For the USWNT today, it's go time. All the talk, all the non-soccer stories, all the tactical gripes, and all the marketing hashtags will be put to the side for 90 minutes tonight as the Americans take on an inexperienced - but still dangerous - Australian team in Winnipeg. With Group D's quartet arguably the most sound from top-to-bottom, a single slip-up for the United States will likely lead to a tougher path to the final (and that's at best). Australia, meanwhile, know that taking a single point off the big favorites may be the result that gets them into the knockout rounds.
Key player: Carli Lloyd
Alex Morgan's is training to some degree, but even if she's fully fit she won't be at her razor-sharp best. Sydney Leroux torched Mexico, but also didn't make much of an impact against South Korea just over a week ago. Abby Wambach isn't currently playing club soccer and hasn't been scoring against stronger teams with much regularity in recent times. Amy Rodriguez is safely the team's fourth-best striker, while Christen Press seems more likely to spend time wide than up top.
In other words, there is a significant question hanging over each potential leading scorer for the USWNT. Who's going to step in and fill the void? It seems safe to bet on Lloyd, whose long-range shooting and bursting runs into the box from central midfield make her more of a goalscoring attacking midfielder than a playmaker. Until such a time comes that we know we can rely on a striker, this team's attack may end up relying more on Lloyd providing the goal threat.
Beyond that, Lloyd's role in today's game is going to be big against Australia. The main Australian threat will come via their team speed, which means midfield turnovers are even more dangerous than they normally are. While the tempo-setting will mostly fall to Lauren Holiday, it seems likely that Lloyd will receive the ball in a bit more traffic due to sitting in waiting for the counter. Every US player needs to be sharp on the ball to limit that threat, but Lloyd is going to have to do that in the most congested area of the field.
Key question: Which USWNT is going to show up today?
There are a lot of questions surrounding the US heading into today's opener. We touched on the issues among the forwards. There are abundant reasons to question the team's tactical set-up, in which an outstanding natural playmaker is being asked to function as a defensive midfielder. Left back remains a potentially troubled spot.
I alluded to two send-off games earlier. Against Mexico, the Americans did pretty much whatever they wanted, pulling the Mexican defense apart and peppering their goal with shots while barely being troubled at all at the other end. Against South Korea, however, the USWNT seemed mostly unable to pull apart a bunkering side. Granted, any bunkering team is hard to beat due to simple lack of space, but this should be a problem the US is familiar with at this point. It's not like Mexico came in trying to play toe-to-toe against them, right?
On paper, this American roster has numerous bunker-busting weapons. Megan Rapinoe's clever passing comes to mind, as do the dribbling ability of Tobin Heath and Christen Press. Abby Wambach's size is also a useful cudgel in these situations. However, there are times where the current USWNT gets ponderous, and being methodical against a team that is disciplined about getting into defensive positions is playing right into their hands. Throw in Australia's speed on the break, and a slow-of-thought USWNT could lose this game.
Match date/time: Monday 6/8, 7:30pm EST (6:30pm local)
Venue: Winnipeg Stadium (Winnipeg, Canada)
TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), NBC Universo (Spanish)
Online: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English, requires subscription), NBC Universo Now (Spanish), NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra (Spanish)
Check back in two hours for our gamethread.
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