It was a rocky start to the seventh annual She Believes Cup for the United States Women's National Team. The Americans finished strong, beating Iceland in a do-or-die match 5-0 to claim their third straight She Believes Cup.
After a nil-nil draw against the 24th ranked team in the world the Czech Republic in their first contest, the USWNT would have to claw its way back in order to prevail in the end. Vlatko Andonovski and company were never at the top of the table until the end of the last match. It was the second consecutive game in this tournament where the U.S scored five goals. It is also the fourth time in the last eight contests that the USWNT has netted five or more goals in a single match against the opposition.
After finishing the job against Iceland, head coach Vlatko Andonovski stated, "We’re performing well, there’s still a lot of room for improvement and growth in this group...But I feel we can all see the potential. I said this before, it’s a process, it’s going to take time. I’m very happy with the result, very happy with the players, but realistically this is still not good enough. We still have to get better and better as we go forward."
Andonovski reached for younger players in this tournament ahead of the World Cup qualifiers that are coming up while keeping some experience. In the first match on February 17, 2022, against the Czech Republic, captain Becky Sauerbrunn made her 200th appearance as a member of the USWNT. She is only the 12th player in the history of the team to accomplish that feat, and the 25th women's footballer to reach this achievement in their career.
It is now a week full of accomplishments as earlier in the week, the USWNT, and the world as a whole took a huge step forward towards equality. U.S soccer agreed on a settlement with the USWNT for $24 million to help alleviate the pay gap between men and women in the sport. While this was less than the group had asked for at first, it is without question a step in the right direction for women around the country. A whole bunch of logistics is involved in this agreement, but the settlement is hanging on the agreement of the new CBA with U.S soccer and the Women's National Team.
Winning the She Believes Cup was important, but it may not have been the most important or monumental thing that they did during the last few days. A young lively group allowed for an enjoyable tournament full of lots of open play. The regulars of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Lindsey Horan did not make an appearance for the team. Sophia Smith, Ashley Hatch, and Trinity Rodman got to show the world what they are able to do on the national stage, not just in the NWSL.
USWNT regular Rose Lavelle was prolific and by far the most creative in the nil-nil draw against the Czechs. NJ/NY Gotham FC Margaret Purce played a key role in the U.S victory over New Zealand. Liverpool defender Meikayla Moore netted three own goals for her country of New Zealand as it ended on the losing side, 5-0, and failed to score the entire tournament. Catarina Macario demonstrated against Iceland that she could be the next star of the national team, scoring two goals, including one where she chipped the goalkeeper.
Even though the competition was not filled with the elite squads of the past, it was still a great experience to see some teams the U.S is unfamiliar with. The highest-ranked team in the She Believes Cup that the United States played this year was Iceland who is 16th in the world of women's football. Young stars got to show what they can do whether it was on the offensive or defensive side of the pitch. A total of eight players had ten or fewer caps for the USWNT heading into the tournament.
The USWNT hopes to repeat as World Cup champions, as qualifying for the World Cup and Olympics is right around the corner. CONCACAF announced in the middle of February that qualifying for both the World Cup and Olympics will start on July 4, 2022, in Monterrey, Mexico. The United States has never failed to qualify for the World Cup or the Olympics. While some of the players that are regular participants in the team have grown older, the next generation is up to the plate. It is now their turn to take the reins of the team and lead the USWNT into the future while taking what they learned from many veterans.
The four-time World Cup champions add another trophy to the shelf of the collection of one of the greatest teams in all of international football. There are so many questions heading into the future of the team, and after an average performance in the She Believes Cup this season, more come up in thought. A bronze in the Olympics last summer was not something that people in the USWNT are used to. Despite taking home first once again in this She Believes Cup, this young team still needs to show what it can do against a team near the top of international football.