Tonight, the most dominant force in its sport will start their campaign to add to their record-setting all-time medal haul. The United States Women’s National Team kick off against New Zealand tonight in Belo Horizonte in search of their fifth Olympic gold medal. It’s not technically in Rio, and the opening ceremony isn’t till Friday, but if you’re a soccer fan, the Olympics start tonight.
So get hype. Kickoff is scheduled for 6pm on NBCSN and NBC’s streaming platforms.
USA Projected Starting XI: So much has changed since the early rounds of the World Cup last year, when US coach Jill Ellis had trouble finding the right way to fit the team together and played some of her best players out of position or in a role that didn’t suit them. Today, the system is much better defined, and it works toward more players’ strengths. The only questions are who will plug and play in each spot.
The easiest positions to predict are at the back, where Hope Solo owns the goalkeeping position and center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston aren’t going anywhere. Kelley O’Hara and Meghan Klingenberg will hold down the fullback spots.
Unless Ellis thinks Morgan Brian has fully returned from injury and is 90-minutes fit, Allie Long will anchor the midfield. Carli Lloyd and Lindsey Horan will play ahead of whomever is in the #6 spot, and up top it will be Alex Morgan.
The toughest spots to pick are the wings, where there’s too much talent to fit onto the field. Tobin Heath looks set to claim one spot, while Washington Spirit star Crystal Dunn and 18-year-old phenom Mallory Pugh are both vying for the spot on the other side. I think Dunn gets the nod tonight, but look for Pugh to get significant minutes in the second half.
Match Previews: Be sure to read our preview of tonight’s action, as well as Kevin McCauley’s more general look at the USWNT coming into this tournament. Our own Caitlyn Buckley spoke with Crystal Dunn about her first Olympics, and The Washington Post focuses on Dunn's Spirit teammate Ali Krieger, also making her Olympic debut.
What Are You Drinking?: This is the Olympics. Along with the World Cup, this is the time to go all #Murica all the time. Turn it up to 11. So I’m drinking the best, most American libation there is. Bourbon whiskey. Neat. In a glass with bison on it. While wearing an obnoxiously loud red, white and blue t-shirt. Like I said, go to 11.
Prediction: The US are the best team in the world, and it’s not particularly close. They should cruise through the group stage, even if New Zealand — stocked as they are with NWSL players — is more game than some might expect. I’ll go on the conservative side and call a 2-0 win for the Americans, goals from Dunn and Morgan.
Now that you're all read up on tonight's game, take to the comments and follow along with us. Consider this your place for pre-game, in-game and post-game conversation and revelry.