The U.S. women learn their opponents amid challenges to their World Cup supremacy.

3 months ago 14

Andrew Das

Oct. 22, 2022

The United States women’s soccer team will face the Netherlands, Vietnam and an as-yet-unknown playoff winner at next year’s Women’s World Cup — a fortunate draw, even if it included the Dutch, the team the Americans beat in the final to win their most recent world title in 2019.

The Americans learned their first-round opponents at the tournament’s draw on Saturday and will enter the tournament in Australia and New Zealand — the first co-hosts in the World Cup’s history — as the two-time defending world champion. But they will arrive amid tectonic shifts in the women’s game, including an unsatisfying bronze medal at the last Olympics; a generational shift on their roster; and a surge of investment and interest that has powered the rise of new rivals like England and Spain and revived old ones like Germany, Canada and France.

“Today’s a good day,” United States midfielder Lindsey Horan said. “It’s exciting.” She said the opening game against Vietnam “offered us a great chance to get going in the tournament.”

Some of those teams will have liked their draws, too: Sweden, the world’s second-ranked team, was drawn into a group with South Africa, Italy and Argentina, and Germany, the world No. 3 and the runner-up at last summer’s European Championship, will face Morocco, Colombia and South Korea.

England, the newly crowned European champion, will face a European foe (Denmark), a faded former power (China) and, like the United States, a playoff winner whose identity will not be confirmed until February. For England, it will be either Senegal, Haiti or Chile.

“The detailed preparation for the World Cup actually starts after tonight,” United States Coach Vlatko Andonovski said before the draw, adding, “For a team that’s always done well historically, the pressure’s always going to be there.”

The 2023 World Cup will be the first since FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, expanded the field to 32 teams. That produced a draw populated by familiar faces and first-time entrants: top-ranked challengers and former champions like Sweden, Germany, Spain, France and the Netherlands from Europe; regional powers like Brazil, Japan and Nigeria; and a handful of debutantes — Zambia, Morocco, Ireland, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Americans? They qualified in July with the help of a mix of old and new: veterans like Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Becky Sauerbrunn, but also newer faces like Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Naomi Girma.

Andonovski’s team remains a blend of past and present: Megan Rapinoe will most likely make the roster next summer, but Carli Lloyd’s role this weekend was helping to run the draw, not waiting anxiously for the results of it. But Andonovski promised that the team would be ready.

“I have to say, if you ask me if we’re ready to go in a World Cup and compete in the World Cup tomorrow, we’re probably not ready for it,” Andonovski told reporters after the Americans qualified in July. “But are we going to be ready in a year? Absolutely.”

Others are less than certain: The United States lost to England and Spain this month, its first consecutive losses in five years, and it faces another daunting challenge next month with two friendlies against Germany, the women’s Euros runner-up.

England, the best team in Europe at the moment and unbeaten in its last 24 games, and Canada, which defeated the United States on its way to the gold medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, will be waiting. But so will the Germans and the Dutch and the Swedes and the Spanish and the rest.

The World Cup will open on July 20, with New Zealand and Australia both playing games at home, and conclude with the final on August 20 in Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

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