The United States Women’s National Team have completed play for 2021 and are now starting to shift their focus to 2022. Next year proves to be an incredibly important year for the best team in the world, as next summer they will compete in the Concacaf W Championship, a tournament that will also serve as World Cup qualifying and Olympic qualifying.
This is also an opportunity for USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski to begin to incorporate some of the younger talent into the player pool in order to get them matches against quality competition to get ready for the summer. That is why the 2022 SheBelieves Cup will be important for the team to assess where they are as a team and what they will need to do to prepare for World Cup and Olympic qualification. However, the annual tournament, which normally includes some of the best teams from Europe like England, France, Germany, or Spain, will likely not have those teams:
Markgraf acknowledges SheBelieves is getting harder to schedule, but particularly 2022 with Euros, and European teams not wanting to deal with the travel and jetlag. #USWNT— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) December 3, 2021
Many of the best teams in Europe are increasingly unavailable due to Women’s Euro 2022, which will also take place this summer. However, this presents a unique opportunity for U.S. Soccer to bring in teams outside of Europe that can make for an equally competitive competition and are teams that the USWNT will see should they once again qualify for the 2023 World Cup. It is also a chance to bring in teams that USWNT fans have not seen in a while. In an effort to play the best, fans routinely see the USWNT play the same teams, and it’s good to mix it up against teams that don’t normally get the chance to play the world’s best.
Removing the 16 teams that are competing in this summer’s Women’s Euro 2022, here’s a list of some viable candidates for SheBelieves Cup, with their current FIFA world ranking (* = Number of times played since January 1, 2018):
South Korea (18)****
New Zealand (23)**
Czech Republic (27)
Republic of Ireland (33)*
Costa Rica (36)*
South Africa (55)
From that list, the teams fans have seen the USWNT play the most over the past 4 years are Mexico (7); Australia (6); and South Korea and Portugal (4 each). Removing those teams from the equation based on fans seeing them very often, here’s a potential set of teams for the USWNT to play when SheBelieves Cup comes around in February:
The USWNT have faced Japan 3 times since the start of 2018: 2020 SheBelieves Cup, 2019 SheBelieves Cup, and the 2018 Tournament of Nations. Each time, Japan posed a formidable challenge for the world’s top team. They’re probably the best team that doesn’t appear often on the USWNT’s schedule.
Nigeria has some firepower, and the USWNT have only seen them once in 4 years, a 2-0 defeat to open up Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium back in June. Nigeria is the type of team that have shaken the confidence of USWNT teams in the past, particularly in the World Cup, because they enter those competitions having never seen teams with that style of play. Plus, USWNT fans want to see the team be challenged in new ways, and Nigeria would present just the challenge the team needs to get better.
New Zealand is a team that the USWNT just saw in the group stage of the Olympics, but had not seen before that since 2017. Despite the 6-1 victory for the USWNT, New Zealand really frustrated the USWNT with its play. The 23rd ranked team in the world, the USWNT should want to play the Ferns more often because they have a unique style of play that will help identify where the opportunity for improvement exists.
Other potential options: Scotland, Columbia, Ireland, Ukraine, Argentina, Jamaica, Cameroon
What teams do you think would make for an interesting competition? It’s time to hit the comments and give us your preferred options for SheBelieves Cup opponents for the USWNT.