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USA vs Japan friendly: match preview

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Japan isn't going to the Olympics, but the US can still learn from playing them

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Japan emerged as the USWNT's biggest archrival in recent years, competing against them in three straight tournament finals from 2011 to 2015. They've since seen a dropoff in their progress, washing out of AFC Olympic qualifying, which led to the resignation of longtime head coach Norio Sasaki.

But now Japan has a new coach at the helm, Asako Takakura, the first woman to ever manage the Japan WNT, and the team will surely be looking for, if not redemption, at least a fresh start. For Japan, that may not mean playing to win, but instead playing to work on their own system and get players back into a groove against a high-level opponent.

On the American side, this is part of the countdown to the Olympics, with rosters due in approximately a month and change. Head coach Jill Ellis has picked a 24-player roster (25, before Christie Rampone ruled herself out), and odds are good her starting XI (minus an injured Carli Lloyd), if not her entire 18-player squad, are among that list.

Players to watch:

Right now the roster questions Ellis probably really needs to answer have to do with her bench depth, so keep an eye on who gets subbed. Lack of playing time is as much an indicator as a start right now, and if Heather O'Reilly doesn't make it onto the field, that's further evidence of her increasing distance from making the roster.

Conversely, playing time amongst Crystal Dunn, Christen Press, and Mallory Pugh could give clues as to who and how Ellis will complete and offense that will almost certainly pivot off of Alex Morgan. And in any case, regardless of roster hopes (Dunn, Press, and Morgan are basically locks at this point), all three are currently hitting their strides in different ways for their NWSL clubs, so it should be interesting to see how they interact.

Last meeting:

The United States last played Japan in that fatefully bonkers 5-2 World Cup final.

Had Japan qualified for the Olympics, this game would probably be on course to be more of a chess match as each team feels the other out but doesn't overcommit too soon. As it is, they'll both have very different goals for this and the next game, as one team looks to continue their domination and the other looks to rebuild.

USA vs Japan kicks off at 9 PM ET at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Thursday, June 2. The game will air live on FS1.