For the United States, the important part is over. Friday's 5-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago sealed their spot in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. It was the third time in four games in this tournament that the USWNT scored at least 5 goals in a game, and they've yet to concede a goal to boot. Given the level of competition they've faced, none of this is really a surprise. The fact that a troubled Mexico team actually gave the USWNT a hard time got some attention, but even that game required the US to make a slew of abnormal mistakes in possession.
Now comes the hard part: Getting it together to play a team that doesn't need a miracle to beat the Americans. Canada is CONCACAF's second best team and has been for ages, and they will enter this game with an even better goal difference than the USWNT (+23 to +21). The Canadian program appears to have moved on from a few role players who had previously seemed untouchable, and the youngsters brought in (six players under the age of 22 have seen minutes in the midfield or up front, for example) have done a very good job.
These two teams are among the world's best, so you should probably tune in. Of course, there's also the fact that this rivalry was recently referred to as a "bloodbath" by Hope Solo. Four years ago this summer, these two teams played one of the best games of the decade: A fevered, acrimonious 4-3 Olympic semifinal that still provokes immediate reactions from players and fans on both sides of the border. Canada is still a more direct, physical team under John Herdman, which is a style the US hasn't seen in this tournament. They also haven't seen an opponent whose gameplan isn't based around camping 11 players behind the ball, so the Canadians are a change tactically just as much as they are simply a more capable opponent than Mexico or Costa Rica.
Key player: Morgan Brian
"Moe" has rapidly become an indispensable player for the USWNT while just as rapidly transitioning from a playmaking, goalscoring #10 in college into a world-class defensive midfielder at the international level. Brian has gone about her business with her usual mix of intelligence, speed of thought, and grit, and is probably on track for a tournament Best 11 nod (unless she is subject to the kind of inexplicable blind spot that Becky Sauerbrunn endures, yes I'm still bitter).
However, Brian has played the full 90 minutes 3 times in a tournament that started 11 days ago. Perhaps more notably, she played 90 minutes against Trinidad on Friday, less than 48 hours before this game kicks off. Modern sports science has very strong data pointing towards needing 3 full days between game days to be at one's best. It's not just about the significantly higher risk of injury involved in scheduling games like this, though that's obviously a major concern too. It's simply having the energy and mental freshness to be at one's best.
This game is going to require Brian to push through the fatigue if it's to be another USWNT win. Cutting Canada off in the midfield will go a long way towards forcing them into a predictable attack. The more Canada is forced into a long ball game, the less influence a player like Diana Matheson can have. Given that Christine Sinclair was limping pretty badly after Canada beat Costa Rica to get to this game, winning the midfield might also force Canada to rely on the, shall we say, prosaic skill set of Melissa Tancredi instead of a player who went ahead of Mia Hamm as an international goalscorer. All of that sounds good for the USWNT, but it doesn't happen unless Brian plays a big role.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kick-off time: 5:00pm 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.