Pacific Cup title hopes real after 4-1 victory over Japan, China loss.
The bigger story, however, was Canada shocking China in a penalty-kick tiebreaker after a 2-2 draw through regulation and 20 minutes of sudden death.
The U.S., China, which beat the Americans 1-0, and Canada are now 3-1 in the round-robin standings, but the U.S. has a plus-15 goal differential to plus-3 for the Chinese and minus-5 for Canada which was embarrassed by the U.S. 9-1. This means if the Americans can beat Australia (2-2) Sunday, it will be certain to take home the inaugural Pacific Cup.
After an exchange of goals in the first half, the U.S. went ahead 2-1 in the 55th minute when Chastain crossed into the middle from the left flank and the ball was knocked down to the turf as several players challenged. MacMillan was the quickest to the loose ball as she slid to knock a rocket into the roof of the net from 10 yards.
"I was impressed with Japan," said MacMillan of a team the Americans walloped by a total of 16-0 in their last two meetings. "We started off a little shaky and after they tied it up, we could have had a let down, but as a team we knew we just had to keep going at them and we would get chances."
Chastain made it 3-1 in the 62nd minute when she stroked a 20-yard left-footed shot from atop the right side of the penalty area into the upper right corner, giving Japanese goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago no chance.
"You always think so much about making it perfect, but I was thinking, just hit it on goal," Chastain said. "I think the couple of free kicks before that set up the goal because they were expecting someone to run over the ball, so I caught the goalkeeper standing."
April Heinrichs made all five of her allowed substitutes in the 64th minute and three of them combined for the last goal. Sara Whalen, who got a rare chance to play up front, sent fellow striker Christie Welsh through down the left flank. Welsh cut the ball back against the grain, freezing two defenders, and sent a cross on the ground into the middle. A cutting Wagner touched it under Yamago from four yards for her fourth international goal.
"All 11 players were working very hard at every moment and when the substitutes came in, there was no letdown," Heinrichs said. "It was a high-energy game, but the field was slick and cold and at times our service was difficult to handle. In the second half, we started wear them down and it was a great collective win. There were many, many players who played very, very well."
The match started 35 minutes late due to the overtime and shootout in the China-Canada game as well as a power outage that rendered Breakers Stadium dark for 10 minutes at the end of the second overtime.
The U.S., which outshot Japan 24-4, did not manage its first shot until the 13th minute when Tiffeny Milbrett skimmed a volley just past the left post. One minute later, Lorrie Fair's drive was deflected off the left post by Cindy Parlow.
Finally, in the 16th minute, the Americans broke through with a bit of deception. A Japanese hand ball provided a free kick 27 yards out, Chastain ran over the ball, then continued her run as MacMillan played her through in the right side of the box. Chastain caught up the ball at the end line and played a perfect pass in the slot to Parlow for her to finish from three yards out, the forward’s tournament-leading seventh goal and 37th of her international career.
"The Japanese played very, very hard this evening," Heinrichs said. "In the first 30 (minutes), the Japanese initiated the speed of play and the physical presence. I was quite pleased with that, because with that sort of pressure, we have to respond and that makes us better."
Yumi Obe tied the score at 1-1 for Japan in the 22nd minute, hitting a shot from 40 yards that sailed over the fully extended keeper Jenni Branam and into the upper right corner.
Star U.S. striker Mia Hamm did not play because of a minor leg injury,
United States 4, Japan 1Lineups: United States - Jen Branam, Christie Pearce, Joy Fawcett, Kate Sobrero, Brandi Chastain (Danielle Slaton 64), Kristine Lilly (Nikki Serlenga 64), Lorrie Fair, Julie Foudy - captain (Aly Wanger 64), Shannon MacMillan, Cindy Parlow (Sara Whalen 64), Tiffeny Milbrett (Christie Welsh, 64). Japan - Nozimi Yamago, Rie Kimura, Hiromi Isozaki, Yumi Obe, Yasuyo Yamagashi (Mio Otani 85), Kae Nishina (Harue Sato 89), Tomomi Fujimura, Ayumi Hara (captain), Mito Isaka (Kozue Ando, 86), Yoshie Kasajima, Yuka Yamazaki.
Shots: United States 24, Japan 4. Saves: United States 1, Japan 3. Corner kicks: United States 11, Japan 1. Fouls: United States 1, Japan 7. Offside: United States 1, Japan 1.
Referee: Bronwyn Calver (Australia). Referee’s assistants: Karen Goss (Australia), Tammy Ogston (Australia). Attendance: 1,100 at Breakers Stadium in Newcastle, Australia. Weather: Cold, clear, 45 degrees.