Three keys to the USWNT’s Olympic quarterfinal match against the Netherlands

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The U.S. women’s national team has advanced to the knockout stage in Tokyo, where they’ll face the Netherlands on Friday in a re-match of the 2019 World Cup.

In that final, the USWNT dominated the Dutch, rolling to a 2-0 win behind goals from Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle.

The USWNT, however, looks to be in very different form from their menacing World Cup presence, having already been blown out by Sweden in their opening game and settling for a 0-0 draw with Australia in their final match.

The United States finished Group G in second place, recording a win, a tie and a loss. Playing impatient and nervy throughout each of the games, the USWNT left a lot to be desired in the Olympic group stage.

The USWNT players will have their work cut out for them against the Netherlands, who scored 21 goals in the group stage. But it’s not yet time to give up hope on the world’s No. 1 team. Heading into the knockout round, the USWNT has the opportunity to start fresh. As Alex Morgan said, “This is when the tournament starts.”

Here are the three keys for the USWNT in their matchup with the Netherlands:

1. Contain Vivianne Miedema

Miedema is already having a record-breaking Olympics. The Dutch striker has scored eight goals in the Netherlands’ three group stage matches, more than any other woman in Olympic history. At her current pace, Miedema is scoring at a rate of one goal every 22 minutes. The Arsenal forward’s historic momentum will undoubtedly be something the U.S. will have to contend with. Though the USWNT beat Netherlands in a friendly late last year, Miedema wasn’t playing. With her, the Netherlands are an entirely different team.

It doesn’t help that the USWNT’s defense has been uncharacteristically leaky this tournament, letting in four goals in three games. Miedema, an expert at exploiting gaps in the backline, will be a test to the U.S.’ hole-plagued defense. Space between the outside backs and center backs has been a problem for the USWNT so far and will be of particular concern against the Netherlands.

2. Find any offensive momentum and keep it

The USWNT isn’t exactly riding high following the team’s group stage performance, meaning the squad will have to generate its own momentum going into the Netherlands matchup.

In the U.S.’ last Group G game against Australia, head coach Vlatko Andonovski relied on a conservative approach, with an eye toward the knockout round. Andonovski’s game plan was a gamble. On the one hand, the team conserved energy for the Netherlands; on the other hand, they aren’t heading into the contest with much momentum or confidence.

The USWNT will first be tasked with jumpstarting their sputtering offense against the Dutch. According to NWSL Analitica, a Twitter account that focuses on statistical analysis, Julie Ertz currently leads the USWNT in chances created (a chance is defined as a pass that ends in a shot), with five so far. Tierna Davidson and Megan Rapinoe follow close behind with four. While a great stat for Davidson, it’s not the most promising sign for an offense when the center back is setting up so many of the team’s scoring opportunities.

Notably, Kelley O’Hara has created two chances and Crystal Dunn just one, something the team will look to fix in the Netherlands game. The flanks, where the USWNT generates most of its attack, have been awfully quiet so far this tournament. To defeat the Netherlands, the United States will have to find a way to get Dunn and O’Hara incorporated into the attack.

3. Win the aerial battle

The USWNT got burned in the air against Sweden. All three of the Swedes’ goals were off headers, leaving the USWNT’s defense without an answer. The United States will look to tidy up its set-piece defending ahead of Friday’s quarterfinal in an effort to address the team’s vulnerabilities in the air.

On the other side of the ball, the USWNT should hope to diversify its attack, looking to the likes of Lindsey Horan or Sam Mewis to nod balls into the back of the net.

Tune in: The USWNT will face off against the Netherlands in the Olympic quarterfinals on Friday, airing at 7 am EST on NBCSN.