KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Morgan capped a seemingly effortless hat trick by converting off a dazzling piece of footwork by Tobin Heath, and the U.S. rolled to a 4-2 victory over Japan on Thursday night in its opening match of the four-team Tournament of Nations. Megan Rapinoe also had a goal and an assist for the world’s top-ranked team, which hasn’t lost since the Americans dropped their opening match of the same tournament to Australia last year.
The rematch of those powerhouses is Sunday in East Hartford, Connecticut, after the Matildas opened the defense of their Tournament of Nations title with a 3-1 victory over Brazil on Thursday.
Morgan scored her first goal in the 18th minute when she flicked a pass from Rapinoe past Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita. And her second came a scant eight minutes later, when Emily Sonnett gathered a cross from Crystal Dunn and popped it ahead to Morgan, who headed in the goal.
The hat trick was complete after Heath, who had just entered as a substitute, made two Japanese defenders look foolish along the end line. She then swung a centering pass that was deflected to Morgan, who deposited it for her first three-goal game since Olympic qualifying in February 2016.
Rapinoe added her goal — and a bizarre, foot-stomping celebration afterward — in the 66th minute as the U.S. team ramped up the offense just as it begins ramping up for World Cup qualifying.
They can secure their spot next year in France during the CONCACAF tournament in October.
The performance by coach Jill Ellis’s squad Thursday night wasn’t entirely without fault, though.
After scoring the opener on Morgan’s quick-twitch flick, the U.S. defense quickly broke down, and Mini Tanaka beat defender Abby Dahlkemper and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher for a matching goal.
Then, midway through the second half, Japan’s Moeno Sakaguchi made a nifty move against Heath before sending a curling shot into the upper corner of the net to trim a three-goal deficit to two.
It was nonetheless a solid performance by the Americans in what has become a competitive rivalry with Japan. The teams split matches in the past two World Cup finals, and the U.S. beat Asia’s top team in the gold medal match at the 2012 London Olympics.
Earlier Thursday, defending champ Australia built on an own-goal by Poliana and another mistake by the Brazilian defender in cruising to a 3-1 victory to open the tournament at Children’s Mercy Park.
Tameka Butt added a goal and an assist for the Matildas. Marta scored a late goal for Brazil.