Former Clemson soccer star, Stuart Holden fired home the game's only goal in the 47th minute to hand the U.S. three points and the top spot in Group B following the 0-0 draw between Netherlands and Nigeria.
Two former Clemson players, Nathan Sturgis and Holden are playing for the US Olympic team. Sturgis played at Clemson in 2004 and 2005 and was named All-American by Soccer America, the NSCAA (Third-Team), and College Soccer News (Second) in 2005. He was named first-team All-ACC and All-South in 2005. Sturgis was named the ACC's Defensive Player-of-the-Year in 2005.
Holden played at Clemson in 2003 and 2004. He was named second team All-ACC in 2004.
"The first game in this kind of tournament is very tight and you have to compete," said U.S. head coach Peter Nowak. "I'm very proud of them, because the first game is never easy and you never know how it is going to be . You train for three weeks and you try to find the right recipe about how the team will play. It was important to get the three points."
The U.S. next faces 2007 European Under-21 Champions Netherlands on Aug. 10 in Tianjin. Kickoff is set for 7:45 a.m. ET, and the match will be broadcast live on the USA Network and the NBC Olympic Soccer Channel. Fans can also follow along on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker.
The U.S. backline held solid throughout the match, anchored by centerbacks Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst while outside defenders Marvell Wynne and Michael Orozco won the flank duels. The combination of Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan kept the center of the park tight, with Holden and Robbie Rogers pinching in to deny space to the Japanese attack. Despite delivering a few dangerous crosses, Japan only managed two shots on goal.
At the other end of the park, U.S. captain Brian McBride worked tirelessly throughout the night, earning several fouls and maintaining consistent pressure on the Japanese defense. At 36, McBride is the oldest player in the tournament and the oldest to appear in the Olympic Games since the new format was established in 1992. Rogers troubled the Japanese with several attacking runs with the ball at his feet.
Both sides spent the first 15 minutes settling into the atmosphere in Tianjin, where the temperature reached 92 degrees at kickoff. The match was tightly contested through the midfield, with both teams looking to exploit room on the flanks. The USA's got their first good look at goal in the 14th minute through a sweet combination play. Sacha Kljestan penetrated the middle of the Japan defense before feeding an entry pass into McBride. The forward laid a back pass off to Michael Bradley, who fired a low line drive that forced the Japanese 'keeper to make a solid save.
Japan countered with a great chance eight minutes later that began with a cleverly crafted corner kick play. Atsuto Uchida played a short corner to Shinji Kagawa, who quickly played a ball into Keisuke Honda, who was charging from near post. He laid a ball back to Uchida, who delivered a ball across the six-yard box that a diving Brad Guzan just knicked. The changing trajectory fooled Masato Morishige, who was lurking at the far post, and his attempt at goal bounced wide.
The best chance for either team in the opening stanza came in the 41st minute for Japan. After a failed clearance off a corner, Uchida launched a cross into the six-yard box. Hiroyuki Taniguchi - the beneficiary of a missed offsides call - had a clear look at goal, but his glancing header skimmed wide.
The U.S. took the lead for good in the 47th minute on a play began by Marvell Wynne. The right back outpaced his defender down the right flank and whipped a low cross into the box. Japan captain Hiroki Mizumoto attempted a clearance, but his effort fell straight into the path of Holden. The midfielder stepped into a hard drive that snuck under the arms of Shusaku Nishikawa, delivering the U.S. the decisive 1-0 lead.
With the lead in hand, the U.S. was able to maintain possession in several stretches despite pressure from Japan. Nonetheless, the final 30 minutes were not without a couple close calls. A penetrating cross from Shinji Kagawa in the 65th was skimmed out of a danger by a sliding Edu, who also held off Keisuke Honda during a scrum in the box just 10 minutes from the final whistle.
Japan got one more look at goal in the final minute of stoppage time, launching a ball into the area that forced Guzan off his line. The U.S. 'keeper lost the race to substitute Tadanari Lee, but Lee's header sailed safely over the bar.
Following the Netherlands match, the U.S. changes venues for their final Group B match when they face 1996 Gold Medalists Nigeria on Aug. 13 in Beijing. The match will be shown live on the USA Network and the NBC Olympic Soccer Channel beginning at 5 a.m. ET.
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