BEIJING -- One of the quickest ways for a coach to put a frown on a player's face is to move them from an attack-minded position to a defensive position. Defenders usually toil in anonymity, except when they make a mistake, while midfielders and forwards get most of the glory.
But one only had to look at the smile on Lori Chalupny's face following the United States' 4-2 semifinal victory over Japan to realize that a move to the back need not be a death sentence. Chalupny -- who played in midfield during last year's World Cup but now operates as a left back -- scored a highlight-reel goal that sparked the U.S. And her attacking forays down the left wing, along with a similar contribution from Heather O'Reilly on the right, helped turn around a match that for a while looked poised for an upset.
At the 25-minute mark of Monday's match, the Americans were down a goal and looking bereft of attacking ideas. Long balls to forwards Amy Rodriguez and Angela Hucles were miles off target. Short passes into the heart of the Japanese defense were easily cut out. But then the Americans remembered their pregame strategy: Get the ball out wide.
"I think the first part of any game, you're kind of feeling them out and trying to search for weaknesses," Chalupny said. "We knew that we wanted to go around them on the outside. That was our game plan going in, and I'm glad that we found that eventually."
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Some stellar work from O'Reilly helped the Americans equalize in the 41st minute. On a surging run down the right, she beat two Japanese players to the end line, and sent a centering feed that Hucles finished from close range.
It was then left to Chalupny to put the Americans on top three minutes later. A Rodriguez pass found the U.S. defender in full flight down the left wing, and after cutting inside, Chalupny unleashed a blast from 17 yards that flew into the roof of the net.
For both Chalupny and coach Pia Sundhage it was the culmination of a positional switch that began shortly after the Swede took over.
"I liked [Chalupny] very much during the World Cup at center mid," Sundhage said. "The thing is ... she's a quality defender, she's two-footed, and she can beat players. The way we play, having the outside backs going forward, we need that kind of player."
Given that Chalupny had spent considerable time playing defense earlier in her national team career, the switch wasn't all that difficult, and with the possession-oriented attack being instituted by Sundhage, Chalupny knew she would get her chances to get forward.
"I love playing out of the back and facing the whole field," Chalupny said. "The way we play, [Sundhage] encourages me to get forward and get into the attack even more and more and more. It's really fun to play there. I'm enjoying it."
With a gold-medal match against World Cup nemesis Brazil on the horizon, Chalupny and her teammates will be hoping that the fun lasts for one more game.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.