Captain Fantastic Lindsey Horan Saves the Day for the USNWT in a Mouthwatering SheBelieves Cup semifinal

Jaedyn Shaw was on target again for the USNWT scoring in her second straight knock out game
United States v Japan - 2024 SheBelieves Cup
United States v Japan - 2024 SheBelieves Cup / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The United States National Women’s Team punched their ticket to the SheBelieves Cup 2024 final with hard fought 2-1 victory over Japan at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Kiko Seike gave Japan the lead with just 32 seconds on the clock one of the fastest goals scored in the history of the competition. Seike collected a long pass from Risa Shimizu at the halfway line, Seike then drove forward with some urgency leaving captain Lindsey Horan in her wake and let fly from 14 yards, the shot proved too hot to handle for USNWT custodian Alyssa Naeher as the ball slid under her arms and nestled up in the corner for a 1-0 lead to Japan.  

Despite an early substitution as Naomi Girma went off injured USA stormed back quickly to restore parity. Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup MVP Jaedyn Shaw collected a superb pass from Sam Coffey and as cool as a cucumber she unleashed a rocket of a shot from 30 yards out the ball flew past the ill-stared Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita to level the score 1-1. Substitute Sophia Smith was swarmed by three Japanese players who kept her at bay before Hina Sugita stuck a leg out after she was cleverly hoodwinked by Smith to give away a penalty in the 77th minute. Captain fantastic Lindsay Horan stepped up to score her 35th goal in 145 appearances from the penalty spot to make it 2-1.  

The 9th edition of the SheBelieves Cup got on its way on the lush green park of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in front of a record-breaking Crowd of 50,644 Marks the Highest Attendance for a USWNT Friendly Match on Home Soil and Largest Since the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. Both teams are using this game as a springboard for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris later this summer.  

Japan the number 7th ranked FIFA team and deploying a 5-3-2 formation shocked the USA in their own back yard. Right after the kickoff in the first minute Kiko Seike, who got on the end of a long ball on the right flank, dribbled into the penalty box, and fired a shot that went through goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher butter fingers and bounced off the left post into the back of the net. The U.S. did not let the early goal fluster them and went on to out-shoot Japan, 18-6, while creating most of the dangerous chances.  

The USA pressured the Japan defense all match, connecting well from the back and the midfield with the front line of Alex Morgan, Trinity Rodman, and Mallory Swanson – who played her first USWNT match in little under a year– all causing danger inside the penalty area. 2023 SheBelieves Cup MVP Swanson was the first to go close to scoring to level things up after she collected a pass inside the box and utilizing her great dribbling skills cut across the box from right to left and fired a low shot that was destined for the back of the net, but a heroic goal line clearance from defender Miyabi Moriya held the visitors’ lead unbothered.  

Jaedyn Shaw
United States v Japan - 2024 SheBelieves Cup / Adam Hagy/ISI Photos/USSF/GettyImages

Try as they may, they could not keep Jaedyn Shaw from the headlines. In the 21st minute midfielder Sam Coffey won the ball off the team’s high press at the top of Japan’s defensive third. Coffey split two defenders with a sublime pass to find Shaw at the top of the box she took a touch steadies herself and then fired a powerful strike from 30 yards out into the lower left corner, freezing Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita, to level the score. 

As the clock ticked like molasses from a bottle to the halftime interval it was Swanson who came close again in the 35th minute. Lindsay Horan scampered forward and slipped through a cheeky ball for Swanson to latch on to which she did expertly but was denied her 33rd career goal by goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita. An evenly contested first half with USA getting most of the chances ended fairly with one goal apiece.  

The second half was not short of energy and action. As the fans were treated to some mouthwatering display of slick movements on and off the ball. The zestful crowd spurred on the home team, who were more dominant throughout the second half, enjoying the lion’s share of possession of 72% to 28%. They continued to threaten in the attack while effectively limiting Japan’s charge forward. Coach Twila Kilgore shuffled the team up and brought on Emily Sonnett, Sophia Smith, and Chelsea’s Catarina Macario who has been out of action due to an injury she suffered two years ago to add some dynamics in attack.  

The United States team huffed and puffed at the relentless Japanese defense and finally in the 77th minute substitute Sophia Smith danced around the Japanese defenders like training cones weaving her way inside the box like knife through butter until she was fouled in frustration by substitute Hina Sugita. The referee pointed to the spot in a hurry and without hesitation as Sugita stared in despair. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Lindsey Horan, as poised as Roger Federer preparing for a forehand put away on match point, dispatched the penalty kick to make it 2-1. Horan has now scored in each of the last 10 calendar years dating back to 2015, the seventh player in USWNT history to score in at least 10 consecutive calendar years, along with Mia Hamm (15 from 1990—2004), Abby Wambach (14 from 2002—15), Carli Lloyd (12 from 2010—21), Tiffeny Milbrett (12 from 1992—2003), Shannon Boxx (11 from 2003—13) and Alex Morgan (10 from 2010—19). 

  Abby Dahlkemper, who replaced the injured central defender Naomi Girma, played a fine match in her stead next to Tierna Davidson, who was also stellar on the afternoon. With the win, the USA will play in the tournament final against Canada who defeated Brazil 4-2 on penalty kicks after they were locked 1-1 in regulation time. Of the 8 finals played in the SheBelieves Cup USA has only lost once. as they look to take their fifth consecutive SheBelieves Cup title. The USA will play on Tuesday, April 9 at Field in Columbus, Ohio (7 p.m. ET; TBS, Universo, Max, Peacock). The third-place match will take place before the final at 4 p.m. ET. These two teams will meet for the second time this year after Canada was beaten 3-1 on penalty kicks after they were locked at 2-2 at the Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup 2024 semifinal.