After Monday's win over Australia broke viewing records, another huge television audience is expected to tune in when the U.S. women's national team face off against Sweden in Winnipeg in their second Women's World Cup match tonight (8 pm ET, broadcast on Fox, NBC Universo).

And the fates have conspired to amp up the drama in this one, even by the tense standards of World Cup tournament play.

One of women's soccer's oldest powerhouses, Sweden are the only team ever to beat the USWNT in WWC group stages—and they just happen to be coached by former U.S. boss Pia Sundhage, who led the Yanks to gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics before returning to her homeland.

A quirky, easygoing character who often sings to her players, Sundhage was well-loved by the USWNT during her four-plus years in charge, and worked closely with current U.S. head coach Jill Ellis, who was one of her assistants. But she ruffled American feathers this week when the New York Times published a feature story in which she spoke frankly—a bit too frankly, in the eyes of U.S. fans—about her former players.

Sundhage called US midfielder Carli Lloyd a “delicate” player who needed to feel the full confidence of the coaching staff in order to perform, said that controversial goalkeeper Hope Solo was “trouble” to manage and noted with certainty that Abby Wambach would've been relegated to a bench role if she were still in charge.

Many women's soccer observers have noted that none of these statements are particularly inaccurate or surprising. But in a sport where overt controversy and conflict is shunned and “wholesome” personalities gain the most attention - and money - Sundhage's words reverberated.

Now, many pundits claim, the USWNT will take on the Swedes with extra desire to show up their old boss.

“I plan to respond on the field,” Lloyd told Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl.

And even if motivation seems like a foregone conclusion in the biggest tournament of their lives, they might just need every ounce of energy and skill at their disposal.

Sweden are stacked with experienced veterans like Nilla Fischer, Lotta Schelin and Caroline Seger, and after their breathless 3-3 draw with Nigeria in their opener, they need a win to stay on course for the knockout rounds. And Sundhage knows the USWNT as well as anyone - in fact, some observers have even suggested that she intended to get into the American players' heads with her comments.

Mind you, the oddsmakers still prefer the U.S. in this one. Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight gives Ellis, Wambach & Co. a 58 percent chance of winning and reckons a 22 percent chance of a draw. These two teams have been drawn into the same group in four previous WWCs and one Olympics, and the U.S. have been generally dominant. The Swedes didn't beat the Yanks until Germany 2011—and that still didn't stop the USWNT from advancing to the championship final that year.

A U.S. win on this occasion would clinch their place in the knockout stages, and force Sweden into a corner for their final group match, against Australia (the Aussies meet Nigeria in the first game of tonight's doubleheader at Winnipeg's Investors Group Field).

Ellis and the USWNT will look to improve on the spotty overall performance they turned in on Monday, when Australia controlled the tempo for long periods and Wambach and Lloyd were left on the periphery.

Though Ellis insisted this week that Wambach could go another 90 minutes, rumors whisper that her spot in the starting lineup could be handed to Alex Morgan, who is regaining full fitness after a knee injury. Meanwhile Tobin Heath, one of the Yanks' most skilful players, was crisp and composed when she came off the bench in the first game and might have earned herself a starting role in the process.

With a primetime place on network TV, Friday night's showdown figures to vastly eclipse the viewership drawn on Monday, and a memorable match could well signal this U.S. team's leap from soccer stars to summer pop-culture phenomenon as more and more of the mainstream tunes in to this tournament.

By Charles Boehm, who covered the USMNT and the World Cup for Gothamist last year. He has covered MLS and the American soccer scene since 2004, contributing to MLSSoccer.com, The Soccer Wire, and USSoccerPlayers.com.