CARSON, California – Echoing the dramatics of last month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, the U.S. and Japan U17 Women’s National teams put on a stirring friendly match at the Home Depot Center on Thursday.
There were no penalty kicks in this one, though.
Ties are good enough for friendlies, and this one ended in a 2-2 draw that marked the beginning of the Albertin Montoya era after he was named the new U.S. U17 coach earlier this month.
Montoya, who has received rave reviews from all involved with U.S. Soccer thus far, will ultimately mold the team into his own.
The squad isn’t there quite yet. On Thursday, it took a half for the group to truly heed the game plan as they fell behind 2-0 and had to claw their way back after the break.
“I was disappointed in the first half – I thought we were playing timid. We were not aggressive enough,” Montoya said. “I told the team to go at them from the start, and we never really did; we never got behind them and we have good speed on this team.
“You can’t allow a Japanese team that much time or they’ll tear you apart.”
Japan gained momentum as the first half unfolded, taking great space on counter attacks and inching closer and closer to good scoring opportunities.
And while there were a few positive signs for the U.S. – like attacker Toni Payne, who is especially exploratory when she gets the ball and makes things happen in a hurry; captain Morgan Andrews was and is a stalwart at center back with her size and poise while Gabriele Miranda was also solid at outside back – things weren’t quite coming together for the Americans.
The team worked hard to get the ball up top to striker Amber Munerlyn, who is great finisher when she gets going downhill, but Japan’s prolonged possessions were taxing the U.S. team.
Frustration and fatigue gave way to sloppiness, and soon enough Japan drew a couple fouls and midfielder Miki Hirata converted on consecutive free kick opportunities to give her team the early advantage.
The Japan side excelled in a lot of areas, not the least of which was striking. They consistently made clean strikes and sent accurate shots toward the goal when given opportunities.
Hirata’s first score beat U.S. goalkeeper Jane Campbell top shelf, as did the second but only after deflecting off of a U.S. player.
An attitude adjustment and a couple substitutions swung the momentum in the second half. U.S. striker Emily Bruder sparked change from the outset and Lauren Kaskie, playing behind her, ratcheted up the intensity.
The Americans pressured much more relentlessly in the second half, which led to the first goal. Bruder stole a poor touch from a Japan defender and quickly beat the goalkeeper 1v1.
In the 61st minute, the U.S. got the equalizer when defender Morgan Reid joined in the attack and finished a rebounded shot by Summer Green.
And just like that, the match was tied.
Campbell kept it that way with a couple quality saves in the final minutes where Lizzy Raben made a dangerous but effective sliding tackle in the box to save a potential score.
Kaskie really showed great athleticism and speed during her second-half stint, while Darian Jenkins came on late but worked hard and pressured every moment she was on the field.
“We definitely came together as a team and pulled it out,” Andrews said. “(After the first half) we just told each other to relax, we’re all here for each other. Once we come to camp we’re not individuals anymore, we’re a team.”
Round Two commences Sunday when the two sides play again. Montoya hopes his group will have learned a lesson or two by then.
“We’ll go back, watch some tape and try to make sure we don’t give them a 2-0 lead next time,” he said.
U.S. U17 Women’s National Camp Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Concorde Fire South; Kennesaw, Ga.), Carissa Miller (Sereno FC; Cave Creek, Ariz.), Morgan Stearns (McLean Power; San Antonio, Texas)
DEFENDERS (9): Morgan Andrews (FC Stars of Mass.; Milford, N.H.), Madeline Bauer (Slammers FC; Newport Beach, Calif.); Zoey Goralski (Chicago Botafogo; Naperville, Ill.), Olivia Hazelrigg (Sparta; Riverton, Utah), Lauren Kaskie (Heat FC; Las Vegas, Nev.), Havana McElvaine (Colorado Rush; Denver, Colo.), Sydney Myers (Black Diamond SC; Park City, Utah), Lizzy Raben (Colorado Rush; Greenwood, Colo.), Morgan Reid (Chelsea Ladies; Cary, N.C.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Joanna Boyles (Chelsea Ladies; Raleigh, N.C), Miranda Freeman (Lady Renegades SC; Royal Palm Beach, Fla.), Summer Green (Michigan Hawks; Milford, Mich.), Gabbi Miranda (Colorado Rush; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Arielle Ship (Real So Cal; Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Morgan Stanton (Colorado Rush; Lakewood, Colo.), Andi Sullivan (Bethesda SC; Lorton, Va.)
FORWARDS (7): Emily Bruder (Utah Avalanche; Sandy, Utah), Cameron Castleberry (Chelsea Ladies; Raleigh, N.C.), Danica Evans (Colorado Rush; Lakewood, Colo.), Darian Jenkins (Sparta; Riverton, Utah), Kayla Mills (Slammers FC; West Covina, Calif.), Amber Munerlyn (So Cal Blues; Corona, Calif.), Toni Payne (Concorde Fire; Birmingham, Ala.).