Hope and Co. Excited for Japan Friendlies

Hope Solo is on the brink of cementing her name in the history books and she is primed for the chance to build on her astounding United States Soccer legacy this weekend.

No. 1 is already the USA’s all-time leader in goalkeeper caps, starts, wins and shutouts, and she could add another two notches to her belt within the week. Hope is two wins away from having 150 for her career and two shutouts shy of 100. With two matches against Japan coming up, the star could become the first goalkeeper in US history to clinch 100 clean sheets as soon as Sunday.

But it won’t be easy against one of the top teams in the world.

The USWNT faces Japan for the first time since the 2015 FIFA World Cup Final, this Thursday, when the two rival meet at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. at 6 p.m. PT. It’s the first of back-to-back friendlies between the World’s top-ranked women’s soccer teams. The second match kicks off three days later at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland at 9:30 a.m. PT.

“It’s good to be back in camp,” Hope said. “I think what’s great is that everyone is fit because we’ve been playing games in the NWSL. Of course, there’s a couple of people who are battling injuries, like Carli Lloyd, but she’s coming back healthy and strong. It’s nice to see everyone feel confident because we’ve been playing, we’ve been getting minutes. I think it makes for a short, strong camp where we can get in specific work.”

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The two teams have a rich history, having met in the past three world finals. The U.S. lost to Japan in penalty kicks at the 2011 World Cup in Germany but defeated them 2-1 in the gold medal game at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Most recently, at the 2015 World Cup in Vancouver, the USWNT overpowered Japan to a 5-2 decision to clinch the third Cup win in squad history.

The U.S. holds an all-time winning record of 25-1-6 against Japan, outscoring them 92-22. With history on the USWNT’s side, they also carry momentum into the match from this year alone. The USWNT is undefeated in 2016 with an 11-0-0 mark. They’ve conceded just one goal, giving them 10 shutouts on the year — eight of which belong to Hope.

Most recently, the U.S. shut out Colombia twice in April by a combined score of 10-0. Against Germany, France and England during the SheBelieves Cup, the scoring was kept closer, but the U.S. still prevailed by a combined score of 4-1 for the March matches.

The team’s success is driven by its strong core of valuable players. Hope has started nine games, surrendering just one goal in 810 minutes. Leading the offensive effort are midfielder Carli Lloyd (8 goals, 5 assists), forward Crystal Dunn (8 goals, 3 assists) and forward Alex Morgan (8 goals, 3 assists).

Japan looks like a different team since the last time they met, but Hope is looking forward to facing them and seeing what they rival squad has ahead of this summer’s potential Olympic rematch.

“We have two games against a great team,” said Solo. “I know Japan doesn’t have a lot of their well-known players but we’re all really excited to see the younger, technical side of Japan. We don’t know what they’re going to bring but it will be great, and it will be a little bit different than what we’ve seen in the past.”

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Japan struggled early in 2016. In their first three matches, they lost to Australia and China, tying with Korea Republic in between. Only recently has Japan started to pick up their game, notching a 6-1 win over Vietnam and a 1-0 shutout over Korea DPR in March.

Japan looks to continue its progress, but the 2011 World Cup champs will have their work cut out for them against the USWNT, which will look to keep their undefeated season intact.

Following the meetings with Japan, the USWNT will play two more matches before heading to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. USA faces South Africa at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9 before playing a team that has yet to be announced in late July.

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