Lloyd, Solo propel U.S. women to Olympic gold medal 2-1 over Japan.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, August 9, 2012) -- Behind two goals from midfielder Carli Lloyd and key saves from goalkeeper Hope Solo, the United States women gained redemption from their loss to Japan in last year's Women's World Cup final, by defeating the Japanese 2-1 tonight in the Summer Olympics gold-medal match before a capacity crowd of 80,203 at Wembley Stadium in London.
The U.S. captured its third straight gold medal and fourth in the five times women's soccer has been competed in the Olympics.
The U.S.'s offensive hero tonight was midfielder Carli Lloyd, who provided the decisive tally four years ago when the Americans captured the championship. She had both goals, running onto a cross to score on a header in the eighth minute and then found net with a powerful right-footer from distance in the 53rd minute.
Striker Yuki Ogimi brought Japan back into the match with a 62nd-minute goal out of a scrum in the U.S. penalty area.
In match after match in these Olympics, as the U.S. has dominated opponents, Solo had little to do, leaving some to wonder what she would do under pressure. Tonight, she made two world-class saves, among the best of her career. She denied Ogimi from close range on the 18th minute and again in the 82nd when she dove to her left to parry away a point-blank blast from reserve midfielder Asuna Tanaka on the end of a two-on-one Japanese breakaway
It is highly ironic that Lloyd ended up as the hero, considering U.S. coach Pia Sundhage benched her before the start of the tournament in favor of Lauren Cheney and defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx. Boxx, however, suffered a hamstring injury in the opener against France and Lloyd was inserted in her defensive role. Lloyd responded by scoring a pair of goals, the decisive tally in the comeback victory over France to open the tournament and another against Colombia.
Then, Cheney suffered an ankle injury against Canada in the semifinals, forcing Sundhage to reinsert Boxx, who physically was not 100 per cent, and to return Lloyd to her more accustomed attacking midfield role. The result was a gold medal.
The U.S. was outplayed for much of the first half after taking the early 1-0 lead. Too often, there was confusion in the center of the American defense. Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler are individually both gifted defenders, but again tonight, as was the case against Canada in the semis, they sometimes did not communicate well. They tended to drift apart with the result of leaving space for opposing attackers to operate. That was particularly the case against Canada and Japan, who took advantage of the open space.
Too often, the U.S. seemed confused on defense and sloppy on clearances. The Japanese goal, for instance, came after Rampone, making her second clutch block of the game, had the ball bound to the edge of the six-yard box. U.S. midfielder Kelley O'Hara lost it to Ogimi and, with Solo on the ground, had an easy shot for the goal.
Still, the Americans had their defensive heroes with Rampone making her two stops on the goal-line and Amy LePeilbet blocking another shot off the line.
At times, the U.S. had seven or even eight players drop deep into defense, yet Japan was able to find space and to create chances. Having said that, what was perhaps the most impressive part of the U.S. win was its composure after Japan narrowed its deficit to 2-1. The Americans were able to control the final 10-to-15 minutes of the match and kill off the remainder of the game.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 8: She showed why she is considered the best woman goalkeeper in the world. Two dazzling saves and other solid stops kept the U.S. in the match.
Defender Amy LePeilbet - 6.5: As always, she shut down her opponents to the outside and was not beaten. A very big match, including stopping a shot on goal from her knees.
Defender Christie Rampone - 6.5: For the most part, she had a huge game, making key blocks and stopping two shots on the goal-line, but, at times, she looked a bit confused as to who to mark and allowed Japan chances it should not have had..
Defender Rachel Buehler - 5.5: Individually she was fine, but sometimes did not work well with Rampone or Boxx in front of her. She clearly showed the effects of the long semifinal against Canada and also took a knock that necessitated her coming out in the 80th minute.
Defender Kelley O'Hara - 6: Had a strong match, often moving into the middle to help out. She was good one-on-one to the outside and also managed to get forward to help on the offense. .
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe - 5.5: Was closely marked and not given any space. She could not duplicate her standout effort against Canada and was replaced rather early by a defense-for-offense switch as the U.S. tried to hold what was then a two-goal lead.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 7.5: Given a more offensive role, she responded beautifully with a pair of picture goals. For the second straight Olympiad, it was her blast from the outside that won gold.
Midfielder Tobin Heath - 6: Her job is to run the attack out of the middle. She did that, but more importantly, she made key defensive stops, helping to clog up the middle and prevent Japan playing through it.
Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 6.5: If she was still not fully fit after her first-match injury, she did not show it. She was tough in the defensive end all night and was inspirational in her play.
Forward Alex Morgan - 5 Her physical gifts are second to none on this team, but she showed her lack of maturity and experience by trying to do too much herself and not seeing her teammates who might be in better position. On several occasions, a good pass might have resulted in a clear opportunity where she shot with little chance of scoring.
Forward Abby Wambach - 6: She worked tirelessly and her biggest contributions came on the defensive end, where she cleared several Japanese set pieces, and in the midfield, where she broke up Japanese thrusts before they got organized.
Midfielder Lauren Cheney (57th minute for Rapinoe) - 6: Had a big part in the U.S. shutting down Japan over the final 20 minutes. Worked very hard in the middle to break up the opposing attack.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn (80th minute for Buehler) - 6: Some very hard work to deny Japan any good chances late.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Hope Solo.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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