Come Sunday afternoon, not everybody in America will be parked in front of the television to watch NASCAR‘s new season begin with the annual running of the Daytona 500. Why watch the fastest action on four wheels (with the occasional wreck) when you can watch the fastest sport on two feet?
While the drivers start their engines in Florida, women"s soccer heads to Tennessee for the middle day of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup. One of MLS‘ newest stadiums play host to both clashes on Sunday, when Nashville"s Geodis Park, home venue for Nashville SC, the largest soccer-specific match grounds in North America, welcomes the United State"s Women"s National Team for the first time ever.
USWNT Squares Off With Japan Sunday Afternoon
Matchday two of the tournament will begin with a late afternoon kickoff, as the top-ranked Stars and Stripes welcome Japan, the No. 11-ranked women"s national team in FIFA. Live coverage of the match begins at 3 pm ET/ noon PT with the pregame in English on streaming service HBOMax and linear network TNT. Kickoff is set for just after 3:30 pm ET/ 12:30 PT. Spanish coverage of the contest will be available on NBCUniversal-owned Peacock and Universo.
The Warner Bros. Discovery-owned network is using this event as a lead-in to its coverage of the 2023 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night. TNT will also carry the final USWNT match of the SheBelieves Cup against Brazil this coming Wednesday evening.
Sunday"s late game pits Brazil and Canada at around 6:30 pm ET/ 3:30 pm PT from Nashville. HBOMax and Peacock will carry the match live.
USWNT, Canada Make Statements Ahead of Thursday"s Match
This past Thursday, the Americans opened up the SheBelieves Cup with a 2-0 victory against the No. 6-ranked Canadian women"s national team. By virtue of goal differential, the USWNT will enter the second match of the tournament with the lead on the group table. Prior to the opening kickoff of the match, the USWNT and Canada locked arms in support of the Canadian team"s fight against income inequality, as well as the protection of rights for transgender youths.
In the run-up to the SheBelieves Cup, the Canadians threatened to go on strike over the issue of equal pay, one which the Americans resolved last spring when both senior national teams agreed to simultaneous collective bargaining agreements that see the clubs receiving the same wages. This strike was put on pause after the Canada Soccer Federation considered filing suit against the players.
Could Swanson Be the USWNT"s Future?
As far as the contest itself, the Stars and Stripes posted their third consecutive shutout to begin the World Cup campaign. USWNT forward Mallory Swanson netted a first-half brace to ensure the victory.
Since coming onto the scene for the United States on the senior national team level seven years ago, she"s appeared in 85 matches, scoring 30 goals, including Thursday"s brace. Swanson, the wife of Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby, has already accounted for five goals in three matches this year.
Swanson Makes Finding The Net Easy
Much like her husband"s new home stadium, Mallory Swanson has made the soccer pitch her own friendly confines thus far in the new year. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that she"s beginning to close in on 100 career international caps before she turns 25 years old.
Swanson will be 25 on April 29 and is still in the process of her athletic development. By the time she peaks, she could very well be one of the best players on the pitch for the USWNT. This young woman is a superstar in the making.
Japan Women"s National Team Going in Opposite Direction
While everything"s no doubt coming up roses for the USWNT (Thursday"s victory marked the fourth win in succession dating back to last fall,) the same cannot be said for Nadeshiko Japan, also known as the Japanese women"s national team. Entering Sunday"s match, they haven"t won, much less scored a goal, since last October.
Japan comes into the second matchday of the SheBelieves Cup having been shut out in three consecutive matches. On Thursday afternoon, right before the USWNT defeated Canada in the nightcap of a doubleheader in Orlando, Nadeshiko Japan dropped a 1-0 defeat to Brazil in the opening game of the tournament.
With the SheBelieves Cup being only a group-stage affair, if the Japanese are to have any hope of claiming the championship this year, they must win on Sunday afternoon in Nashville. Not only will the teams square off in pursuit of a trophy, but there are also some hostilities to be settled.
A Rivalry Renewed
Sunday"s match is another chapter in the rivalry between Nadeshiko Japan and the USWNT. The last head-to-head confrontation between the two sides was almost three years ago in Frisco, TX.
That night, the Stars and Stripes bested their Japanese counterparts by a final score of 3-1 in a match where Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Lindsey Horan each put the biscuit in the basket. The match wound up being the last US Soccer game to be held with a full audience for a long time.
COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic earlier that day by the World Health Organization. As the match was being played in Frisco, the NBA elected to suspend play due to Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus, setting off a large-scale suspension of sports.
USWNT Has Upper Hand In Rivalry vs. Nadeshiko Japan
Both historically and in recent times, the USWNT has shown itself to be dominant against Japan. Sunday"s contest will be the 39th all-time game between the two sides. With a win in Nashville, it would make 30 victories by the Americans in the history of the series.
In the last five matches, the Stars and Stripes have gone 4-0-1 across all competitions. The lone draw in that stretch happened four years ago when the sides finished all square at 2-2.
Given that Japan is the lowest-ranked opponent that the USWNT will face in the SheBelieves Cup at No. 11, there should be no issues for the Americans on Sunday. These are two teams going in different directions. On paper, this should be an easy win.
Look for the USWNT to be in complete control versus Nadeshiko Japan on Sunday afternoon. The Stars and Stripes have proven to be a dominant force in the previous three games so far this year.
Much like in Thursday"s match, if the Americans get out to a quick start, they can get in front of the proverbial 8-ball. They can make Sunday a long day for Japan if they stay focused and stay hungry.
Prediction: USWNT 3, Japan 0.
main image credits: Getty Images