United States Women’s National Team en route to Sweden for tune-up tournament

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Practice is paramount ahead of the Olympics. The U.S. will face old foes Sweden on June 16 and Japan on June 18 at an international friendly tournament in Sweden. All the vitals herein.

Who’s on the plane

The 22 players selected for the Olympics are on board, along with three of the four alternates (goalkeeper Jill Loyden, defender/midfielder Meghan Klingenberg, and midfielder Lori Lindsey).

Striker Christen Press is currently based in Sweden. The Stanford alum plays for Gothenburg in the Swedish top-flight and is the league’s second-leading goal-scorer. She might be able to give her teammates a guided tour of the surroundings as the USWNT will play its matches in Halmstad, approximately an hour and a half away from Press’ HQ.

Why it matters

With under two months to go before the commencement of the Olympics, matches against top opponents typically offer up a lesson or two. The team has amassed an 11-1-1 record so far this year. Despite the imposing record, wobbly defending, unkempt midfield play, and chronically poor first halves are worth nitpicking over. These two matches should serve as an up-to-date progress report.

Pia Sundhage made some minor tactical modifications in the team’s last match against China. Several players are also still auditioning for starting roles. The next few weeks in Sweden could go a long way in determining the line-up set to return to the world stage this summer.

Scouting the competition

Next to France (who will be the USWNT’s first group stage opponents this summer), Sweden and Japan are likely the two most intriguing opponents imaginable for the USWNT. Dating back to July of 2011, the U.S. has lost two matches and drawn four (that includes the ill-fated World Cup final, which technically ended in a tie). Either Japan or Sweden were the opponents in five of those six matches.

Japan are becoming the USWNT’s bogey team. Both the lone draw and lone loss the USWNT suffered this year came at the hands of Japan. Reigning Ballon d’Or winner Homare Sawa battled vertigo throughout the spring, but has recently begun playing full matches for her club team. The U.S. will have another chance to get one back against the world champions and their well-regarded style of play.

Sweden have proven to be tricky opponents for the U.S. as of late. In the last five meetings between the sides, the USWNT has claimed just one victory. The U.S.’s final World Cup group match against the Swedes was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Horrific defending cost the U.S. the result, and consequently, the top spot in Group C. Of course, the subsequent quarterfinal match against Brazil worked out a lot better for the Americans.

This won’t quite be the same Sweden the U.S. has grown accustomed to, however. Ace center back Charlotte Rohlin and outside midfielder Therese Sjögran have each recently suffered serious injuries. Their presence in Thomas Dennerby’s side will be sorely missed.

The USWNT’s comfort level on foreign soil

This will be the team’s first trip to Pia Sundhage’s motherland since July 2008. The team faced the host nation that day and came away with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Carli Lloyd goal. The U.S. has a solid record on Swedish soil. The team has played seven matches in the Scandinavian nation dating back to 1995. All but one match has ended in a victory for the USWNT.

The team has led something of a jet-setting life in 2012. The USWNT’s Swedish expedition follows Olympic Qualifying in Vancouver, the annual Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal, and a three-team tournament in Japan. Save for a loss at the Algarve Cup and a draw in Japan, the team has logged many miles with its wins. We’ll see if that remains the case come mid-June.

Rashford’s childhood hero played for USMNT (Take one guess)

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But can he grow a beard?

Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford is known for his darting runs and clever finishes, but he grew up begging to get between the sticks with a lot of love for an American.

“Howard was my idol. I used to have a little Tim Howard shirt.”

[ MORE: Dempsey still wants USMNT role ]

Rashford said he’d ask his youth coach to allow him to play goal so he could mimic his hero, who at the time was the Manchester United backstop and now USMNT legend.

The 20-year-old was nine when Howard left Old Trafford, but it hasn’t changed his enjoyment for tending goal. Rashford joked that he’s got to be the choice to replace David De Gea in case of a post-sub emergency.

Watch Live: Watford vs. West Ham United

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David Moyes‘ first match in charge of West Ham United sees a striker change at Vicarage Road against testy Watford (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Andy Carroll will be up top, and Andre Ayew is hurt to boot.

Marco Silva leads Watford’s hosts with Adrian Mariappa, Christian Kabasele, and Miguel Britos at the back of a 3-5-2.

LINEUPS

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray. Subs: Karnezis, Prödl, Holebas, Capoue, Pereyra, Carrillo, Okaka.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Noble, Kouyate, Obiang, Arnautovic, Lanzini, Carroll. Subs: Adrian, Masuaku, Rice, Fernandes, Quina, Sakho, Martinez.

Dempsey still happy to accept USMNT role (which is good)

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Clint Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan for the most goals in USMNT history, and seems set to continue with the side in some capacity as he threatens to stand alone in American history.

[ MLS: Steve Bruce to Miami? ]

The 34-year-old striker spoke with Steve Zakuani on the Sounders’ web site (video below) and said he’s happy to accept continued call-ups should they arrive from USSF headquarters.

From SoundersFC.com:

“We’ll see what happens,” Dempsey said.” I mean, in terms of what I’ve been able to accomplish with the national team, I’m at peace with it. It’s not really about me. It’s about a group of guys that want to be moving forward.

“If there’s an opportunity that comes where you get to play a role and try to help and I’m feeling good and I’m playing well, then yeah, you’ll never say no. But you know, if the call never comes I’m still happy, still at peace, and focused on being here and trying to make the most of the time I have left.”

There are a number of players whose national team futures should be in question, but Dempsey is in a different class. No one has debated his motor or fuel, and his engine is still there (to complete the Springsteen-esque car comparisons, he remains one of the only things that qualifiers as chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected, and steppin’ out over the line).

If anything, he plays too close to the edge. That’s not something I see as one of the Yanks’ problems right now, so perhaps Dempsey needs to be viewed like Cuauhtemoc Blanco or Carlos Ruiz as a CONCACAF guy who’s around as long as he wants to be a part of it.

I mean, shoot, if Dempsey wants to keep passing the fire to Christian Pulisic and now Weston McKennie, there are far worse ambassadors for the program. He’s the most accomplished field player in recent history, and will be able to share so much when it comes to balancing club and country.

Heck, maybe he needs to be the late era Ryan Giggs of the 2018-2022 USMNT.

Beckham reportedly wants Steve Bruce in Miami

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He’s got the same initials as South Beach, you know?

Steve Bruce is being tipped to be the first manager of David Beckham’s Miami MLS outfit, according to The Sun.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup ]

It’s going to be some time before Bruce would have the opportunity. The 56-year-old former Manchester United star has Aston Villa in a Football League Championship promotion push, and Miami does not even have a start date for life on an MLS pitch.

Of course, managerial life tends to be short, so there’s no guarantee Bruce will have a job at any point during the build-up to Miami in MLS. And several expansion clubs have named their coach very early in the team building process (Jason Kreis and Bob Bradley amongst others).

Bruce on MLS’ parity-driven playing field, if not as one of the big spenders, would be intriguing to watch. He’s a terrific man motivator and has the connections to combine with Beckham to make something special happen in terms of personnel.