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Saturday, July 28, 2007
Lilly leads U.S. team to 4-1 win

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A powerful U.S. women's soccer team, led by scoring from Shannon Boxx and Kristine Lilly, used a mix of experience and new talent to coast to a 4-1 victory over Japan at San Jose State on Saturday night in a World Cup tuneup.

The game played before a lively crowd of 11,290 was one of a few remaining exhibitions for the Americans before heading off to the Women's World Cup in China later this year. It was a good test against a technically sound Japan team that plays a similar game as the American's first-round Cup opponent North Korea, according to Lilly.

"I think a lot of Asian teams are very similar. Their technical ability is by far probably the best in the world. They're very technical on the ball," the team captain said. "They're very quick. You saw their goal. It was three passes and boom. And I believe that's what North Korea is going to be like."

Lilly got her teammates together after the Japan goal and said she told them to relax a little, to move a bit more as a unit and not mark the player as much as the developing plays. The captain's advice worked well enough to stymie Japan for the rest of the game.

The boisterous and supportive crowd helped, Lilly said, adding it was the best reception they've enjoyed so far this summer.

"You saw a little electricity going out there. We had fun today playing," Lilly said.

Midfielder Boxx drove home a header off a crisp corner kick from Stephanie Lopez in the 17th minute of the first half to put the Americans out front 1-0. The crowd erupted for Boxx, a Redondo Beach, Calif., product who played her college ball at Notre Dame.

Lopez, of Elk Grove, Calif., kept the Japanese side on its heels for most of the first half with her strong charges up the sidelines and hard, curling corners, including one that nearly found the back of the net until Japan goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto swatted it away at the last second.

Lopez said she has grown from a player trying not to misplay corner kicks, but to attack them and put her teammates in a position to score.

"I've noticed a change in my mentality too. It's not just 'OK, don't mess up.' It's 'OK, this one's going to be a goal,''' Lopez said after the win.

The Americans had a distinct size advantage and towered over most of the Japanese, easily dominating them in tight spots at midfield.

"I think that we just knew that Japan is a very technical team and not a very physical team and that makes us even more fired up to go in and win everything. Our mentality is, OK, you're going to win every head ball, every punt, kick, and every tackle," Lopez said.

The U.S. team went up 2-0 in the 41st minute courtesy of an own goal by Japan midfielder Yukari Kinga. The play developed quickly and a strong cross found Kinga in front of the her own goal while trying to help defend. The ball deflected into the back of the net and Kinga buried her head in her hands.

In the 55th minute, a strong drive up the right side for the Americans developed. A cross found Lori Chalupny and Kristine Lilly one-timed the ball solidly into the back of the net from the right side for a 3-0 lead.

A hand ball by Japan in front of its own goal led to a penalty kick for Abby Wambach. She had no trouble faking right and kicking the ball into the net's back left corner. Fukumoto was nowhere close, having dived in the opposite direction.

Wambach called for a few balls up the left side, but regularly failed to beat her defender to the spot. The standout American, who had the game-winning goal for the U.S. in the gold medal match at the 2004 Olympics, was also involved in several midfield collisions which left her and her defender rising slowly.

Forward Yuki Nagasato helped Japan avoid the shutout, pounding a left-footed drive into the back of the net from close range for an unassisted goal in the 79th minute.

The U.S. had nine shots on goal to Japan's six. And the pressure from U.S. 15 corner kicks far surpassed Japan's four attempts.

Each team's goalkeeper had five saves.

Brianna Scurry, the star goalkeeper in the 1999 U.S. Women's World Final win against China, was not used.

The Americans open play at the Women's World Cup on Sept. 11 against North Korea. Nigeria and Sweden are also in the Americans' difficult group.

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