JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – July 18, 2017 – Heading into today’s match, two very important objectives were at stake. One was a guaranteed placement in the FIH Hockey World League Finalin Auckland, New Zealand at the end of the year and the second was a direct ticket to the 2018 women’s Hockey World Cup in London, England. The U.S. Women’s National Team faced No. 11 Japan in the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals quarterfinal game, stuck to their game plan and played solid collective defense to earn a 1-0 victory.
"Today was a game that we knew had to be there," said Janneke Schopman, USWNT Head Coach. "Yesterday's training was helpful, to get into the flow, to get connected and to start communicating, which is key for us. I think that is what we brought to the game today. I was very happy with the experienced players stepping up and by showing and taking the lead, you see the younger athletes actually follow."
With a lot on the line, both teams hit the field for the quarterfinal match ready to give it their all between the lines. Play at the start of the quarter switched possession for the first few minutes as play was held between the 25 yard lines. A good look came in the 7th minute for USA as Erin Matson (Chadds Ford, Pa.) got a backhand shot off that sailed over the goal. The remainder of the quarter saw multiple USA circle penetrations and a chance for Japan as they worked it into their attacking circle but the score stood at 0-0.
USA started the second quarter and resumed the high tempo eagerly looking to change the score line. Good play moving in out of the pockets would go unanswered for USA before Japan took possession the other way and earned their first penalty corner, after questioning the call and winning the referral, in the 19th minute. The first attempt was sent back to Japan’s inserter but USA goalkeeper Jackie Briggs (Robesonia, Pa.) was there to make the save. A second attempt was earned but solid defense by USA shut down the effort. USA would play the final minutes of the quarter in their attacking half, working the ball forward and gathering multiple circle entries and shots just off target. The halftime score was USA 0, Japan 0.
Keeping the pace from the first half, USA continued to move the ball into their attacking 25. Japan’s defense remained solid and sustained the pressure limiting USA's attemped to find channels behind. A close chance came for Japan in the 37th minute when a shot from the right baseline was absorbed by Briggs. Control quickly moved to the other end of the pitch as fast ball movement found Kat Sharkey (Moosic, Pa.) in the right corner of the field where she sent a hard ball into the circle that was deflected toward goal but cleared by Japan’s goalkeeper Megumi Kageyama. Persistence paid off just a minute later when USA’s quick ball movement led to a Japan foot just outside the circle. Michelle Vittese (Cherry, N.J.) took the free hit quickly, shot a backhand which was tipped into the goal by a Japan defender to give USA a 1-0 lead to end the quarter.
With a goal advantage, all USA needed to do was display solid and smart defense in the final 15 minutes of play. Japan kept knocking at the door, but USA worked as a unit to limit those threats. A yellow card was awarded to USA’s Nicole Woods (Beverly, Mass.) in the 52nd minute and Japan pulled their goalkeeper, which gave them a two-player advantage. USA stayed calm and composed to secure the 1-0 victory.
"We played a very composed and structured game, not fancy and not as much flow or created opportunities to our attack," added Schopman. "The fact that we played and fought as a team, I think it was a deserved win."
"For us, especially with this young team, it's good for us to be playing in the semifinals in this tournament, and that we can also play in the [FIH Hockey World League] Final against all these top countries," continued Schopman. "That is key for us, we've never been in this tournament before and that is a testament to this team and how much they've worked."
A career milestone was reached in today’s match as midfielder Katelyn Ginolfi (Lewes, Del.) earned her 250th international cap wearing the red, white and blue. Once the youngest member on the team when she joined in 2003, veteran Ginolfi is a three-time Olympian and has been a core part of USA’s midfield and defensive unit throughout the years. She has a long list of achievements to her name having won five gold medals at international events including the 2008 Olympic Games Qualifier, 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games, 2013 FIH Hockey World League Round 2 and 2014 Champions Challenge.
USWNT’s win today has moved them into the semifinal round on Thursday, July 20 against England at 1 p.m. ET. For more information on the event including schedule, results and live stream, visit the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals event page on usafieldhockey.com. All USWNT games can be watched on the live broadcast provided by ESPN3/Watch EPSN.