United States
USWNT advances to SheBelieves Cup final with 2-1 over Japan
United States

USWNT advances to SheBelieves Cup final with 2-1 over Japan

Updated Apr. 6, 2024 8:32 p.m. ET

ATLANTA, Georgia — The United States women's national team beat Japan 2-1 in the SheBelieves Cup semifinal on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the USWNT will advance to Tuesday's final against Canada, which defeated Brazil in a penalty shootout in the second semifinal on Saturday.

The USWNT pulled off an important victory, but was caught flat-footed to start. Kiko Seike scored for Japan in the first 30 seconds, giving U.S. Soccer fans some déjà vu after a similar thing happened to the men's side in the recent Nations League semifinal against Jamaica.

It wasn't an ideal way to start. And then in the 18th minute, Naomi Girma left the game with an injury and did not return. Afterward, interim head coach Twila Kilgore said that Girma was being evaluated for a right thigh injury and they would know more shortly.

But the U.S. responded energetically to all of that adversity: 19-year-old Jaedyn Shaw scored a banger in the 21st minute, and Captain Lindsey Horan later converted a game-winning penalty kick. 


"I think we got caught off guard [with Japan's early goal], but our response is what's most important," Sophia Smith said after the match. "And I think we just kind of put that behind us, moved forward and played the game we know how to play, and we got the result we wanted."

Other highlights for the USWNT included the return of both Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario, forwards who have been waiting a long time to play for the national team again after their respective knee injuries. Swanson started, while Macario came on in the 78th minute.

This was the sixth different lineup used by the USWNT through seven games in 2024. With the Paris Olympics beginning in July, Kilgore and new head coach Emma Hayes have been playing around with different player combinations and there will likely be plenty more of that experimentation in the games to come.

Here are takeaways from the match:

Play of the game

In the 21st minute, with the USWNT already down 1-0 after Japan scored 30 seconds into the match, Shaw scored a sensational goal to equalize. Sam Coffey won the ball high, made a short pass to Shaw, who was asking for it at her feet at the top of the box, and then the rising star sent an elite shot into the back of the net. Her strike was so swift, Japan's goalkeeper didn't even have time to react, her feet stuck on the line as she watched the ball sail past her.

The last time we saw Shaw, she was accepting the best player award after scoring four goals in the Concacaf W Gold Cup, which the U.S. won last month. With her goal against Japan, she's now in some rare air as the first player in USWNT history to score in her first five career starts.

This is a pivotal time for players as they strive to make their respective cases as to why they should go to this summer's Paris Olympics. Only 18 players can be selected for the roster – as opposed to the 23 players who make up the World Cup roster – so a lot of talent will inevitably be left behind.

Shaw has played the No. 7 and 11 positions for the USWNT, but on Saturday played the No. 10 role, which is where she often stars for the San Diego Wave. 

"This is something that's really important as we look at developing a roster for the Olympics and thinking about versatility and things like that," Kilgore said. "[It's important that] we can see and give people experiences in multiple positions because that's necessary when you get to those types of events where you only have 16 field players."

"I just want to point out," Kilgore continued, "not only did she score a brilliant goal, and not only was she part of a lot of very effective buildups, but she did a great job defensively. And this is an area, again, where she accepted a challenge and is continuing to grow in and it makes a massive difference for our team."

Turning point

In the 76th minute, Smith was fouled in the box, earning a penalty kick. Horan stepped up to the spot and nailed a perfectly low ball into the left corner. 

This was Horan's fourth goal of the year for the USWNT, and it gave the squad its winning 2-1 result.

Key stat No. 1

Swanson made her first start for the USWNT since rupturing her patella tendon almost exactly a year ago. According to U.S. Soccer, it had been 364 days since she last played for the American squad.

Before her injury last year – sustained in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland – Swanson was in the form of her life. Despite only playing in six games last year due to her injury, she still led the USWNT with seven goals, four of which came at the 2023 SheBelieves Cup where she was named MVP.

Swanson's impact was immediate. She was in lockstep with Jenna Nighswonger on the left wing, was on the end of most passes by Horan, and found ways to wiggle through Japanese defenders to try and create opportunities. She had quite a few dangerous chances. In the 72nd minute, Smith did the hard work and beat her defender in the box and tapped the ball out to Swanson, but her shot went wide. Swanson had a few moments like that, and looked visibly frustrated.

But this was just Swanson's first game back with the national team after a gruesome injury that kept her out almost for a year. She's clearly on her way to being back in top form.

Key stat No. 2:

The attendance for Saturday's match was 50,644, which is the largest crowd ever to watch the USWNT play a friendly on home soil. And the largest home crowd to watch a USWNT game, period, since the 1999 World Cup final.

What's next for the USWNT?

The USWNT will face Canada in the SheBelieves Cup final on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.

This will be an intriguing rematch after the U.S. beat Canada in penalties in last month’s Gold Cup semifinal on a water-logged pitch.

Kilgore was asked after the USWNT’s game what she’d think about facing the Canadians again should they match up.

"I think anytime you play opponents that you've just recently played, that puts a different dynamic on the game," Kilgore said. "Obviously, the Canada game was a very unique situation and hopefully we're never in a situation like that again. So that would be interesting to play them under a different context."

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of "Strong Like a Woman," published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
United States
SheBelieves Cup

Get more from United States Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more