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How the USWNT can qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup knockout stage

A result can get them through, but they have some work to do.

USA v Netherlands: Group E - FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The United States Women’s National Team have completed two group stage matches at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and so far it hasn’t been the dominating performance that some were expecting. The USWNT opened up group play by beating Vietnam 3-0 in Auckland, New Zealand, but followed that up with a 1-1 draw to the Netherlands in Wellington on Wednesday night.

That leaves matchday 3 for the USWNT, where they will take on Portugal on Tuesday, returning to Auckland for that group stage finale. Portugal, who beat Vietnam 2-0 on Thursday, creating some drama for the group as we inch closer to the finale. We take a look at the current standings for Group E and you see 3 teams still with a shot at getting out of the group:

Current Group E standings (courtesy Wikipedia)

Vietnam is the only team that has been eliminated from contention, while Portugal sits just behind the USWNT and the Netherlands in 3rd place. The finishing order of this group could be very close, so let’s take a look at the scenarios for the USWNT to advance out of the group.

The simple scenario is that a win or draw against Portugal will see the USWNT advance to the knockout stage, either by winning the group or finishing in 2nd place. Breaking it down further, a victory over Portugal will see the USWNT win the group, provided they maintain their current +2 goal differential advantage over the Netherlands. If the Netherlands beat Vietnam by a score that allows them to have a larger goal differential than the USWNT, the USWNT will finish in 2nd place but will still advance.

With a draw, the USWNT will still advance out of the group, but they can only win the group if the Netherlands loses or draws against Vietnam. If the USWNT and Portugal draw and the Netherlands wins against Vietnam, the Netherlands win the group and the USWNT will be 2nd, with Portugal on the outside looking in.

With a loss, the doomsday scenario creep in. If the USWNT lose against Portugal, they will need Vietnam to beat the Netherlands, and they would still have to maintain a goal differential greater than the Dutch. Portugal would win the group in that scenario, and the USWNT would edge out the Oranje to finish 2nd. Any other result from the Netherlands and a USWNT loss, and the World Cup is over for the United States.

The USWNT have advanced out of the group in each edition of the Women’s World Cup to date, with the 2011 tournament being the only time they failed to win the group. In fact, Wednesday night’s draw against the Netherlands was just the 5th Women’s World Cup group stage match that they have failed to win. The only times they have conceded points in the group stage: a draw to China in 1995, a 2007 draw to North Korea, a 2011 loss to Sweden (the only time they’ve failed to win the group), a 2015 draw to Sweden, and Wednesday’s draw to the Netherlands. 2015 was the only of those years to date where the team rebounded to win the tournament.

American fans will hope that the USWNT can come out of the blocks quickly against Portugal to score and quickly end any Portuguese upset dreams to secure another knockout stage appearance. They don’t want this to be the lone time where the United States is not listed among the final 16 teams at the Women’s World Cup.