The United States started Olympic qualifying perfectly, scoring just 12 seconds into the match and going on to rout Costa Rica 5-0. At the World Cup last summer, Costa Rica earned a reputation for being organized and tough to break down. The USWNT showed what they're capable of in dismantling their defense and effectively ending the game as a contest after 15 minutes.
Today's game against Mexico may end up being the toughest match the USWNT faces on their way to earning a spot in Rio. That is, if things go according to plan. A win today would secure a spot in the semifinal round, which is the key game in this qualifying process. Win your semifinal, and you are going to the Olympics. Ensuring that said semifinal is against one of the weaker teams in Group B and not Canada - who seem likely to stroll to three wins in what is otherwise a very soft group - will give the US an easy path to Brazil.
A loss today, however, will increase the pressure significantly. Mexico is technically atop the group right now after a 6-0 win over an overmatched Puerto Rico side, and they'd clinch their semifinal spot with a win just like the US would. Even assuming that the US would easily defeat Puerto Rico and get themselves the other semifinal spot in the group, Mexico would just need a draw in this scenario to grab the easy semifinal and send the US into a do-or-die game with Canada.
Key player: Lindsey Horan
The former PSG and current Portland Thorns player seems to be undergoing a curious shift in how she's used with the USWNT. Previously known as a forward, Horan has been playing central midfield for Jill Ellis. Initially that experiment saw her and Morgan Brian pair up, with Brian taking on a bit more of a deeper role.
Against Costa Rica, though, Ellis switched it up. Horan dropped deep to pick the ball up off the defense, while Brian stayed ahead of her. Their roles were still somewhat similar - Brian as the disruptor, Horan as the orchestrator - but the positioning changed things quite a bit. This might have been an idea based on how deep Costa Rica was setting up shop; by having a playmaker deep, the US would have more options to spread the ball to either flank. Leaving Brian higher also meant she would be nearer to the areas Costa Rica would be attempting to start their attacks.
As odd as it initially was to see a former striker often within 10-15 yards of the center backs, the plan worked. Costa Rica could barely get out of their half. Brian helped prevent any dangerous counter-attacks from starting, and Horan kept the attack moving briskly from her deep role.
Mexico is a different challenge, but they'll still probably deploy a deep line in an attempt to clog things up for the US. It wouldn't surprise me to see Ellis stick with this experiment in this game as a result. This might not be the look the US takes against Canada, and they might scrap it if Mexico is giving them problems - say, by dropping a forward of their own into Horan's space whenever the US has the ball - but it's an intriguing development for one of the best young players in the US pool.
Location: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, TX)
Kick-off time: 4:00pm Eastern
Available TV: NBC Universo (Spanish)
Available streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra (English), NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra (Spanish).
Available radio: None
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Treat this as the gamethread for today's match.