Keys to Victory for US Women's National Team vs. France
The United States women's national team face their toughest test of the group phase at the 2016 Summer Olympics on Saturday when they take on France at 4 p.m. ET.
France are seen as one of the other favorites to collect gold in South America, and Saturday should be a good test for both teams to see where they stand early in the tournament.
First place in Group G will also be on the line at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte as both squads took three points in their respective openers on Wednesday, with the USWNT beating New Zealand 2-0 and France downing Colombia 4-0.
Here's a look at five keys for a USWNT victory over France on Saturday.
Control Possession and Be Patient Moving Forward
After the USWNT scored their first goal on Wednesday against New Zealand, they began to show more patience in their attacking buildup.
If the Yanks can gain control of the possession battle early in the match, they can take their time picking apart the France back line.
The play will start with the center-backs, and central midfielders Carli Lloyd, Allie Long and Morgan Brian will also be important for this strategy to work.
By patiently picking apart their best competition in Group G, the Yanks should be able to spray more balls over the top and out to wings to spread out the defense.
Unleash Tobin Heath Early and Often
Our first key isn't exactly a new strategy for the Yanks since they try to get Tobin Heath on the ball as much as possible in any contest.
On Saturday, Heath's presence on the wing will carry more importance as she tries to break open space for the players in the middle of the park.
If Heath uses her pace and technical ability to round defenders on the wing, she will attract more attention when she surges into the penalty area.
If that occurs, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and others should be able to drift into space and set themselves up for easy finishes.
Not every American attack should run through Heath, but it would be wise to feed her early and often so France concentrate on the winger.
....And Find a Way to Establish More Balance Moving Forward
If Heath occupies more than one defender on the flank from the first minute on, the opportunities will be there for whoever starts opposite her in midfield.
Mallory Pugh filled that role on Wednesday against New Zealand, and she was able to earn a few set pieces with her runs into the box.
Regardless of who plays on the other side of midfield than Heath, they need to be as threatening and link up well with the full-backs surging forward.
If the USWNT get solid contributions out of both wings, they should dominate the chances and hold France's offensive threat to a minimum.
Avoid the Concession of Set Pieces
France displayed their terrific quality on set pieces in their 4-0 win over Colombia on Wednesday.
Camille Abily and Amel Majri scored the third and fourth French goals on free-kicks from just outside the penalty area.
The USWNT should look to play with a bit of physicality in defense, but they have to avoid the concession of dangerous set pieces.
If the Yanks fail to do this, France will have more opportunities to beat Hope Solo than expected. France will challenge the Yanks more than New Zealand did on Wednesday, but limiting set pieces should quell the opposing threat enough.
Condense the Space in the Middle of the Park on Defense
Saturday will be the first major test of the competition for the center-back pairing of Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston, who saw little action in the 2-0 victory over New Zealand.
In order to limit France's scoring chances from open play, the center-back duo must be compact in the middle of the park and allow as little space as possible to Eugenie Le Sommer.
Sauerbrunn and Johnston will receive help from Morgan Brian centrally, but there will be times when France attempt to break on the counter after the USWNT commit too many players forward.
As long as the center-backs contain the space in the middle of the park, they will force France to play through the wings, where Meghan Klingenberg and Kelley O'Hara will be tasked with silencing their opponents.