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July 18, 2017 — USA 1, Japan 0

POSTGAME That’s all for now; good day and good hockey

POSTGAME The United States now has a year to prepare for the World Cup in London. With this competition and the World League finals in New Zealand, this will give the U.S. coaching staff some room to test a number of young players. As good as players like players like Matson and Hoffman and Shealy are, how good will they get playing this level of high-quality opposition on a regular basis?

POSTGAME Give the American defense a huge call; this is a young team with a number of key retirements in the back, including Julia Reinprecht, Lauren Crandall, and Rachel Dawson. But the defense of Julia Young, Alyssa Manley, Caitlin Van Sickle, Ali Froede, and holding midfielder Katelyn Ginolfi in front of goalie Jackie Briggs were absolutely stellar today

POSTGAME Once again, major credit goes to Michelle Vittese, who scored an enormous goal. Also, Erin Matson and Melissa Gonzalez were all over the pitch chasing down 50-50 balls and attacking space

FULL TIME The final horn sounds! It’s all over! The United States wins 1-0 over Japan, which gives the Applebees their first-ever berth in the FIH World League finals!

59:00 One minute to go; can the States hang on?

58:00 Woods is fresh off the penalty bench and is open on the left side, but chooses to take the ball to the corner flag rather than attack the gaping goal

57:00 All hands on pumps now as the States put everyone behind the ball against Japan’s 11 outfielders

55:30 Japan attacks left baseline and feeds the ball into space, but cannot latch the extra player onto the pass

55:00 Now the umpires make Nagai change into a black shirt

54:33 Japan sends on Hazuki Nagai, an orange-shirted kicking back, in place of goalkeeper Kageyama

53:25 JPN PC Option left is sniffed out by Alyssa Manley

52:37 USA YELLOW Nicole Woods is off for five minutes for a stick tackle which seemed innocuous on replay

51:00 The United States’ Julia Young, who has quietly had a tremendous tournament, makes a key clear on a dangerous Japanese opportunity

49:00 Yuri Nagai can’t get her stick on a cross in front of goal that bounces a bit dangerously

47:49 JPN GREEN Hazuki Yuda is off for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

45:40 Japan is pushing players forward and the Americans are taking advantage, but couldn’t find a good-enough shot

45:00 The fourth quarter begins

THREE-QUARTERS TIME But the lead is just one; there is the possibility that this game could end with the lottery that is the penalty shootout

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Here’s how monumental this achievement could be: the United States have never made a World League final in its three iterations

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Michelle Vittese, the Virginia product, always seems to come up with big goals in big games, and she has done so once again for the Applebees to gain the advantage here

THREE-QUARTERS TIME With the horn, the United States leads 1-0

41:58 USA GOAL Michelle Vittese attacks the circle and banks it off Japanese defender Naho Ichitami’s stick into the goal; Japan asks for a referral and is denied; USA leads 1-0

40:10 Vittese brings the ball into the U.S. circle, feeds to Sharkey, but the former Princeton attacker can’t latch onto it

38:30 Japan with some innovative play into the circle, but Ashley Hoffman with the clear

35:45 Yuri Nagai with a shot from a deep angle, but Briggs makes the stop

34:00 Ambitious ball by Nagai finds nobody

31:55 USA GREEN Gonzalez is sent to the sideline for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

30:00 The second half is under way

HALFTIME Japan, despite scoring only three goals in this tournament, have confidence from their win in pool play over an England team which, for all intents and purposes, was the Team GB squad which won the gold medal in Rio

HALFTIME The United States has had possession, and lots of it. But the Americans have not created a lot of chances. The attackers are possessing the ball in the final third, but have not been cutting and completing passes in the attack

HALFTIME The horn sounds; the sides remain level 0-0

28:05 Gonzalez goes baseline and puts it off a Japanese foot off the side of the goal; no corner?

27:10 Japan has numbers forward, but fumbles the pass over the end line

25:20 Gonzalez with a diagonal to an open Witmer, but the pass is just off the mark!

19:04 JPN PC Another hi-lo to the inserter, but Briggs makes another enormous stop on Segawa!

18:52 JPN PC The hi-lo is shot from a deep angle by the inserter Maho Segawa, but Jackie Briggs makes a diving save!

18:52 JPN REFERRAL The Blossoms are asking whether there is a foot in the circle, and the replay shows there is; penalty corner to Japan

17:20 Japan’s first attack of any consequence is cut out and sent the other way by Matson; what a game she is having thus far

16:45 The United States have possession and space on the right wing, and, once again, are unable to generate a goal shot or a penalty corner

15:00 Second quarter is under way

QUARTER TIME The Americans have had possession and some circle penetration, but have not been able to manufacture a penalty corner; the Cherry Blossoms have been guarding their feet well

QUARTER TIME The horn goes off with the sides level 0-0

13:30 Vittese up the left wing but can’t get anything on the dead run

12:30 Japan with some possession in the forward third, but spills it over the end line

10:30 Michelle Vittese attacks the space at the top of the circle and almost finds Witmer with a diagonal

9:30 The United States have all the possession, but Japan is content to play nine behind the ball

7:14 JPN GREEN Nomura is off for a stick obstruction

6:30 Matson attacks the right wing and pounds a backhander which is just wide!

3:30 Looks like it is Shihori Oikawa who is marking up the States’ Jill Witmer; this will be a critical matchup

1:20 Erin Matson, the high-schooler, clouts a backhander which is saved by Megumi Kageyama’s blocker

0:00 The game is on

PREGAME The United States is in its traditional red kits with white, blue, and gold trim; Japan is in the royal blue with white cherry blossoms stenciled on the front

PREGAME Compare that to the other World League semifinal in Brussels, when 42 penalty corners were converted in 33 games

PREGAME Japan has only scored three goals as a team this entire competition; indeed, as a group, there is an odd dynamic when it comes to the method of scoring. In 20 games, only 14 penalty corners have been scored

PREGAME The Americans are led by Jill Witmer, who leads this World League semifinal with four goals. Also look for the energy of Melissa Gonzalez and the power of Michelle Vittese, who seems to play her best in big games

PREGAME The United States last met Japan a year ago in Olympic pool play, with the States coming out ahead 6-1

PREGAME The loser of this game has to fight through the consolation bracket for placings. The States would get to the World Cup regardless with a fifth-place finish, but any lower than that would have the Americans having to depend on either winning month’s Pan American Cup or hoping that already-qualified teams in the top 10 win their continental competitions

PREGAME I’ve used the term “tipping point” as a metaphor for a game which sees great rewards over and above winning the game, versus losing the game. This is very much a tipping-point match today, as the winner of this game not only goes on to the Final Four of this competition, but qualifies for the World League Final later this year as well as the FIH Women’s World Cup next year

PREGAME This is easily the highest-stakes field hockey match the United States has played in about seven years

PREGAME Japan, the third-place team in Pool A, is 2-1-1 in the tournament; the United States took second in Pool B with a 2-2 record

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Wits University in Johannesburg for this FIH World League Semifinal match between Japan and the United States

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