Last summer, the United States and Japan took different paths to the Women's World Cup final. The USWNT were disappointing in the first round even as they won a pretty solid Group D, but rounded into form after suspensions forced a lineup change that was desperately needed in the quarterfinal against China. Japan, meanwhile, reeled off six consecutive one-goal wins, starving opponents of possession but still lacking the cutting edge to bury inferior opponents.
We all know how the final - their last meeting before tonight's friendly - went. Carli Lloyd effectively ended the game as a contest early, scoring a hat trick within 16 minutes. Lauren Holiday scored during that span as well, and while the Nadeshiko did pull two goals back, Tobin Heath's 54th minute goal emphatically closed the door on the chances of a comeback. The third straight major final between these two countries went to the US, but the chances of Japan being the final obstacle in Rio seemed strong.
A lot can change in a year. While the USWNT celebrated with the Victory Tour and added even more dynamism in the attack by fully incorporating Crystal Dunn and giving call-ups to Mallory Pugh (who, it turns out, is ready to start despite only just finishing high school), and then won a She Believes Cup comprised of four of the top five women's teams on the planet. Outside of an ongoing dispute over equal pay with US Soccer, it has basically been a non-stop party.
Japan has not been partying Legendary midfielder Homare Sawa retired after the World Cup, but the program still seemed in position to be one of the world's best. "Seemed" is the key word: Despite hosting the final round of Asian qualifying for the upcoming Olympic games, the Japanese are not going to Rio. Losing to Australia in the opener wasn't that much of a disaster, but following it up with a draw against South Korea and a loss to China left Japan with too much to do in the final two games against the relative minnows from North Korea and Vietnam. Longtime coach Norio Sasaki resigned due to the failure to qualify, and now the Nadeshiko are just trying to stand up on their own two feet again.
Nonetheless, this pair of friendlies - they'll play again June 5th in Cleveland - is an ideal test for the USWNT heading towards the Olympics. Japan may not be in their best form this year, but they're still Japan. Yuki Ogimi and Mana Iwabuchi can score on any defense on the planet, and Saki Kumagai is an excellent center back. They're still likely one of the only teams with a prayer of holding a possession advantage against the USWNT as well.
Location: Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, CO)
Kick-off time: 9:30pm Eastern, though there is a pregame show starting at 9pm
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Treat this as the gamethread for tonight's match.