As Americans, we are obsessed with winners, heroes, and domination. The 2015 Women's World Cup provided all of that, to the max. The U.S. Women’s National Team did not simply win the World Cup; it was emphatically victorious. Besides creating a fairytale-esque ending to the tournament, the win has strong implications in the larger scope of women's soccer development. In an analysis of the tournament, here are three aspects of the outcome that must not be ignored.
- In a sentimental sense, becoming World Champions is a deserved legacy for the veteran players who helped the U.S. dominate women's soccer for over two decades. No, the U.S. team has not been the best team in the world for that entire time, but it has never been ranked lower than number three by FIFA. This is an enormous testament to the consistency of the team’s domination. The U.S.W.N.T. is a dynasty, which is reflected heavily in Olympic gold medals (the U.S. has won the past three Olympics) but not in World Cup results. The team has never placed lower than third in a World Cup, yet the only rostered player in the 2015 tournament to have won the event before this year was Christie Rampone. Despite increasing global parity in women's soccer and criticism of the U.S. team's style of play at times, it would seem highly unfortunate for the all-time leading scorer in the history of the sport--Abby Wambach with 183 international goals--to retire without ever having won the ultimate title soccer has to offer.
- There is something to be said for howthe U.S. team won the World Cup, not just thatthey won. Anyone who has closely followed the U.S.W.N.T. has sensed a slight identity crisis over the past few years. The women’s world game is changing, and becoming more tactically sophisticated in leaps and bounds. In the past, this aspect of international play was nearly irrelevant for the U.S. team because of how individually dominant the American players were. However, as physical and technical gaps have closed, individual dominance is no longer always a sure bet. At the same time, it would be ill-conceived for the U.S. team to abandon what has made it special for decades in an attempt to beat Japan at what it does better than anyone in the world, or Germany at what it does best. The U.S. won the World Cup by playing a typical American style, but not void of the sophistication and savvy necessary to be the best in the world. The team can still play good, beautiful soccer and retain the traditional American grit and reliance on the mentality of individual heroes, like Carli Lloyd. They have now reaffirmed that a successful balance can surely exist--and it is deadly when it does. The last few U.S. performances in this World Cup have created a blueprint to be followed for the future.
- From the outset of the tournament I felt that the U.S. team's performance would have strong implications for the N.W.S.L. The league is backed heavily by U.S. Soccer but has not yet shouldered the burden of preparing American players for international tournaments. In this country, we are on the verge of a necessary shift in responsibility for identifying and developing our players for National Team competition. In every other country, a club team is how players make the majority of their income, and develop for ten months of the year. The U.S. team has relied heavily on residency training programs and camps to prepare for tournaments, which has been smart given the instability, and at times, absence of an American professional league. The N.W.S.L. was not responsible for the majority of preparation for the players to win this World Cup. But next time around it absolutely must be. With veterans retiring and an aging team, professional soccer should become the player pool to prepare and select talent for the international level. There is a vital shift in the balance between club and country that must occur. What better than a World Cup Championship to help with this transition? An influx of money, media attention, and ticket sales can be a vital boost for the league that must now take on the onus of supporting and preparing American players to repeat as World Cup winners.
As a professional player in the U.S., aspiring U.S.W.N.T. member, and proponent of youth development, I feel enormous pride and gratitude after watching the American women bring home gold in the World Cup. All of us in the soccer community share the responsibility for making sure that their dedication, commitment, and hard work has the maximum positive impact on the future of women's soccer in our country. We uphold our responsibility by keeping women's soccer in the conversation (media included), buying tickets to games, and by exposing youth players to the amazing role models on the U.S.W.N.T. and in the N.W.S.L. Thank you to our World Cup Champions for inspiring us all to take that responsibility!