USA Draws with Japan, 1-1

Aug. 12, 2008, 9:15 a.m. (ET)
Another shaky start. More late game heroics.

The U.S. Olympic Team for Women’s Field Hockey tied 1-1 with Japan at the Olympic Green Hockey Stadium on Tuesday. Japan, the fifth-ranked team in the world, jumped out to an early lead in the 12th minute with a goal from Koari Chiba. The USA answered with field goal of their own from team captain Kate Barber in the 58th minute.

The draw with Japan keeps the Americans in contention for the medal rounds. The results so far in Pool B have been a surprise: Argentina experienced another disappointment today, drawing 2-2 with Great Britain after leading 2-0, and Germany struggled with New Zealand before winning in the final seconds, 2-1. Three points separate the teams in spots two through five.

For the second straight game, the USA fell a goal down quickly. Ono Mayumi’s hit from the center of the field found Chiba lurking at the corner of the goal, and she deflected in for the Japanese goal in the 12th minute.

With the lead in hand, the Japanese defense collapsed on the USA, swarming the attacking zones with defenders and intercepting American passes.

“We didn’t come out on the right foot in the first half,” said Barber. “We didn’t match their intensity. We didn’t push forward and make things happen. We allowed them to come at us and they’re very skilled and very quick, and they made us pay.”

In the second half, the USA showed increased intensity, pressing forward against the Japanese defense. Akemi Kato was sent off in the 45th minute, and the USA saw that as the opportunity to capitalize.
In the 58th minute, Kate Barber stole a trapped ball from the stick of Toshie Tsukui and blasted it toward the goal. Japan goalkeeper Ikuko Okamura seemed to have the shot stopped, but it slipped past her and dribbled slowly across the goal line, as if the roaring crowd was urging it along.

“Kate’s quite pivotal to the build-up of our attack,” said USA Head Coach Lee Bodimeade. “For her to get the opportunities she did today – hitting the post on one and scoring the other – we like to think we have a balance in our forward line.”

As the U.S. attack amplified, scoring opportunities increased. Japanese defenders were now pressed to keep USA out of the scoring circle.

“The Americans ran very fast and pressed us,” said Japan Head Coach Seung Jin Yoo. “That’s why we didn’t perform very well in the second half.”

Several strong passes from the outside of the circle whizzed past the mouth of the goal, but no attackers were in the scoring area to receive them. Several scoring changes eluded both teams, and the contest ended in a draw.

“I regret not being about to sustain the lead,” said Japan forward Sakae Morimoto. “We should have won the match. We are not happy with the results.”

The two draws place United States tied for third with Argentina.

“We’ve come up against the number two team in the world and the number five team in the world," said Bodimeade of the two outcomes. "Even though we like we see ourselves as being this company, it’s a very tall order to win these games. It’s what the tie represents. We are happy we didn’t lose the game, but we are disappointed we didn’t come away with the win. In today’s game, we have such a high respect for the Japanese team; we know there are certain areas where we have to play well. In the second half, we started to do that. So we’re disappointed to come away with the tie after pressing so hard late in the half.”

The persistence and tenacity of the USA are two of its hallmarks, but the slow starts in both games have been a concern.

“It’s something we’ve identified as a group that needs to be addressed,” said Barber. “It needs to change. The fact we can turn it up shows how effective we can be. It’s frustrating as a group to know it’s there and not be able to do it for the full 70 minutes. It’s something we need to focus on as a group from the beginning instead waiting until we’re a goal down.”

The USA face defending champions Germany on Thursday, August 14 at the Olympic Green Hockey Stadium. Germany lead Pool B with six points and two victories, but needed a rally - including one questionable goal eventually upheld by video replay - in the final minutes to defeat New Zealand on Tuesday.