In her pre-match interview, USWNT head coach Jill Ellis was trying to give us a hint. "Japan is very good on set pieces," she said when asked what she was focused on ahead of the game. She pointed it out as a particular emphasis for her team, and said that the Japanese don't get the credit they deserve for their set piece prowess because of how good they are technically. Japan are thought of as a team that keeps the ball on the turf, while the United States are noted for their ability on set plays because of their size.
Ellis' focus on set pieces paid off. The USWNT ran two clearly planned and diagrammed set piece routines on their first two dead balls, one from a corner kick and one from a free kick that was a near-corner situation. On both occasions, Carli Lloyd lost Azusa Iwashimizu -- who was substituted in the middle of the first half as punishment for her errors -- and scored. After that, Japan didn't have a chance. They fought hard after going down by four goals, but their 5-2 loss was inevitable after Lloyd's second.
Ellis couldn't have possibly known that the opening minutes were going to work out this well, but she knew that there was something to exploit. She knew there were plays she could run to get Lloyd chances to score on set plays. She had a plan, her team executed it, and it worked. And amazingly, she told us her team's focus before the game started. Way to call your shot, Jill.