambach who tapped the ball into an open net. The USA will face Japan with at least five different starters than the 11 players former head coach April Heinrichs sent out during the 2004 Olympics.
USA vs. JAPAN PREVIEW: The USA has struggled to create quality chances against the Japanese in the last four matches between them, but truth be told, Japan created precious few opportunities as well. Of late, the U.S. team has been playing quality attacking soccer, one that has produced bucket loads of chances, if not goals, and Japan could find itself on the defensive a bit more than in past matches. Japan’s ability to play low pressure defense, dropping way back into their half, then holding the ball after they win it and playing quick, one-touch soccer to counter the USA’s defensive pressure could take the sting out of the U.S. attack a bit. The Americans will be challenged to turn defense into offense as well as they’ve been doing over their matches so far in 2006. Only three players on the U.S. roster have scored against Japan in Kristine Lilly (6 goals), Abby Wambach (2 goals) and Aly Wagner (2 goals). The last time Lilly played in Japan in 1998, she became the most-capped female player in the history of the world, passing Heidi Stoere of Norway, when she played in her 152nd U.S. match. She hasn’t looked back and now, amazingly, has more than doubled that total. Wagner carried a slight ankle injury to Japan, and may be held out of the first match, which could give young midfielders Lindsay Tarpley and Carli Lloyd a chance to shine in a big match against a top team on foreign soil. Lilly leads the U.S. in scoring this year with five goals and two assists and heads into the match with 109 career international goals.
NEW FACES, OLD FACES: Seven players who started against the USA at the Olympics are on the Japan roster for the match, while Ryan could put out only six of the players that played in Thessaloniki. The USA has eight players on its roster that weren’t even at the 2004 Olympics. Japan’s all-time greatest player is Homare Sawa, a former WUSA star who is widely hailed as one of the top creative midfielders in the world. Japan has quite a few experienced players on its roster, led by defender Hiromi Isozaki, who captained Japan against the USA at the Olympics. Midfielders Tomoe Sakai adds a bit of bite to the Japanese midfield in support of Sawa, while tricky forwards Eriko Arakawa and Mio Otani must be given some serious attention. Japan will be without long-time goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago, meaning the U.S. must test one of two young net-minders, most likely 23-year-old Miho Fukumoto. To find success against Japan, the USA will also be looking to capitalize on their major height advantage, something they have failed to do on the offensive end in their past four matches.
U.S. head coach Greg Ryan on Japan:
“Japan is a very good team, a very quick team and very skillful. They defend with a lot of numbers behind the ball and are very fast in transition in both directions. They will get eight players back in and around the penalty box defending and that makes it very difficult. You have to score often times on a first-ball goal, or off a cross on a direct header, because if you don’t, they are so quick to get to the loose ball and they always give each other cover, so they are tough to beat. The biggest thing is that their defensive structure is built around lots of numbers around and behind the ball and that’s always difficult to break down, so a lot of credit goes to their defending.”
Ryan on the two-game tour of Japan:
“We are preparing for qualification and we want to play as many strong teams as we can and Japan has a very strong team. We have a young team and getting games like this for our young players is also very good for our development. We want to try to play as many players as possible in both games.”
Ryan on U.S. captain Kristine Lilly:
“The way we are playing right now, she is able to attack more and that’s the strength of her game. She understands how to create goals and score goals, and with way we play, she gets to go forward a lot. She has the freedom to go anywhere in the attack, she doesn’t just stay on one side.”
U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx on Japan:
“It’s going to be a really good game. They have an exciting style of play and are great in their quick possession and combination play. It’s very hard to play against, but I think it’s good for us to see that style because it means we have to be alert and play quick ourselves. We need to put the effort to put defensive pressure on them and limit their space, because if you give the Japanese space, they will toy with you. We’ve been working on things in the past month at Residency Camp, like having confidence on the ball and keep better possession, and both of those things will help us in this game.”
SCURRY LOOKING FOR FIRST ACTION SINCE DECEMBER, 2004: Should U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry see action in Japan, it will be her first game for the USA since Dec. 8, 2004, when she started against Mexico in the Farewell Match for Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Mia Hamm at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Scurry, who is the USA’s most-capped goalkeeper with 155 games played, took 2005 off from soccer, but decided to make a run at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup team. The Japan tour marks the first game roster she has made since starting her second comeback. Scurry was away from the team in 2001 and for most 2002 before returning to the squad and earning the starting spot for the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Hope Solo has been the USA’s first-choice goalkeeper for most of 2005 and 2006, and has performed spectacularly, allowing just two goals in her past 13 matches, one coming off a penalty kick.
LILLY THE GOURMET: In one of the several interviews U.S. captain Kristine Lilly has done while in Japan, the reporter asked her if she had enjoyed the Japanese food. A big fan of sushi, Lilly explained that the players have been eating quite a bit of the raw fish at the team hotel. He then asked her if she liked a local Kumamoto delicacy, rolled horse meet. Ever the diplomat, Lilly replied, “I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.”
Stat of Note
Japan is the only country ever to tie the USA in three consecutive matches.
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