LYON — The United States set the standard for women’s soccer nearly 30 years ago and the world is still trying to catch up.
The gap maybe closing, but the United States proved through its first six games at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup they are still the best team in the world and will look to rubber stamp it with a second-consecutive title Sunday at the Stade de Lyon.
It’s not hard to understand why the United States is so dominant. Their talent pool dwarfs that of every other country and the NCAA development system is far superior to than anything Europe, Asia, South American or Africa can provide.
The billions made in college athletics, mainly from Division 1 football programs, is directly correlated to women’s sports through Title IX, which requires men and women be provided equitable opportunities.
Soccer is among the highest participation sport for females in the United States and when you consider there are over 350 Division 1 schools who field women’s teams with at least 25 players, it is a massive player pool in comparison to what all the professional clubs in Europe combined can provide.
Canada is also a beneficiary of the NCAA system, which can attest for its success as well, even though they crashed out at the Round of 16 stage at this tournament.
When coming up through such a competitive environment, only the best of the best make it to the 23-player World Cup roster and that is the reason the United States have been able to withstand the challenges of both France and England, who are two countries pouring massive resources into its women’s leagues to try and close the gap.
“Every day our players in the training environment are put under pressure; it’s uber-competitive, it requires a lot of focus to even survive the environment the culture that has probably been around for 20-plus years,” said United States coach Jill Ellis. “I think players that come into this environment, surviving and being able to push through hardship and compete, I think that’s bred into them because they don’t survive in our environment if they don’t have that internally.”
The United States talk a good game because they have results to back it up. They are on the verge of winning their fourth Women’s World Cup to match their number of Olympic gold medals.
The United States women’s soccer jersey is the highest-seller in the world this year, according to Nike, and they are flying off the racks in France, not just being purchased by the legion of Americans in attendance.
The U.S women’s jersey can be differentiated from the men’s by three stars above the crest. The men don’t have any, yet for some reason are paid an exorbitant amount more than their female counterparts, who are far more recognizable and marketable in their country.
Yet for some reason, Megan Rapinoe and the rest of the leadership core on the U.S. women’s national team have been chastised for suing the United States Soccer Association for trying to get an equal share.
Personally, I believe the United States women’s players do not deserve to be paid the same as the men, they deserve to make more considering the driving force they have been for the game in America and how they are attracting audiences at this and previous World Cup tournaments.
“Good luck to America, I think they showed (Tuesday) they know what it takes to win games of football,” said England coach Phil Neville after a 2-1 loss in the semifinal. “I have to say it was the most enthralling 90 minutes I’ve ever been involved in as a manager.
“It’s where my players want to be and it’s where I want to be, and we are knocking on the door now.”
Perhaps the English and French club system can get to a point where they are competitive on a regular basis with the United States, but unless an even greater investment is made at the grassroots level, they will always be chasing.
In the United States and Canada, young girls, for the most part, are provided equal opportunity to play the game as young boys. Such is not the same in most other countries, including England.
“I think we’re working on that, I think we’re making great strides at the FA (Football Association) with that,” Neville said. “But that takes three, four or five years and I think we’re only 12 or 18 months into that now.
“When you get moments like this, with what we’ve had the last 46 days, that will inspire the grassroots, coaches, helpers volunteers, the kids, to go out there buy a pair of boots and play football.”
They may not always be liked, but the United States needs to be recognized for setting the bar high and forcing everyone else to try and reach it. And even if gap in terms of talent level is closing there is still the issue of the U.S. championship mentality to emulate, which is a big reason why the United States have withstood every challenge so far and have since winning the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991.
“I attribute that to maybe the mental strength and the environment, the history, and the tradition and I think they’re vetted in pressure,” Ellis said. “It’s a resolve that’s just fantastic, in games where you have to have that in terms of the card you go to. It’s the World Cup finals, it’s not Sunday soccer, so I think sometimes as a coach you rely on players making sure they have the mental capacity as well and that’s creating a training environment that makes it as competitive.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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