Sound the alarm. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has been caught.
That’s actually great for the women’s game globally – and it’s what’s so bad for women’s soccer here, in the United States, where we take for granted that it’s the USWNT and everyone else. It’s how it’s been. How it felt it would always be.
Well, hello, whole wide world.
Going into its most recent international matches, warmups for next summer’s Women’s World Cup, the Americans brought in a 21-game unbeaten streak.
They went home with a two-match losing streak, something that hasn’t happened in more than 5½ years.
First, they fell to England, 2-1, on Friday before a crowd of 76,893 fans at Wembley Stadium. And as an encore Tuesday, the Americans lost for the first time to Spain.
And they got stymied 2-0 by Spain’s “B” team, which was without 15 regulars who refused to play for Coach Jorge Vilda, protesting, they said, that he had affected their emotional state and their health.
The U.S. women are going through their own stuff, of course.
A long-simmering, systemic crisis within the National Women’s Soccer League came to a head with the Oct. 3 release of the Yates Report, which revealed a cycle of power imbalance and insufficient safeguards.
The year-long investigation by Sally Q. Yates, the former acting U.S. Attorney General, including interviews with more than 100 current and former players in the NSWL and U.S. Women’s National Team. It didn’t only confirm allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct throughout the league, it unearthed new testimony about other incidents.
So you had to feel for the members of the U.S. team throughout their mostly listless performance against Spain; it’s been a hard week.
But competition didn’t offer an escape. And the way women’s soccer is trending internationally, it’s not going to.
A record 1.12 billion viewers tuned into the 2019 Women’s World Cup. And the right people noticed all the people noticing.
Since then, European women’s leagues especially are flourishing, including in England, for example, where big-money deals have boosted the Women’s Super League’s exposure. That helped attract top players, which led to an announcement in March of a landmark broadcasting deal with BBC and Sky that reportedly is worth more than $20 million.
Moreover, many of the English Men’s Premier League teams – Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea among them – are recognizing the commercial and cultural advantages of booting up their own women’s teams.
And Spain? Women’s soccer is becoming such a thing there that in 2019 a crowd of more than 60,000 fans watched Barcelona beat Atlético Madrid, 2-0.
The glass-half-full folks want to believe the Americans will use these exhibition losses to learn where they need to improve, which is the point of them.
Or even that the losses to the Nos. 4 and 8 teams in the world will serve as a wake-up call, because the U.S. – the world’s top-ranked squad – suffered similar upsets ahead of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, which the Americans went on to win.
But that precedent isn’t a recipe for success against an improved and improving field, even for the most successful team in international women’s soccer history, with its four World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals and nine CONCACAF Gold Cups.
Even given a few key injuries – including an ailing knee that sidelined Diamond Bar High product Alex Morgan – U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski is feeling the heat for his team’s performances, for its lack of cohesion and firepower. The Americans had two shots on goal against both England and Spain, well off their average of 8.5.
Last week, the Lionesses seemed to complete three passes for every one that the Americans did as the hosts extended their unbeaten run to 23 games in all competitions.
And in Pamplona on Tuesday, Spain’s second string operated expertly in small spaces, unlike the best team in the world on paper, which played predictable, long-ball soccer and whose most inspired performer was Alyssa Thompson, the 17-year-old Harvard-Westlake senior.
It wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from the U.S. women’s team, what we’ve banked on and probably grown numb to. The USWNT has been No. 1 in FIFA’s rankings for a combined 13 years, never ranked lower than second and only ever supplanted by Germany.
That’s not going to last forever. Might not even last very much longer.
What a finish
Spain takes a 2-0 lead over the USWNT late in the 2nd half. pic.twitter.com/kpNfoa00sh
— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) October 11, 2022
England takes an early lead over the USWNT at Wembley thanks to a Lauren Hemp goal!
— SI Soccer (@si_soccer) October 7, 2022