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USWNT concedes late goal, draws Japan 2-2 in SheBelieves Cup

United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, tries to get around Japan's Risa Shimizu, left, with the ball during the first half of SheBelieves Cup soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

CHESTER, Pa. — The United States women’s national team kicked off its SheBelieves Cup campaign with a 2-2 draw against Japan on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Alex Morgan’s 99th-career USWNT goal was nearly the game-winner for the Americans, who also benefited from a goal out of Megan Rapinoe. But Japan continued to push and was rewarded with two second-half goals — from Emi Nakajima in the 67th minute and Yuka Momiki in stoppage time — to steal a point in its first match of the annual tournament.

“It was a disappointing game for us to drop that goal in the final minute,” Morgan said.

“I feel like the result was disappointing for sure,” USWNT manager Jill Ellis said. “But I thought the performance in both halves, I thought there were some really good things. We made two mistakes in the back that cost us. We left things on the table. But in terms of our team play, what we asked the team to do defensively, work ethic, attacking, in terms of performance, first half to second, we created chances in both halves.” 

Japan created the first significant chance of the contest in the 11th minute, as Kumi Yokoyama knocked a shot off the top of the crossbar. That was the only key chance created by the visitors in the first half, and the USWNT began to take over as the half progressed. 

Tobin Heath was a menace to the left side of the Japanese defense, and her hard work paid off in the 24th minute. She broke past a few defenders on the right side of the field and picked out Rapinoe for a tap-in from close range. 

Rapinoe’s goal was her fourth against Japan in her career, and she’s scored one in each of the last three years against Japan. 

“(Japan’s) a very organized team,” Ellis said. “And I think actually that’s the best we’ve ever broken Japan down. Ironically it was 4-1 last year but we feel better about the performance in terms of the things we did tonight and our growth.” 

Heath, Rapinoe and Morgan, who made up the USWNT’s forward trio of the 4-3-3 formation, played well in the first half, constantly putting Japan’s defense under pressure. 

Ellis made an alteration to her squad at halftime by bringing on Emily Sonnett for Kelley O’Hara, and although it looked like the Americans were changing their formation to a five-player back line, they remained in the 4-3-3 shape for long stretches of the second half. 

Although the USWNT continued to produce scoring opportunities in the box, it wasn’t able to pad its lead before Japan equalized in the 67th minute. 

Nakajima benefited from a bit of luck on her game-tying goal. Tierna Davidson’s clearance of Nakajima’s initial shot from the right side of the box deflected right back to her, and she sent the second attempt curling past U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

In the 76th minute, Morgan netted her 99th-career international strike to put the Americans back in the lead. 

“I’m 99, so I’m aware,” Morgan said of her scoring mark. 

Substitute Christen Press, who came on for Mallory Pugh in the 75th minute, provided the assist for Morgan with a cross from the right wing.

“It was a great cross from Christen Press,” Morgan said. “It came in very quickly and it was right at chest level so I chested it in. It’s not my first chest goal with the national team. At the end of the day, a goal is a goal. I don’t care what part of the body it comes off of.” 

Ellis called Press “freaking awesome.”

“Something you look at going into the World Cup is your depth and if you have players who change the game. She’s posing a lot of challenges now in terms of selection, because I thought she was an instant game-changer for us,” Ellis said of Press. 

Just as U.S. fans began to celebrate, however, Momiki ripped victory from them in the 91st minute.

Key Plays 

Megan Rapinoe scored her 42nd-career international goal in the 24th minute off a feed from Tobin Heath.

Nakajima benefits from Davidson’s unlucky clearance to level the game at one goal apiece.

Morgan’s 99th-career USWNT goal

Momiki’s equalizer in the dying minutes.

U.S. Players of the Match 

Tobin Heath was all over the field, as she created chance after chance for the USWNT.

“From the beginning, they seemed pretty vulnerable and isolated, especially wide and I thought that we could take advantage of it with our passing and finishing,” Heath said.

The forward trio of Heath, Morgan and Rapinoe looked strong against Japan, while substitute Christen Press made an immediate impact. 

“I think we were able to pick off some balls from Japan when they felt a little too comfortable possessing the ball around the back,” Morgan said. “I think we had some opportunities more in the first half. I think they kind of caught on to it and were more careful in the second half.” 

Next Up

Both teams are headed to Nissan Stadium in Nashville for their second SheBelieves Cup games. The USWNT faces England on Saturday and Japan has a Tuesday match against Brazil. 

“Looking ahead to England, they came out on top of Brazil and they are on top of the leaderboard right now,” Morgan said. “We want to win our own tournament so that’s very important for us.” 

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