It is time to throw away the American inferiority complex with its place in the sport, where many blindly claim that technique should come above all in choosing and developing the best prospects and that the U.S. is not an international power because it cares too much about athleticism.
USWNT Dominance About to End and That Is a Good Thing
Enjoy it while it lasts, I am here to tell you the era of dominance by the USWNT is about to end, and that's a good thing. This development is good because the USWNT losing supremacy means women's soccer is growing globally. If the end goal is to have female players earn much more money, then the sport will need an increase in popularity on a global scale. And as that happens, the sport naturally becomes more competitive as there are now more countries and regions with adequate and competitive women's soccer cultures to feed their national teams.
Outside of the USWNT recently losing three games in a row for the first time since 1993 and ending a 71-match home unbeaten streak, there have been other signs of what is to come.
The first sign of this decreasing dominance is what we see with the U20 World Cup, which remains the best way available to determine how competitive a nation's future stars are against their peers from other countries. The U.S. Women's finished in the top 4 of 5 of the first six U20 World Cups between 2002 and 2012. Since then, in the following four editions, the U.S. has only managed a top-four finish once, in 2016. And in the latest edition that wrapped up in August, the U.S. failed to get out of the group stage for the second straight tournament.
We are heading towards competitive parity.
No more World Cup games like 2019, where the Women's team beat a Thailand team 13-0 that was fielding a roster of players who work as Insurance sales representatives. No more games like the 2015 Women's World Cup, where Germany beat the Ivory Coast 10-0, and Switzerland almost matched that with their 10-1 victory over Ecuador.
And don't get me wrong, this is no criticism of women's soccer. It is just a realistic analysis of a sector of the sport that is still in its infancy. In fact, if you look at what Men's soccer looked at in its early stages through the lens of the World Cup, the results are very similar to what we see now with Women's soccer. There have been Eight Women's World Cups so far. The eighth edition of the Men's World Cup took place in 1966.
There have been 14 Women's World Cup games where a team scored at least 7 goals. In the first eight editions of the Men's World Cup, they had 11 such games of 7 or more goals by one team, but in the 13 World Cups that have followed, there have only been six such games.
The USWNT has won 4 of 8 world cups, lost a final, and finished third in the other three editions. That means the USWNT has never finished worse than third at a World Cup. I believe the future of the sport will mean we never see this type of dominance again from any team. For comparison, the Brazilian Men's national team won 3 of the first 9 World Cups but has won just 2 of the last 12.
But most important is how vastly different the Men's World Cup looked then as opposed to now. For example, Hungary reached the final in the third and fifth editions, boasting stars like Ferenc Puskas, a man so notorious for his goalscoring that FIFA named the Puskas Award after him, a yearly award given to the best goal at any level of professional soccer. That same Hungary now hasn't qualified for a World Cup in 36 years.
We already see signs of this too with the Women's World Cup:
- The Chinese Women's national team was an early powerhouse in women's soccer. They finished 4th in the 1995 World Cup and followed up with second place in 1999. Since then, they have not advanced past the quarter-finals and failed to qualify in 2011.
- In 1991, Japan lost a group game to Sweden 8-0 on route to finishing the tournament as the team with the most goals conceded. By 2011, women's soccer had developed so much in the country that Japan defeated Sweden 3-1 in the semi-final on route to their first-ever World Cup trophy and the first of two successive finals.
- In 2003, Argentina lost 6-0 to Japan in a group where they scored just one goal and tied the record for most goals conceded at the group stages with 15. The two sides met again in 2019, and the game finished in a 0-0 tie, with Argentina conceding just four goals total in the group.
- Canada conceded 25 goals in the group stages of their first two world cup appearances in 1995 and 1999. They have conceded just 19 in the six editions that followed.
- The first time the United States and Nigeria met at the World Cup was in 1991, and the game ended 7-1 in favor of the United States. The second time was in 2003, and the final score was a 5-1 victory for the U.S. However, the two times they've met since, at the 2007 and 2015 World Cups, the games have been close-fought, with the U.S. scrapping a narrow 1-0 victory both times.
These are just a few examples you could pull from that all offer a slice into the future of this iteration of the beautiful game. Countries are now pouring in the investment needed to introduce soccer to women and girls not just as spectators but as participants who can dream of and chase lucrative careers in the world's most popular sport. Massive investments are coming, ranging from new facilities, robust talent identification, and copying from the best practices of established powerhouses like Germany, Brazil, Japan, and the United States.
And in this, I believe the missing piece, meaning the country that will develop into the next powerhouse, will be the first to introduce a generation of highly trained and experienced female coaches into their development systems at all levels ranging from youth soccer to professional teams. They'll be able to offer insights and the kind of guidance the next generation of female players need to navigate the world of professional women's soccer both athletically and mentally. That remains a barrier many countries have, but as the game becomes more popular from a participation standpoint, the influx of talented female coaches will come too.
The writing is on the wall. There is a change coming in women's soccer which will be difficult for the USWNT to swallow, but great for women's soccer as a whole.
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