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3 things to watch for in USWNT vs. China

The United States are going to have to fix some long-standing problems to beat China convincingly in their World Cup quarterfinal.

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The United States are favorites to beat China in their World Cup quarterfinal, but they're facing a pretty difficult challenge. China have put in four straight good performances, and they're very good defensively. Between the USWNT's struggles so far and the suspensions of Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe, they'll like their chances to pull off an upset.

If you want to know how well things are going for the U.S., here's what you should be watching for as the game goes on.

1. What are Morgan Brian and Carli Lloyd doing?

It's going to be hard for Jill Ellis to fix her midfield since she left all the real midfielders at home, but she can certainly try. Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian aren't an ideal midfield pair, but they're certainly good enough to avoid embarrassing themselves and totally crippling their team.

Keep an eye on their positioning, especially at the moment when the United States loses possession. Is at least one of them in a good spot to slow down a Chinese counter-attack? Is that one player's responsibility, or are they taking turns being the holder? Or are they both sitting back? Or neither?

China's best counters come down the wings, but that doesn't mean central midfielders aren't important. This was also the case for Nigeria, but they put together a few good attacks because they were unopposed running through the center. At the same time, if neither Lloyd or Brian is getting forward to support the attack, that's bad too.

2. Is someone dropping deep from striker?

To go along with that latter point, one of the two strikers has to drop back quite a bit. There has to be some link between the midfield and forwards, and at the same time, someone has to be running around to draw defenders out of position. Too often during this tournament, the U.S. has had two strikers both staying high and not doing a lot of moving off the ball. Midfielders hoofing the ball into the box is just as much of a product of bad striker movement as bad midfield play.

More likely than not, that player should be Alex Morgan. She's very good with the ball at her feet, and when she runs somewhere, defenders freak out and follow her. She needs to give her midfielders a passing outlet, and give her strike partner some space to run into.

3. How are the USWNT trying to get the ball into the box?

China are a really hard team to break down. They play a really weird, narrow back four and two very defensive midfielders in front of them. China's central defenders and goalkeeper are also pretty tall and good in the air. Through balls, lofted crosses and long balls toward Abby Wambach's head probably aren't going to work that well. The U.S. needs to pull China's defense apart, then cut the ball back inside.

If you don't see the U.S. attacking with pace down the wings and trying cutbacks, that's a really bad sign. It's going to be their best way to score if China stick with the defensive tactics they've used throughout the women's World Cup.