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is USWNT’s reign at risk in 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Women’s World Cup

The 2023 Women’s World Cup is fast approaching, with the tournament kicking off Thursday, July 20 in Auckland, New Zealand. A host of issues surrounding the tournament has made news over the last several weeks, putting a black cloud over the event already.

FIFA has threatened to blackout European nations from broadcasting the tournament. There have been rows over sexism and discussions about pay disparity, and there is one women’s national team in disarray due to the atmosphere created by its coach.

What was supposed to be another landmark moment for women’s football could turn out to be a tournament few people in European are able to watch – either due to time difference or broadcasting issues. It could also be a month-long competition in which players miss out due to protests and injuries.

It is an unfortunate situation heading into the event. Women’s football is just under a year on from England winning the European Championship for the first time. The victory elevated the women’s game in the United Kingdom further, influencing more fans to attend Women’s Super League matches in 2022-23.

The UEFA Women’s Champions League is just off one of its greatest finals. Barcelona trailed Wolfsburg 2-0 at halftime in the final only to mount a comeback for the ages, winning 3-2 to claim the Champions League trophy. Unfortunately, fans had to subscribe to DAZN to see the match, making women’s top-level football more niche.

Amongst the chaos of women’s football, there is still a major tournament to be played in July and August. It is a tournament that has been dominated by one country, the United States. The growth of women’s football and the increased development of players have seen some national teams close the gap with the States. Uncharacteristically, the USWNT lost three consecutive games in October and November 2022, sending shockwaves through the sport.

The Yanks fell to England 2-1 at Wembley and looked mortal. A 2-0 loss to Spain followed in Pamplona before a 2-1 defeat to Germany on home soil in Florida. What made the losses even more surprising was that the USWNT had some of its biggest names in the side. Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, and Lindsey Horan all appeared in at least one of the three matches.

The trio of defeats can be easily brushed aside. For one, the USWNT played three of the strongest women’s teams in the world. All three teams – England, Spain, and Germany – will be considered amongst the favourites to win the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

The matches also took place during the middle of the women’s football season in Europe. The USWNT, which is mostly made up of players competing in America’s NWSL, was nearing the end of its campaign, having started in late April and finishing in late October.

It is easy to write off those losses, especially with the USWNT on a fantastic run of form in 2023. The women’s team won its last seven international fixtures. The victories came against New Zealand (twice), Canada, Japan, Brazil, and Ireland (twice).

So, can the USWNT continue their dominance over the rest of women’s football at the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

The USWNT are four-time Women’s World Cup winners. Thanks to Title XI, a law passed in the United States in 1972, women’s soccer in America got a jumpstart on the rest of the world. It helped the national team claim the inaugural Women’s World Cup trophy in 1991.

A third-place finish four years later was followed by the team’s most memorable World Cup win in 1999. Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty, as the USWNT defeated China in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Millions of US soccer fans have the image of Chastain taking her jersey off and sporting a Nike sports bra etched into their memories.

After the 1999 World Cup win, the USWNT went on a drought. Germany won back-to-back cups and Japan claimed their first. The USWNT finished third twice and second during that time. Then, in 2015, the Yanks returned and won their third trophy, topping Japan 5-2 in Vancouver.

A fourth Women’s World Cup followed in 2019, as Jill Ellis’ team put on a professional performance to win 2-0 against the Netherlands. It seems that just as the gap closes and other nations get nearer to the USWNT, the Americans find a way to stay ahead.

The trio of England, Spain, and Germany benefitted from being in the middle of their domestic and European campaigns when they claimed victories in 2022 over the Yanks. With most of the USWNT based Stateside and coming to the end of the NWSL season, fatigue likely played a factor in their performances. There was also the issue of the NWSL’s playoffs occurring around the same time.

The opposite will now occur in Australia and New Zealand. The Yanks will travel down under in the middle of their domestic season. The 2023 NWSL campaign kicked off on March 25 and will end on November 11.

Although the Women’s World Cup doesn’t start until July 26, the NWSL will release players to their national teams on June 26. This will give players, especially USWNT members, the chance to train and prepare for the competition well ahead of FIFA’s mandated dated.

Players competing in England’s WSL, France’s Division 1 Féminine, Spain’s Liga F, or Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga will be in their offseason. The USWNT will have an advantage in terms of fitness for the tournament. There is also an argument over the quality of the NWSL compared to the leagues in Europe.

The USWNT’s current roster only contains one player (Lindsey Horan) who plies her trade in Europe. The rest of the team competes in the NWSL. It is a league made for developing the best female players in the states, allowing them to play with or against each other.

The 12-team league ends the campaign with a six-team playoff. There is no promotion and relegation like in the European leagues. The NSWL’s structure benefits the USNWT. Not every match is a must-win due to the lack of relegation. Players and teams can have “a night off”. In 2022, it took just nine wins from 22 matches to get into the playoffs.

The USWNT should thrive once more in a World Cup setting. The Yanks will have a target on their back, but they always do. A group stage featuring Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Portugal should see the team come out on top. From there, anything can happen, but the quality within the USWNT squad should see the ladies retain their World Cup crown.

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