The 1991 US team broke new ground winning the first ever World Cup and repeated the feat eight years later. By that time Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Kristine Lilly were household names. US women's soccer and success are so inextricably intertwined with those names leaving each succeeding squad aspiring to reach the same heights and write their names into history. It's a double edged sword providing both motivation and pressure at the same time.
Today, the US looks to a group that have that chance. Some like Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, and Christine Rampone have fought in previous World Cups but have come up short. This time around they have put into place some of the missing pieces that should give them their best chance in 12 years. Lauren Cheney is has having the tournament of her life and she has a partner in Heather O'Reilly who provide the cut and thrust down the flanks.
The US will have to take full advantage on the counterattacks because their opponents the Japanese have shown stifling control of the ball. The US still have the best attacking weapon in Abby Wambach who has found the net with some huge momentum changing goals. The danger with Japan's possession game is that she might be forced into ball retrieval duties leaving her in an disadvantaged position during the counterattacks. For that not to happen, the US needs to close down the gaps very quickly and throw the Japanese off their passing game. Homare Sawa is their metronome and there might be good reason to shadow her. It was Sawa who found Karina Maruyama to send the Germans out of the World Cup.
The Nadeshiko have also shown that they're no slouches when it comes to set pieces themselves with Aya Miyama the cream of the crop despite her short stature. She showed her ability to bend the ball around the taller Swedish defense and there is no reason to suspect that she might not do the same against the US.
One cause for optimism here is the US defense who were very good against a very organized French attack and in Hope Solo, they have the best custodian possible. An early goal will be a great way to begin and in both instances when the US has done so they have prevailed. Pia Sundhage can look to Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan for impact off the bench. The Japanese have not won against the USA in 26 encounters but this is a very different team. The US is favoured to win but the Nadeshiko have the emotional support of millions in the world.