With CONCACAF World Cup 2019 qualifying taking place in October next year instead of spring, there’s plenty of time for the US women’s national team to hit some good friendlies to prepare them for the tournament. Of course, they’ll be playing SheBelieves again, which is why CONCACAF quals have been pushed later in the first place, since SheBelieves is a March tournament.
US Soccer committed to putting on SheBelieves for at least three years in 2016 and forecast a $1.175M net profit for 2017 based on the assumption attendance would exceed 51,000, according to Sports Business Daily. (Total attendance for the 2017 edition was 64,456.) So they’re not likely to give up a cash cow like SheBelieves when they could have both that tournament and CONCACAF quals.
USSF will also put on a Tournament of Nations again as well, which means 2018’s opponents will almost certainly include Germany, England, France, Brazil, Japan, and Australia. That is a very nice stable of opponents to help sharpen up before WC quals, although the WNT should qualify handily given CONCACAF’s three slots.
It would be nice if USSF just had those two mini-tournaments and let the players stay with their NWSL teams the rest of the time, but we all know they’ll use just about every FIFA window possible to schedule friendlies, so we might as well pick some interesting opponents. “Interesting” here can mean a lot of things, from giving the United States a tough game to just being a rare or never-played opponent. Besides the six tournament nations, here are the teams we’d like to see the USWNT play next year.
Spain is a team that looks like it’s finally putting in the time and resources to really modernize its women’s team, especially after a long period of stagnation during which the WNT openly asked their federation to fire their head coach, Ignacio Quereda. And though their domestic league is dominated by a few teams, among them FC Barcelona, that doesn’t mean the league isn’t developing great talent. Their patient possession game vs. the kind of relentless pressure the US is capable of pouring on would be a nice clash of styles.
Cameroon is slowly but surely catching up to Nigeria as a dominant power in CAF. They hosted the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations (formerly the African Women’s Championship) where they topped their group with wins over Egypt, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and eventually made it to the final, losing 1-0 to Nigeria. They also had an exciting 2015 World Cup, the first ever for their WNT, with a win over Switzerland and a narrow 2-1 loss to Japan in group. Their ability to put up a competitive match against the US would probably be shaky but energetic, as well as marked by flashes of technical brilliance - which is good for the development of not just their team but the competitiveness of CAF, which then goes on to feed into the overall quality of the women’s game.
Jordan is another country to file under “would be great for development in the region if their WNT played more.” They just hosted the 2016 U17 Women’s World Cup and will host the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. The AFC is a confederation with several teams that are already highly competitive or are progressing towards competitive, and Jordan’s double hosting duty indicates they’re looking to improve their footing in the women’s game on the world stage. This would probably be a good game for any experimental or youth-heavy rosters from the United States, but once again, when other confederations become more competitive, that feeds back into the overall level of play and encourages powerhouses like the US to continue developing or get left behind.
This one is a no-brainer. The Netherlands are the current holders of the Euro title and they play really fun attacking soccer. They have some of the best attackers in the world (Lieke Martens just won the FIFA Best award for her play, which was such a good choice it validated the award instead of the other way around) and should be considered one of the rising European powers in the game, ready to start regularly challenging the dominance of Germany and France. They would for sure give the US a run for their money and would provide a high-pressure test for that midfield Jill Ellis is still tinkering with.
Assuming USSF doesn’t let the USWNT just have a nice, even NWSL season without too many interruptions, who would you like to see them play?