This is a match for history.
This is a match for revenge.
This is a match for supremacy.
This is the World Cup final.
World Cup finals are never short on narratives. They are the biggest matches of every four-year span so they have plenty of stakes, but this one between the United States and Japan has a little more oomph. The winner of this match won't just be the world champion, they'll have an undoubted hold on the title of the best team on Earth and they'll have staked claim to supremacy for this entire era.
There is also the matter of which legend will be sent out of the World Cup on top. For the U.S., it's Abby Wambach. The greatest goalscorer in international soccer history has never won the World Cup, but even in a diminished role this time around, is still the leader of the team. For Japan, it's Homare Sawa. She's played in a record sixth World Cup and is looking to go out with a second consecutive title.
In the end, it won't be about the legends whose careers are coming to an end. It won't be about the 2011 final, when Japan upended the U.S. in penalty kicks. It won't be about the 2012 Olympics Gold Medal Match, when the U.S. got revenge with a win over the Japanese. It won't even be about a record third World Cup for the U.S. or a second straight one for Japan.
This is about one thing -- that trophy, and the title of best in the world. Because when you're World Cup champions, nothing else matters.
And what do the U.S. have to do to be champions?
Get something from the forwards
For all the talk about how deep the U.S. are at forward, there is a dirty little secret -- none of them have been in very good form for about two years. Well, that's not true. Christen Press has, but she can't get a look up top.
So while the U.S. has big names like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, plus Amy Rodriguez, none are especially great right now. That can't be the case in the final.
Morgan will likely get the nod up top and she needs to do a better job converting her looks. She's made some phenomenal runs, her passing has been pretty good and her pressure up top has aided the American defense, but he's still blowing too many opportunities by shooting at the goalkeeper or wide of the frame. It's telling that the best U.S. striker is one that has been hurt for the majority of the last two years, wasn't fully fit at the start of the tournament and still has plenty of rust.
The U.S. midfield has done enough to aid the attack and pick up the slack, but with the World Cup on the line, a forward needs to do the job. Morgan will get the first crack, but if not her then someone else has to.
Avoid the big mistake
The U.S. got lucky last match. Julie Johnston, who has been otherwise spectacular this tournament, committed a foul in the box to concede a penalty and should have been shown a red card. Not only was she lucky not to be off, but Germany missed the penalty that should have given them the lead.
After committing the foul, Johnston was a little bit more hesitant. She has to put that behind her in the final and play like she did in the first five-and-a-half matches of the World Cup. But while she's the most likely player to make a big mistake, the rest of the team has to be conscious of it too.
The Americans have been amazing defensively in this tournament. They're riding the second longest shutout streak in Women's World Cup history and have conceded just once all World Cup. But one goal may be all it takes to see Japan win. If Japan is going to score, so be it, but don't gift them one like Johnston tried to do in the semifinal.
Japan has been the best team in the World Cup at the start of matches. They've scored six goals in the first 33 minutes of matches and have tallied that early in all but one match in the tournament.
The U.S. don't want to play this match from behind. While they have looked a bit better in recent matches, this still isn't a high-powered attack that is likely to score three or four goals. They're not built to play from behind and Japan is the team most likely to put them behind.
With the nerves that come with the final and Japan's ability to get out in front, the U.S. won't need to win the opening half-hour. If they can get out of it still scoreless, they'll have the advantage. Japan has only scored in the second half twice all tournament, and one of those came from an own goal. Obviously part of it that can be attributed to having leads and not needing goals, but there's no doubt that Japan looks to get their damage done early and if the U.S. can handle that early then they'll find themselves in good shape.