Thanks to their history and their unmatched size, strength, and overall natural talent, the USA women's soccer team are slight favorites for the final of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. However, they're coming up against a Japan side who will frustrate them by keeping their shape just as well as they keep the ball. The United States is going to have to be on their best and stay patient if the they want to lift a third World Cup trophy. Here are some key players for the USWNT and what they have to do to win the game.
Hope Solo - Solo is almost certainly the best goalkeeper in the world, and her heroics have kept the United States in multiple games where they were outplayed. Chances are, Japan are going to get a few good shots in and Solo will have to make some massive saves.
Shannon Boxx - Homare Sawa will be Japan's key creator, but she's also a threat to score coming forward from the midfield. Boxx will have to prevent her from receiving the ball and win the ball off her on a regular basis to prevent Japan from creating clear-cut chances.
Abby Wambach - The United States' best chances to score goals will be crosses into the box on the counter attack and set pieces. In both cases, Wambach's 6'1" frame will be the main target.
How the USWNT Wins
Create Set Pieces - The USWNT has a massive size advantage, so their best chance to score will probably be on corner kicks, where Wambach, Boxx, and others will all have a massive size advantage over their markers.
Use Width Effectively - Megan Rapinoe is back in the starting lineup, with Amy Rodriguez moving to the bench and Lauren Cheney moving back to striker. This gives the United States lots of pace and skill wide with Rapinoe and Heather O'Reilly. It will be important to get them the ball early and often.
Be Patient - Japan will keep the ball well. They will string 20 passes together. They would do it if the USWNT had Nigel De Jong and Javier Mascherano in the midfield. If the USWNT doesn't get frustrated and lose their shape, they should be just fine.
Check out the corresponding post about Japan, key players and how Japan wins the World Cup final.
For all of our coverage of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup semifinals and how the two teams got to the final, give our Sweden vs. Japan and USA vs. France StoryStreams a read. For all of our previous coverage of the tournament, check out our 2011 Women's World Cup section. For more on the final, bookmark this StoryStream. We'll have updates in the build-up to the game. You can catch the game on Sunday at 2:45 P.M. ET on ESPN. We'll have more information on the schedule of events and where to watch as the game approaches.