The United States women's national team is coming off a win over rival Canada as it prepares for a clash with a lesser-known foe in Russia.
This is just the seventh meeting between the two sides and the first since 2002. The Americans are 5-0-1 in the previous six matches.
Sydney Leroux scored the only goal in the victory over Canada. As expected, the United States came out a bit rusty after more than two months between matches. The attacking group did elevate its level of play in the second half and it paid off with the late winner.
Russia failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and hasn't advanced beyond the opening round of the European Championship since 1995. The side does feature some dangerous offensive players, however, so the U.S. can't afford to overlook the challenge.
What's your prediction for the friendly?
Saturday's match marks the first of two meetings in quick succession for the teams. They will meet again in the middle of next week. Knowing that, let's check out of the key information for the match, followed by a preview and prediction.
Where: FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.
When: Saturday, Feb. 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Sport 1 (Live stream only in U.S.)
Live Stream: USSoccer.com
The fixtures against Russia mark the last competition for the United States before the Algarve Cup in Portugal next month. That adds a little extra motivation to the matches because the American squad will want to flash top form before the tournament. It didn't happen against Canada.
Tom Sermanni thinks Russia will provide a good test. The national team's official site passed along comments from the head coach, who says going up against an uncommon opponent with talent such as Russia's is a good thing for the squad:
It's always a positive to play countries that we maybe haven't seen that often. The Russians have some talented players and with eight European countries qualifying for the next Women's World Cup, every country in that tournament is going to have to navigate some very difficult European opponents.
Superstar forward Alex Morgan remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Her absence was noticeable during the match with Canada as the American attack missed her speed, which always helps stretch out opposing back lines.
The defensive group should get a boost in the form of Rachel Van Hollebeke's return. Meg Linehan of Equalizer Soccer reported the defender was forced to the Canada match due to personal reasons but is expected back for the Russia fixtures:
Not sure if Buehler/van Hollebeke's absence was explained on broadcast, but there was a death in family. Back for Russia matches. #USWNT— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) February 1, 2014
Bringing Van Hollebeke back into the fold will bolster a back line that was a bright spot against Canada. The defense can expect to get challenged by a Russian attack with a lot of depth. Elena Terekhova and Nelli Korovkina are among the attackers the U.S. must slow down.
The bigger concern for the Americans is getting the attack going without Morgan. Talent isn't the issue. Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press combine to form a dangerous striking trio with an impressive goalscoring record.
There were signs of progress late in the match against Canada and that should continue against Russia. The United States is the more talented side, has the advantage of playing at home and should be more efficient on the attack after shaking off the rust. It should equate to a victory.
Prediction: United States 3, Russia 1