Heather O'Reilly stars as U.S. rips Japan
CARY, N.C. -- Heather O'Reilly put on quite a show in her homecoming.
The former North Carolina player had a goal and an assist to lead the United States to a 2-0 win over Japan on Wednesday night in the Americans' next-to-last exhibition before the Women's World Cup.
"I'm a happy Tar Heel tonight," O'Reilly said.
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Amy Rodriguez also scored and Hope Solo made three saves in her second straight shutout to help the U.S. beat Japan for the second time in five days and the third time this year.
"I feel good, especially (after) both second halves," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "We dealt with pretty high pressure in the first half, and then we put it together in the second half and scored some beautiful goals. After those two games, we are in pretty good shape."
The Americans wrap up their pre-World Cup exhibition schedule June 5 against Mexico. Three weeks later, they play their World Cup opener against North Korea in Dresden, Germany.
The U.S. was playing its first game after midfielder Lindsay Tarpley suffered an injury that will keep her out of the World Cup. Tarpley tore her right anterior cruciate ligament in the last meeting with Japan and will miss six to eight months.
Sundhage has said she won't decide until after the Mexico friendly how she will fill the roster spot vacated by Tarpley, a do-it-all player who had two goals and an assist in five games this year and figured to be a reserve at the World Cup. Tarpley was spotted in the stands on crutches and chatting with Mia Hamm in a meeting of two former Tar Heels.
The U.S. certainly faced more resistance from Japan than in a 2-0 win a few days earlier in Columbus, Ohio, before Rodriguez teamed with O'Reilly midway through the first half to put the Americans up for good.
"This United States team is, I think, the best," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said through an interpreter. "We have played many times against the United States, but I think this time is their best (because of) their condition and also their attacking and defending."
Playing before a crowd sprinkled with Carolina blue, O'Reilly -- who led the Tar Heels to a pair of national championships in the 2000s -- turned in one of the best plays of the night to set up the first goal in the 28th minute.
She fielded the ball near the end line and made a nifty move to get past Aya Sameshima before centering to Rodriguez, who chipped it in over the outstretched arm of Ayumi Kaihori for her fourth goal of the year and second against Japan.
"She was OK, I think," Sundhage deadpanned about O'Reilly. "It's good for the team's confidence and for her confidence, the fact that she can beat any player out there, and she'll beat a couple of left backs in the World Cup."
O'Reilly then struck from the right flank in the 69th minute to make it 2-0. Two minutes later, she came off the pitch to a curtain call.
"I absolutely love this place," O'Reilly said. "This is just a great place for soccer, a great soccer community and a great venue. ... To get such good applause when I'm back here in Cary just means so much."
This one could have been even more lopsided, but the U.S. missed a golden opportunity midway through the second half to add to its lead. When Kaihori couldn't break up a pass to Alex Morgan, that left plenty of space for the backup American forward. But Morgan took too much time getting off a shot and sliding Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu came out of nowhere to break it up.
Solo turned in her 52nd shutout in a U.S. uniform, helping the Americans improve to 12-0-1 in games played in North Carolina and are 5-0 at this venue in suburban Raleigh.
"Every game that we've been playing, we've been gaining a little bit of momentum and beginning to layer in some different levels of sophistication in our attack," O'Reilly said. "It's not always going to be better and better, but we're hoping to climb and continue to climb and reach new heights as a team."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press