The United States has strolled through Olympic qualifying as expected, and their reward is tonight's unusually important semifinal against Trinidad and Tobago. Why unusually important? CONCACAF sends two teams to the Olympics, so the finalists in this qualifying tournament are both going to Rio. Tonight's game is a must-win for the USWNT, given their illustrious Olympic history. In the five women's soccer tournaments the Olympics have featured, the US has 4 gold medals and lost the gold medal game in extra time in 2000.
It's not just that history that makes them major favorites today. The USWNT scored 16 goals while conceding none in the group stage. The Trinidadians, thanks to a lopsided 6-0 loss to Canada, will enter this game with a negative goal difference (-1, with 7 scored and 8 conceded).
Of course, fans may remember the story of Trinidad's 2014 Gold Cup. Thanks to a federation that has been troubled financially and otherwise - and for both their men's and women's teams - T&T's team made a courageous push to qualify in 2014 despite being sent to the US without money for things like food and transportation. That T&T squad opened the tournament as huge underdogs against the USWNT and held on at 0-0 for 55 minutes before conceding the game's only goal. Trinidad fell in their semifinal on penalties to Costa Rica, and then took Mexico to extra time in the third place game that determined CONCACAF's last qualifier for Canada 2015.
It's also worth noting that, while T&T faced three intense, high-stress games in Group B, the USWNT was not really having to push themselves very hard. That showed through against Mexico, where the US lacked precision and ideas throughout a sloppy 1-0 win that required a dubious penalty kick and a fortunate rebound. If the Americans can't show the sort of focus they had against Costa Rica, this might be more tense than anyone expects.
Key player: Carli Lloyd
Let's not overthink this one. Hope Solo (and for one game, Alyssa Naeher) could have set up in the goalmouth with a comfy chair and a nice book and nothing would have changed. The fullbacks have been playing virtually as wingers. Becky Sauerbrunn, who should totally have made FIFPro's World 11 yesterday, has mostly been a distribution hub. Julie Johnston has kept busy by stepping into midfield to intercept passes.
Trinidad is not going to threaten the USWNT at length. They'll defend deep and try to break out on the counter, just like everyone in Group A did. Breaking that bunker will require players like Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath to break defenders down on the dribble, and Alex Morgan will need to make smart runs throughout.
However, the key to all of this will be Lloyd delivering another big game performance when the USWNT needs one. Lloyd's ability to produce goals or create them for others is virtually unparalleled in the women's game, and she will have to put her mix of creativity, audacity, and physical strength to good use so that the rest of the US attack can get going.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kick-off time: 8:30pm Eastern
Available TV: NBCSN (English), 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.