The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) reconvened in camp last week as they prepare to take on seventh-ranked Japan on Thursday, June 2 in Denver, Colorado, in the first of two international friendlies.
The friendlies are a part of the team's Road to Rio preparations for the upcoming Olympics as Head Coach Jill Ellis continues to make roster decisions for the Summer Games.
Thursday night's match, which sold out all 18,000 tickets in just 10 minutes, marks the first time the USWNT and Japan have met since the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final. The U.S. won that match 5-2 to hoist the illustrious World Cup trophy for the third time.
However, the two teams that fans see play on Thursday are two very different teams than the ones that faced each other last summer.
The USWNT will be without the golden child of the World Cup, Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the World Cup final to help clinch the victory for the U.S. Lloyd suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in an April 23 match between her club, the Houston Dash, and the Orlando Pride in the Pride’s franchise home opener and was expected to be out for three to six weeks to recover.
Star midfielder Megan Rapinoe was also left off the roster for this pair of friendlies as she continues recovering from a torn ACL suffered at a Victory Tour training session last December in Hawaii. Although Rapinoe is not rostered for the friendlies, the team's social media shows that the midfielder is at camp with the team in Denver, continuing her recovery and training.
Former captain Christie Rampone also declined the invitation back to USWNT camp, citing her ongoing recovery from knee surgery as the reason. Although Rampone has played every minute for her club, Sky Blue FC, this season, she claimed that her knee was not yet healthy enough to compete at the international level.
Both teams have also seen noticeable retirements since last summer. The USWNT said goodbye to veterans Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny, Lauren Holiday (who scored the game-winning goal in the World Cup final) and Abby Wambach during its post-World Cup Victory Tour.
Legendary Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa, 37, also hung up her boots in December after a record 205 caps and 83 goals for her country. Most notably to American fans, Sawa helped lift Japan over the U.S. at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, scoring the equalizing goal in extra time of the final to force the game to penalty kicks. Japan outshot the U.S. to win the title, and Sawa was awarded the tournament’s Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards. She was also named the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, beating out both Abby Wambach and Marta for the title.
In Sawa’s absence Japan has seemed to be a much different team in 2016 than it was in 2015. For the first time since 2000, the team failed to qualify for the Summer Olympics, and their poor showing at their Olympic-qualifying tournament caused them to slip out of the top five of the FIFA rankings.
Despite the embarrassments Japan suffered in the World Cup final and their Olympic qualifiers, Japan is still in the top 10 and is not a team to be counted out. There is a lot of history between the two teams—they have faced each other in each of the last three major tournament finals—and teams tend to play up whenever competing against even the friendliest of rivals.
Japan will no doubt also come out with something to prove since this match will be the team's first since failing to qualify for Rio, and they will want to prove that they are still capable of competing against the best in the world.
The United States plays Japan on Thursday, June 2 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado at 9 p.m. EST. The game will be aired on Fox Sports 1.
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position:
DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Wisconsin), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)
HEAD COACH: Jill Ellis
NOTE: Although 24 players were called into camp in preparation for the friendlies against Japan, only 18 will dress for either match.