Preview: USA Takes on Japan in World Cup Final Rematch

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By MC Bousquette
USWNT Beat Writer

After four long years, the USA finally has its shot at World Cup revenge.

After a heartbreaking loss in penalty kicks to Japan in the 2011 World Cup finals, the United States will meet Japan again in the World Cup finals on Sunday evening.

The Competition:

While Japan is a undoubtedly a weaker side than Germany, they should by no means be underestimated. They have numerous technically adept, quick, and powerful playmakers who are well-equipped to threaten in the final third. Nahomi Kawasumi is one such player to watch on the wing; she has a knack for swooping around defenders and posing an immediate danger to goal. Japan’s captain, Aya Miyama, is perhaps the largest threat to the United States. The experienced midfielder is a force at creating chances, and is similarly masterful at executing free kicks – she is key to Japan’s offensive success.

In contrast, the Japanese defense is not nearly as strong as their attack; this could be the ultimate gaping hole for the side when facing a team as aggressive as Tuesday’s USWNT. Japan must emerge sprinting from the gates, as it will be tremendously to their advantage to spook the United States’ defense.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Coach Jill Ellis finally switched the USWNT’s formation against Germany from a 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, a decision that had an immediate impact on the side’s performance. It is almost unimaginable that Ellis would revert to a 4-4-2, as such a decision would hinder the USWNT from peaking at the exactly correct time.

USA v. Japan

Forwards: Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Kelley O’Hara. Rapinoe will continue to play her role in penetrating the final third, as Ellis gives Morgan a final shot to return to form up top. If Rapinoe can connect with Morgan, and Morgan is back on her game, the addition of the recently very impressive O’Hara to the top will present a very threatening front to the Japanese defense. Abby Wambach will, at some point in the second half, make an appearance, as her days of starting for the squad seem to be over.

Midfield: Lauren Holiday, Morgan Brian, and Carli Lloyd. After their performance against Germany, Brian and Lloyd are a lock to start for the USWNT. Brian showed that she can provide solid coverage as a defensive midfielder, and is very capable of holding the midfield together as Lloyd seizes the opportunity to launch up top. Lloyd, a 2015 World Cup Golden Ball finalist, was a key playmaker against Germany with this increased freedom, and will be just as important against Japan. The only of these three whose starting slot is in question is Holiday’s, as she has been less than impressive throughout the tournament. If she doesn’t fare well, expect to see Tobin Heath or Heather O’Reilly replace her at wing.

Defense: Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger. Ellis has little to complain about from this back line. Klingenberg seemed off her game against Germany, although this is not broadly indicative of her ability, and there is neither a logical replacement for her nor a reason to replace her in the finals. Johnston is another nominee for the Golden Ball, while Krieger and Sauerbrunn have played similarly well both on defense and while pushing up into the opposition’s final third. The only time the US back line permitted a goal during this World Cup was 27 minutes into the US’ opening match against Australia.

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo. Solo will start as she looks to notch one more World Cup clean sheet, which would raise her career total to 11. This would set a new USWNT goalkeeper record for greatest number of matches played without allowing a goal. A Golden Glove finalist for this World Cup, Solo has been on top of her game throughout the whole tournament. The finals should be no exception.

The Bottom Line:

If the United States plays like it did against Germany, the USWNT should emerge victorious over Japan this time around. Japan appeared an only somewhat impressive side against England, winning off an own goal from England’s Laura Bassett. Although there is certainly room for surprise from the reigning World Cup champions, it is most likely that the United States will bring the gold home.

The United States takes on Japan in the World Cup Finals this Sunday, July 5th, in Vancouver at 7pm EST (FOX, Telemundo).

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