The U.S. has talked about their heartbreaking 2011 final loss as motivation for a second chance at a championship. They are about to find out if those four years of motivation can be put to good use.
Over the last several years the history has been building between this two teams leading to several key games that the teams have split, Japan winning the 2011 World Cup and the U.S. extracting some revenge in the 2012 Olympic final. But there is a finality to Sunday’s game that hasn’t been present before. The U.S. gold medal feels like a consolation prize now, when the opportunity for real redemption is so close.
The U.S. is peaking at the right time. It took the Americans nearly the entire tournament to find a winning formula that does not clog the midfield but also provides a balanced and powerful attacking front. Going into the tournament many thought the U.S. would struggle to make it out of the group stage, and in the team’s opening two games against Australia and Sweden it certainly looked that way.
After capturing first place in the tournament’s “Group of Death”, the switch was finally flipped for the U.S.. While the defense had been concrete the entire tournament, it was the offense that seemed to have found its collective footing. That they then put to good use by eliminating the number one team in the world, Germany.
In the 2-0 win over Germany, head coach Jill Ellis finally pieced together the winning formula, a fluid 4-3-3 formation that was about to transform itself in the given situation. At times looking like a 4-4-2 with Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan up top and other times Morgan appeared as the lone forward.
Despite all the talk and focus on the U.S. offense coming into this tournament, it has been the defense that has stolen the show with stellar performances game after game. Providing credit to the phrase that defense wins you championships. The combination of Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Klingenberg, Ali Kreiger and Hope Solo have allowed 13 total shots on goal this tournament and only 1 goal.
While the U.S. peaked in its semifinal matchup, Japan had its poorest game of the tournament against England. Japan characteristic possession oriented offense and skillful front six was effectively shut down by disruptive midfield play on England’s part. Japan was limited to only seven shots on goal.