USWNT vs. Japan score, takeaways: USA stage comeback for 2-1 win after conceding in the first minute

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The U.S. women's national team kicked off the 2024 SheBelieves Cup with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Japan in front of a record crowd at Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium on Saturday, though concerns over an injury to Naomi Girma cloud an otherwise encouraging outing.

Things got off to a rocky start for the USWNT, who conceded in the first minute when Japan's Kiko Seike capitalized on a counterattack. It did not shake the hosts' confidence, who quickly began to dominate the match and eventually found their equalizer through Jaedyn Shaw. The 19-year-old scored from distance and now has seven goals in 11 matches after only making her national team debut last fall.

The hosts stayed dominant in the second half, though struggled to find quality chances against an organized Japan defense. The breakthrough eventually came in the 77th minute when Lindsey Horan converted a penalty, which Sophia Smith won after a foul in the penalty area.

A crowd of 50.644 set the attendance record for a USWNT friendly on home soil, but it was not the only cause for celebration for the hosts. Among the standouts on Saturday was Mallory Swanson, who returned to the USWNT 364 days after tearing her patella tendon and created several impressive chances in her nearly 90-minute shift. Catarina Macario also played her first national team game in two years after a lengthy spell out with an ACL tear.

As for Girma, there are few available details after she came off in the 18th minute with an injury. "She's just getting evaluated for a right thigh injury," interim head coach Twila Kilgore said post-match, "and we'll know more shortly." Kilgore also said Coffey was taken off in the second half to be evaluated for a head injury, describing it as a "cautionary substitution."

The USWNT return to action on Tuesday in the SheBelieves Cup final. In the meantime, here's a look back at a strong semifinal outing against Japan.

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Strong response to adversity

One of the big lessons that came out of the winter's Concacaf W Gold Cup is that the USWNT has very little experience in losing situations, which was very much on display in their 2-0 loss to Mexico. Saturday's performance allowed the U.S. to showcase just how much progress they have made in that department, providing an optimistic outlook on the team in the process.

Seike's first-minute strike did not force the hosts to change their game plan all that much, and Twila Kilgore's team quickly began to outpossess Japan, trigger their press and turn that into shots. It took only 20 minutes for them to find an equalizer thanks to Shaw. The second half showing very much resembled the first, coming up with 18 shots and seven on target by the final whistle.

Though they generated a healthy number of shots, there might still be room for improvement as it pertains to the team's finishing. The U.S. had a tough time breaking down Japan's sturdy defense during the second half, even as they racked up shots, not dissimilar from other performances such as last December's 3-0 win over China. It is something they will need to work on, but talented attackers on the roster like Shaw and Swanson will inspire confidence that they could fix that problem sooner rather than later.

Successful midfield changes

Kilgore opted for a new look in midfield, starting Sam Coffey and Horan alongside Shaw, who played as a 10 after starting her national team career as a wide forward. While the roles were familiar to Coffey and Horan, the interim head coach said Shaw's new responsibilities were both to allow Swanson to come onto the field and a chance for her to showcase her versatility, which she did with aplomb.

"This is something that's really important as we look at developing a roster for the Olympics and thinking about versatility and things like that," Kilgore said. "We can see and give people experiences in multiple positions … I think she did an exceptional job and I just want to point out, not only did she score a brilliant goal and not only was she part of a lot of very effective buildup, but she did a great job defensively. This is an area where she has accepted a challenge and is continuing to grow in and makes a massive difference for her team."

Though Coffey had a level of familiarity with her tasks, Saturday's match marks a step up for a player who has been on the bubble for some time but is beginning to make her case as not just a roster inclusion, but perhaps a starter. Kilgore pointed to a moment around the 70th minute when Coffey's vision made a big difference in the USWNT's ability to stay in control of the match.

"Back-to-back, we had a couple of possessions right up the pipe and it stemmed from her recognizing that they changed the way they were defending," Kilgore said. "So where normally, it might have made sense to have a bounce and play it out wide for us to have a wide progression, she realized we needed to turn and she turned them under immense pressure."

Swanson's warm welcome

Swanson scored seven goals for the USWNT before her knee injury a year ago and though she did not score on Saturday, she seemed to pick right up from where she left off in a national team jersey. The forward was a focal point of the team's attack and came close to scoring on a handful of occasions in a performance that felt like a continuation of her strong start in NWSL play.

It's unclear if Swanson will be able to play a big role on Tuesday with a quick turnaround but with a 78-minute shift on Saturday and three 80-plus minute games behind her with the Chicago Red Stars, the forward is clearly fit. This game feels not only like an official welcome back, but an actual signal that she is truly in the mix for a spot on the Olympics roster come July.

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FT: USA 2-1 JPN

The scoreline may have been tight, but the USWNT ultimately dominated the match in an encouraging pre-Olympics outing. They responded well to going down -- which was a problem against Mexico in the Gold Cup -- and got great performances out of a handful of players, perhaps chief among them Swanson.

The USWNT are back in action on Tuesday at Columbus' Lower.com Field in the SheBelieves Cup final, and are set to face Canada or Brazil.

 
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More USWNT changes

78' Kilgore uses her last subs on Macario, Dunn and Albert, who are on for Swanson, Morgan and Coffey. That marks the end of a stellar return to the USWNT for Swanson and the exciting reemergence of Macario, who spent the better part of the last two years recovering from an ACL injury.

 
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USA 2-1 JPN

76' Horan makes it look easy and converts her penalty, sliding it under Yamashita, who dove in the right direction but couldn't make the save. The USWNT finally have their go-ahead goal and are 14 minutes away from playing in Tuesday's final.

 
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Penalty for the USWNT!

75' Smith barely makes her way into the box and is fouled, awarding the USWNT a penalty. Horan will take.

 
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Swanson close

71' Swanson has the ball and creates a great opportunity from inside the box, but sends the ball just over the crossbar. It may not have gone in, but it marks the latest strong chance for Swanson, who has performed really well in her return to the national team.

 
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Attendance record set

The announced attendance at Mercedes Benz Stadium is 50,644, setting the attendance record for a USWNT friendly on home soil. It's also the largest home crowd for the USWNT since the 1999 Women's World Cup final.

 
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Triple change for the USWNT

61' Shaw, Fox and Rodman come off for Smith, Krueger and Sonnett.

 
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USWNT close again

60' Rodman's shot from wide is saved but the ball quickly finds its way back into play, and most of the USWNT gets involved in build up play as the team searches for a go-ahead goal that doesn't come. That's the rhythm so far of this second half -- it's almost all USWNT, all the time but Japan has defended well enough to make sure only a handful of shots have come from the U.S.' dominance. There's still a half-hour left on the clock, but pressure is slowly mounting on the USWNT to actually find that goal they're so eagerly trying to create.

 
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Picking up from where they left off

50' The USWNT are eagerly looking for a go-ahead goal, with Nighswonger playing a big role so far in this second half by creating opportunities from the left wing and finding the forwards. They have just one shot to show for it, but it marks a positive start to the second half for the hosts.

 
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Back for the second half

The USWNT will make no changes at the half, continuing with the lineup that finished out the first 45.

 
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HT: USA 1-1 JPN

This was ultimately an encouraging half from the USWNT, who responded strongly to conceding early and reaped the rewards for sticking to their game plan. Possession has leveled out considerably since the early minutes but the hosts are up to nine shots and four on target, signs of a healthy attack. Shaw is one of the standouts of the first 45 minutes but it was also a strong first half for the likes of Swanson and Coffey in particular. The Girma injury, though, might unfortunately be the biggest storyline of the first half.

 
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Girma update

Per the broadcast, Girma is being "evaluated for a right thigh injury." No news on the severity of the injury but again, the timing of the injury could be a worry for the USWNT. Girma was the team's brightest star despite their World Cup disappointment last year and led a sturdy back line as she quickly rose up the team's depth chart at center back.

 
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USA 1-1 JPN

20' Shaw finds an equalizer! Coffey plays a quick, slick pass to her club and country teammate and Shaw carves out an opening from outside the box and scores. She's scored in every one of her starts for the national team since her debut last fall, and continues to make her case as the USWNT's star of the new generation.

 
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Girma's coming off

18' The USWNT are forced into making an early sub, with Dahlkemper coming on for an injured Girma. It appears Girma received treatment on her right leg and though it's way too early for a prognosis, the timing of the injury is a little too close for comfort with the Olympics a little more than three months away.

 
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Swanson shows promise

14' Swanson seems to create the USWNT's best goalscoring opportunity of the game but the attempt is stopped by a stellar goal line clearance. It's an encouraging play from the U.S. and from Swanson in particular, who is back in the lineup 364 days after tearing her patella tendon.

 
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Rodman sends it over

11' Nighswonger makes a dash down the left flank and plays a cross into the box, but sends it a little too far. Rodman still goes for it and gets a touch, but sends the ball over the goal.

It seems like the USWNT are settling down after conceding early -- they have much more of the ball and their press is fully present. The hosts have two shots to their name, but Japan's finding their own rhythm, too. The visitors are organized in the back and have yet to concede a shot on target and have been strategic enough going forward to put both of their shots on target so far today. A fun tactical battle is emerging already.

 
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USA 0-1 JPN

1' A minute isn't even on the clock and Japan are already on the board! The visitors take advantage of the USWNT's high line and Seike gets in behind Nighswonger, makes her way down the right flank and into the box and takes a shot from an angle to score early.

 
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First half underway

The 2024 SheBelieves Cup has officially begun, with the USWNT begin proceedings at the center circle in front of what is likely a record crowd.

 
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Predictions

We're just about five minutes away from kick off so let's have some fun with a couple of predictions!

Sandra -- Look for this one to be a more methodical chess match as both squads try to figure each other out. Pick: USWNT 1, Japan 1, USA advance on penalties. 

Pardeep -- The USWNT coaching staff have opted for an attack-minded lineup with some in-form players and I think the plan just might pay off. Pick: USWNT 2, Japan 0

 
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Storylines: Japan

Head coach Futoshi Ikeda is bringing a young core to the tournament, with 14 players on the roster from last year's SheBelieves Cup tournament. The 23-player squad features just one player over the age of 30, 33-year-old defender Saki Kumaga, and 12 players under the age of 25, with three teenagers -- defender Rion Ishikawa, midfielder Aoba Fujino and forward Maika Hamano.

The team has already qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics and is also using SheBelieves as an opportunity for Olympic evaluation with the Summer Games just four months away. American fans will be familiar with Hina Sugita who plays club soccer with Portland Thorns FC, and there are also six players in the squad playing in England. 

The group will present a clinical challenge against the United States with their tactical awareness and comfortability on both sides of the ball. 

 
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Storylines: USWNT

The group is in good form after their 20204 Concacaf W Gold Cup win in March. SheBelieves Cup comes just a month later, with teams and new challenges, including some controversy around Korbin Albert's social media interactions with anti-LGBTQ+ content across her personal accounts. 

She issued an apology on Instagram after former USWNT player Megan Rapinoe criticized Albert's activity and Rapinoe's statement was shared by several current and former USWNT players. As far as team chemistry, captain Lindsey Horan and Alex Morgan addressed the situation saying there are ongoing team discussions and that those would remain internal. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore has also emphasized the players' sentiments.

Tactically, Kilgore and the squad will likely work on ball progression and adaptability, so look for the team to try and do more with the ball since Japan is comfortable with and without it.  

 
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Japan's Starting Lineup

Here's how the opposition is rolling out!

Japan Starting XI: 1-Ayaka Yamashita, 2-Risa Shimizu, 3-Moeka Minami, 4-Saki Kumagai (Capt.), 5-Miyabi Moriya, 9-Riko Ueki, 10-Fuka Nagano, 14-Yui Hasegawa, 15-Aoba Fujino, 17-Kiko Seike, 19-Momoko Tanikawa

Available Subs: 18-Chika Hirao, 21-Shu Ohba, 6-Hina Sugita, 7-Hinata Miyazawa, 8-Mami Ueno, 11-Mina Tanaka, 12-Rion Ishikawa, 13-Hikaru Kitagawa, 16-Honoka Hayashi, 20-Toko Koga, 22-Maika Hamano

Head coach: Futoshi Ikeda

 
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USWNT Stock Watch

With the Olympics just a few short months away, every minute of preparation counts. The 23-player roster for the SheBelieves Cup includes lots of rollover from the Gold Cup, but with some familiar faces re-introducing themselves. Make sure to check out our latest stock watch by Pardeep Cattry and see who is trending up (or down) ahead of the tournament. 

Here's what she has to say about Swanson:

"Swanson was on track to be the focal point of the USWNT's attack at last year's Women's World Cup before she tore her patella tendon three months before the tournament, and the team seemed to miss her once the competition began. The U.S. infamously went 238 minutes without scoring a goal, which played a big part in their disappointing round of 16 exit, and Swanson still finished 2023 as the team's top goalscorer with seven goals.

The forward spent the early months of 2024 steadily mourning her comeback, joining the USWNT as a training player at the Concacaf W Gold Cup and then starting in each of the Chicago Red Stars' first three games of the NWSL season. She unofficially marked her return last Friday, scoring her first goal since her injury a year earlier. Time will tell if this is the case, but it seems like her fitness is exactly where it needs to be to compete for a spot on the Olympics roster and she now has the chance to pick up from where she left off in a national team jersey."

 
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Mallory Swanson returns to USWNT starting lineup

In a massive full-circle moment, Swanson returns to the pitch for her 89th senior international appearance 364 days after sustaining a left patella tendon rupture. She was the leading scorer during the 2023 SheBeleves Cup and was named MVP with four goals scored. Her 2023 performance made her the all-time leading scorer in the competition with eight goals in 19 games. 

Swanson recently sat down with CBS Sports to discuss her comeback and how she sees the game differently:

 
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USWNT Starting Lineup

This is the sixth different starting lineup issued by interim head coach Twila Kilgore since the start of 2024. There are six players in today's staring XI that played in the most recent matchup between the USA and Japan at the 2023 SheBelieves Cup – Girma, Fox, Horan, Rodman, Morgan and Swanson. The lineup averages 26.5 years of age and 68 caps per player.

Starting XI vs. Japan: 1-Alyssa Naeher; 3-Jenna Nighswonger, 4-Naomi Girma, 8-Jaedyn Shaw, 9-Mallory Swanson, 10-Lindsey Horan (Capt.), 12-Tierna Davidson, 13-Alex Morgan, 17-Sam Coffey, 22-Trinity Rodman, 23-Emily Fox

Available Subs: 2-Abby Dahlkemper, 5-Olivia Moultrie, 6-Eva Gaetino, 7-Catarina Macario, 11-Sophia Smith, 14-Emily Sonnett, 15-Korbin Albert, 16-Lily Yohannes, 18-Casey Murphy, 19-Crystal Dunn, 20-Casey Krueger, 21-Jane Campbell

Head Coach: Twila Kilgore

 
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What they're saying

Interim head coach Twila Kilgore on facing Japan: "We've seen them play a five-back against us the last time we played them. They built with three for a lot of the World Cup. Recently, they have been building with four. Something that makes them a challenge is that they do all of those things well. So as we work through what we expect, what we'll do, our what-if scenarios -- what we call it within our team -- there's a large variety of things to cover. And they're dangerous, and all those things, but that's exactly what we want. These are the type of challenges we love. Our team is really excited to step on the field and test some of the things that we've been working on against a really formidable opponent."

 
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Long time history vs. Japan

Saturday will mark the 40th all-time meeting between Japan and USA, and the fourth SheBelieves Cup matchup between the two sides. It's the second most common matchup in the tournament, trailing USA-England with five meetings. The USWNT leads the all-time series against Japan a with 30W-1L-8D record, and they're unbeaten in the last 12 meetings against Japan, including the 2012 Olympic final and the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final. 

 
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Team culture temperature check

With just four months in the build-up to the Olympics, the team has had to face some controversy due to recent social media activity by midfielder Korbin Albert. The 20-year-old midfielder reposted, liked, and engaged with anti-LGBTQ content on her personal accounts. The senior national team program has long utilized its platform to champion issues of equality and human rights, and former USWNT player Megan Rapinoe posted a statement on Albert's content engagement that was also reshared by many current and former USWNT players on their social media.

Albert was named to the SheBelieevs roster ahead of the controversy, and she did issue an apology after her UEFA Women's Champions League quarterfinal appearance with Paris Saint-Germain but has been a point of discussion in public interest, media, and in press conferences. Alex Morgan and Lindsey Horan delivered a statement and interim head coach Twila Kilgore has stated that Albert is available for selection during the matches. 

You can read more about the ongoing dilemma and how the team is keeping things internal for now.

 
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Look ahead at the schedule

Here's the full SheBelieves Cup schedule and standings:

All times Eastern

Saturday, April 6
USWNT vs. Japan, 12:30 p.m.  (TNT, Max)
Brazil vs. Canada, 3:30 p.m. (Max)

Tuesday, April 9
Japan vs. TBD, 4 p.m. (TNT, Max)
USWNT vs. TBD, 7 p.m.  (TBS, Max)

Note: The USWNT may still play in the second game on Tuesday even if they lose on Saturday.

 
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A different SheBelieves Cup format

The USWNT will host Brazil, Canada, and Japan, but will only have a chance to face two teams. The tournament is a condensed format compared to previous editions. Instead of the round-robin style competition, the 2024 SheBelieves Cup will only have four games between two matchdays. 

The event will begin with all four teams in a semifinal format on Saturday and then on Tuesday the winners will face off for the SheBelieves Cup and the semifinal runners-up will compete in a third place match. The USWNT will feature as the main event in the 7 p.m. ET time slot whether they compete for the championship or third place.

With four teams involved, that means USA will only play two of the three invited guests. Perhaps in an effort to make sure the USWNT play as many different teams as possible ahead of the Olympics, they will face Japan in the semifinal, and either Brazil or Canada during their second matchday. USA faced Brazil during the Gold Cup final and Canada during the Gold Cup semifinals. 

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