There's no doubt the United States will be favored to beat China when the teams meet in the second game of the Algarve Cup. The U.S. women are ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, after all.
Still, nothing can be taken for granted in this prestigious tournament, which is the most important international tournament in women's soccer outside of the Olympics and World Cup. China may not be in the same class as the United States, but they'll be gunning to pull off the improbable upset.
So what must the United States do to prevent any surprises and earn the expected win? I'm glad you asked.
Finish Scoring Opportunities
The United States may have scored three goals against Iceland on Wednesday, but the team created so many opportunities it easily could have scored six or seven.
So what happened?
Well, quite frankly, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach struggled to score goals. Morgan created numerous opportunities with her pace and movement off the ball, but her finishing was erratic at best and she failed to score. Wambach did score, but she also missed on several very good looks.
China is actually ranked lower on FIFA's rankings (17) than Iceland (15), so the United States should be able to create plenty of scoring chances. But if they struggle to create those chances, they must finish the ones they do create with a much higher efficiency.
The United States can beat opponents in so many ways, often dominating them physically and turning defense into offense at blistering pace. They are the Miami Heat of women's international soccer.
But a surefire way to guarantee victory against the Chinese will simply be maintaining possession. The more the United States has the ball, the more likely it is that China's defense will simply crack under the pressure. The United States isn't a team that simply maintains possession for the sake of it—they will attack.
Shannon Boxx was fantastic against Iceland, winning the ball back in the midfield and ensuring the United States held the ball and finally simply wore out the Iceland team in the second half. It's a template that should work against China as well.
With Hope Solo nursing a wrist injury, the United States brought Nicole Barnhart, Ashlyn Harris and Jill Loyden to Portugal. Loyden got the start on Wednesday, maintaining a clean sheet despite facing only one shot on goal.
We didn't really get a solid glimpse at Loyden in the game, and we may not against China either with the United States sure to control possession and play solid defense. But if Loyden does face challenges, she must be up to the task.
The United States will be heavy favorites in this game, and allowing an early or weak goal could shift momentum and give the Chinese hope. Loyden must be a rock if the Chinese pressure the United States defense.