For the first time since defeating them in the 1999 final, the US will face China in a World Cup match. And they'll have to do it shorthanded, as both the Reign's Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Rapinoe's loss will be particularly damaging, and she's been one of the few sources of attacking creativity on the team. Without her the US will be even more likely to try to force chances by punting the ball to closely marked forwards and hoping they pull something out of a hat. And a team that was already playing Holiday out of position to cobble together a defensive midfield will have to dig even deeper into the well without her.
Despite largely struggling to play up to their potential so far in the tournament, the US has certainly gotten their scheduling right. China is a significant step up in difficulty from relative newcomers Colombia in the last round, but not nearly as imposing as the France or Germany matchup that would await in the next round. That gives the Americans a chance to get the suspensions out of the way, build Alex Morgan's fitness, and work on building a cohesive attack before facing any of their fellow tournament favorites.
What to Watch
- Searching for an offense: It's clichéd to call the Chinese team 'well-organized', but it's not wrong. They will be difficult to break down, and the US will have to do it without their main playmaking threat and set-piece provider in Rapinoe. In her absence, the Americans will rely even more on beating opposing defenders one-on-one or using the size advantage of Abby Wambach and Julie Johnston to bully in a goal in the box.
- Hit them early: For all their pedigree, China has a young team that has yet to face a major challenge in this tournament. Since their opening day loss to hosts Canada, they haven't faced a top 10 team in the tournament. In the first knockout round, they had a narrow 1-0 win over Cameroon, by far the lowest rated team remaining in the tournament. So they have not proven they can beat a good team, and in the face of that uncertainty the best thing the US can do is erase any hope early. If the game remains drawn or close well into the second half, China will believe they can hang with the world's #2 team, and if they believe it they can do it.
- Find midfield depth: Losing a winger and a (nominal) central midfielder isn't ideal for a team that's biggest holes are ... on the wing and at central midfield. This match will be a chance for players further down the depth chart to prove themselves for the later rounds. That could be Tobin Heath proving that she can be a reliable playmaker. It could be Shannon Boxx proving she can still be 90 minutes fit. It could be Meghan Klingenberg proving she can be a reliable defensive midfielder. Answering those questions will give the US answers to some important questions when (if) they take on the likes of Japan and Germany or France.
How to Watch
Time/Date: Friday, June 26, 4:30 p.m. PT
Location: Lansdowne Stadium, Ottawa
TV: Fox, NBC Universo (Spanish)
Online: FOX Sports Go, FOX Soccer 2 Go, and NBC Deportes En Vivo
This is your USWNT gamethread. No Maybes.