College football and soccer analyst
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — It has been discussed repeatedly and will likely be a hot topic until after the World Cup is over. The US women’s national team has a chance to make more history this summer by winning a record fifth title and third in a row.
Only four teams have gone in a row: the Italy men’s team (1934, 1938), the Brazil men’s team (1958, 1962), the Germany women’s team (2003, 2007), and the USWNT (2015, 2019). No nation has completed all three mobs.
And so while the Americans have always had a target on their back, here in New Zealand it is magnified as the tournament approaches. The USWNT’s first game against Vietnam is Friday (9 pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
“I think there are probably people who are thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, can we do three?'” defender Kelley O’Hara said this week. “And there are people who are thinking, ‘We can only do three if we win [this] one.’ That’s how I’m seeing it. If we achieve the treble, it will be because we won this tournament. So the past is the past.
“We have in front of us the opportunity to win a World Cup, and that’s what happens every four years,” O’Hara continued. “For me, it’s just about concentrating on winning this tournament. That’s the most important thing, and then you get the treble.”
Perhaps easier said and done for a player like O’Hara, who is playing her fourth World Cup with two championships on her resume. She knows what to expect, she has enjoyed the back target narrative and has emerged victorious.
But of the 23 players on this list, 14 are playing in their first World Cups and don’t yet have that kind of wisdom.
However, they are open to leaning on veterans like O’Hara, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe to tell it like it is and learn what it really means to be under this unique kind of pressure.
“I am very confident that this team can win a World Cup”
United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher spoke with Jenny Taft to discuss the team’s expectations ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“They are such big personalities and anytime, if something is difficult or if a younger player says, ‘Oh, you know today [is hard]’ remind us that this is what it takes. This is the atmosphere,” said striker Sophia Smith, who is playing in her first World Cup.
“They’ve been there. They’ve done it. They’ve been through everything to get there. And only they share their experiences with us from past World Cups: what it took to win, the hard days, the miserable days, the days you don’t get along, all that stuff. All those stories, I think, have helped us younger players who don’t have world tournament experience know what to expect and accept it.”
O’Hara said one of the main themes in the build here has been ensuring that everyone’s mindset is on the same page.
“I think the word ‘belief’ is a great word to talk about this team and this group,” he said. “I think it’s a word that has defined this team not just now, but for years and years. And it’s something that’s been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s something we’ve held on to. It’s something that’s allowed us to be as successful as we’ve been, and I think helped us get through those moments where a lot of people would have taken it back or started to doubt or question things.
“I think that belief is extremely powerful, and I’ve seen it that way with this group. And if there’s a second left on the clock, we think that’s enough time to make the difference and do what we have to do to win a game.”
Even the rookie 14 have a deep understanding of that, as well as how much is at stake and the expectations the world has for them at this time on the brink of more history.
“One of the biggest messages has been that it’s not always going to be pretty, it’s not always going to be fun,” said defender Emily Fox, who is also playing in her first World Cup. “It’s going to be tough. Getting the win and doing whatever it takes to keep going is the most important thing.”
Added Smith: “Obviously it’s incredible what this team has done, and all we hope to do is continue that legacy and push the boundaries and be even better and make history… It’s an honor to be on this team, wear this badge and represent our country, and we all take pride in that.
“So the pressure that comes with it, we’ve all accepted it. It’s what life has become now. And I think it’s fun. I love it.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball, and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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