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USA vs Japan friendly match preview: can the US improve?

Japan took the US for a ride last time - now they know what to expect

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The United States and Japan tied 3-3 in their first friendly, in a fun back-and-forth match that very nearly escaped at that last gasp with a winner for the US. Japan gave them a taste of their own medicine with an end-of-stoppage-time header to make up the deficit. The US had trouble dealing with Japan's high pressure system, and even though it cost Japan physically, it just about worked.

So now the question is: can Japan repeat that a second game in a row, with only a few days' rest? If so, can the United States adapt and move quickly out of pressure, forcing Japan to scramble and exhaust themselves?

The definitely can, it's just a matter of seeing if they will.

Starting from the back, it might be worth it to drop Meghan Klingenberg from left back and see how Kelley O'Hara does starting there, with Ali Krieger at right back. Krieger can still get forward, but is less likely to get caught out than Klingenberg, and O'Hara seems to function fine on either wing.

Start Samantha Mewis in the middle with Lindsey Horan or Allie Long; Morgan Brian can't quite seem to shake her hamstring injury and she likely just needs a couple solid weeks of uninterrupted rest. With Mewis in there, a Horan pairing means she can move up the field more freely and act more like the attacker she is, and spend less time going box to box. Either Horan or Long should be able to connect well with Heath to move the ball quickly into dangerous areas, and Mewis has shown she has the awareness to distribute forward as well.

Add Mallory Pugh, Crystal Dunn, and Tobin Heath; hopefully Heath will be a little more involved than last time, a little more like her blazing Portland Thorns self.

Then stick Alex Morgan at the top, at least in this formation with these personnel. She's back in stride and with either Dunn or Heath feeding her balls through the seams and Pugh working through traffic, Morgan should have plenty of chances at the back of the net.

Another option could be almost a 4-2-4, with Heath, Pugh, Christen Press, and Dunn keeping the ball in Japan's defensive third. Heath and Dunn are both fast enough to drop back and cover during a counter, then work forward again.

And for the love of all that is good, start Alyssa Naeher or Ashlyn Harris in goal. Whoever Ellis is leaning towards as the #2 in Rio (it's likely to be Naeher at this point), get them some experience against a crafty, technical side that knows how and when to shoot and just proved that they can put the US in a difficult spot. Who cares if you got a shutout in an 8-0 slammer when the other team took 1 shot on goal? (Okay, you care, and fans still care, because that's the nature of fandom, but you get me.) Earn a shutout against a team that requires you to keep your defense tight and your feet quick, and that's valuable experience on top of proof of who should go to Rio.

The United States plays Japan on Sunday, June 5, at 12:30 PM ET in Cleveland.