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USA vs New Zealand match preview: 2016 Olympics group stage kicks off

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Japan v United States Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

At long last, the Olympics are finally here.

The United States will kick off against New Zealand in Belo Horizonte tomorrow in pursuit of their fifth gold medal on the heels of winning their third World Cup. They have a fresh, revitalized team. And they’ll want to top Group G to help pave the way through knockout - something that should definitely be expected of them despite France’s presence in the group.

Tomorrow’s opponent, New Zealand should provide fewer problems than France, but the Football Ferns might make it a faster game than the U.S. would like so early in group; for their first game, a controlled and measured buildup that gets them warm for France would be ideal.

U.S. starting options

Ellis’ starting XI will almost certainly take this game to get into their groove. Goalkeeper and back line are the most predictable here as they’ll see the least rotation: Hope Solo will start, and Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara will probably go in a back four.

The midfield will probably be some combination of Allie Long, Lindsey Horan, and Carli Lloyd, who worked her way up back to full 90s in time for Brazil. Morgan Brian looks to still be a bench option with her hamstring issues, although getting a good rest over the last two WNT friendlies could mean a start here for her, as she did against Japan for two games in a row.

Forward is a mix-and-match for Ellis, who can put out any combination of Christen Press, Mal Pugh, Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, and Tobin Heath that she wants. Heath is listed at midfield but if Ellis wants to run in a 4-3-3 then Heath has no problem going higher. You can probably count on a Morgan start, and possibly Pugh and Dunn with her. This would be Mallory Pugh’s first major tournament cap with the senior WNT and it’ll be interesting to see if she continues with the “ice water in her veins” motif or if the occasion gets to her a little bit. Odds are Pugh won’t need much to settle down.

New Zealand players to watch

New Zealand’s roster comes with some players that will need to be controlled, among them Sarah Gregorius and team leading scorer Amber Hearn, who makes a good target in front of goal with balls to feet or head. Gregorius can put them in net with style, like she did against Brazil last year.

The Ferns also have a good attacking option and a big striker in Hannah Wilkinson. Defensively, the U.S. will need to catch right back Ria Percival from making moves along the flanks and smother any quick long balls the Ferns can hit over the top for their pacey attackers.

How to watch

This game will air on NBC Sports Network and NBC Universo. You can also stream from NBCSN’s site.

Kickoff is at 6 PM EDT.

Let us know what your score predictions are for this game in the comments!