2015 FIFA Women's World Cup: Tactical Analysis Of United States' World Cup Victory over Japan
The USWNT hoist the hard-earned World Cup trophy (Photo courtesy of Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA Today Sports)

2015 FIFA Women's World Cup: Tactical Analysis Of United States' World Cup Victory over Japan

The United States beat Japan handily in the World Cup finals on Sunday, but how much of a role did tactics play in this victory?


The United States Women’s National Team claimed their elusive third star in Sunday’s rout of Japan, 5-2, with great team play all around. However, there were a few tactical changes and plays that led to this convincing victory.

Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday playing in their correct position

Carli Lloyd’s performance in the Finals on Sunday can only be described using one word: wow. Jill Ellis opted for a faux 4-4-2, where Lloyd would be a withdrawn striker. The ability to leave Lloyd in this position left Lloyd with free roam in the offensive half. It is not secret Lloyd, up until the last few games, struggled mightily as a central midfielder. The credit for Lloyd’s turnaround in play belongs to Ellis for switching the formation, which allowed Lloyd to be unleashed. When Lloyd was held in the midfield, she was unable to join the attack as much. When Lloyd was able to actually play in the ten role, she torched Japan for her hat trick with her creative playmaking skills.

With Morgan Brian in the holding midfield role, Lauren Holiday was also allowed to be more involved in the offense, where she knocked home a howling volley for the 3-0 lead in the 14th minute. In previous games, when she was playing in the holding midfielder role, Holiday would have been in too much of a defensive role to get to that ball in the box and score. Brian’s stellar play behind the backline allowed both Lloyd and Holiday to be released from their midfield roles as well as their subpar performances and back to the form most USWNT fans know them for.

The USWNT controlled the flanks

The flank play on Sunday by the USWNT was absolutely fantastic. Tobin Heath as well as Megan Rapinoe in the midfield played their distributor roles perfectly. To add on, Heath’s speed and skill caused problems for Japan’s defense, who were forced to foul Heath in dangerous territory a few times. Rapinoe, also, played her usual role of distributor. Furthermore, Rapinoe’s ability to cut into the box during the attack led to another dangerous body in the box for the United States. Heath’s distribution into the area in the 14th minute made Japan scramble for clearance, which led to a mistake and Holiday’s clinical volleyed goal.

Wingbacks Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg controlled the majority of the wing play in the defensive half and also contributed to the service into the attack. Both of them played highly up the field on attack, which gave the attackers another outlet for a pass and to keep possession of the ball. There was some overlapping of the wingbacks and wingers. The overlapping allows for the flank midfielders to be able to join in the attack in the box while the wingback serves in the cross.

USWNT capitalized on its set pieces

The USWNT scored three of its five goals off of set pieces, in which the USWNT capitalized on the second ball left in the box for Lloyd’s second goal and Heath’s goal as well. The ability to find the rebound by the USWNT players cannot be dismissed or discounted. Without the Brian or Julie Johnston, there is no second opportunity on goal for Heath or Lloyd respectively. Rapinoe played the first set piece, which was scored by Lloyd, beautifully by hitting a low driven ball to the penalty spot where Lloyd made an outstanding run to slam it home for the 1-0 lead. Japan did not mark well on set pieces and, as described above, could not make any sort of clearance on the ball.