In a summer where, frankly, we’re in need of something positive amidst an onslaught of strikes, record heat, political division, ghosting, financial struggles and, worst of all, what is clearly going to be the 37th consecutive season the Mets won’t win a world’s championship, the most successful team to represent the United States in international competition returns to the global stage this week, as the ninth Women’s World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand.
This talented group is led by names that have become familiar since they returned the USWNT to the top of the world after a 16-year drought in 2015. And they followed that up with a repeat performance in 2019, equalling Germany’s feat in 2003 and 2007. Now they look to make history. Megan Rapinoe. Alex Morgan. Kelley O’Hara. Julie Ertz. Alyssa Naeher. Strong, powerful, outspoken women who represent their causes as well as their country, and back both up with the only thing even their most politically polarized opponents can support them for–bringing home the laurels for the red, white and blue.
Goaltender Naeher told the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER’s Jonathan Tannenwald she is embracing her role as “elder stateswoman”, as well understanding how crucial her on-field performance will be:
(In] 2015, I was the third goalkeeper, and it was a much different experience,” Naeher said. “And, obviously, having the opportunity to play in 2019 then gives a different experience that I can share and relate to some players that are now going to be going into their first World Cup and playing important minutes right away.”
And in TIME’s preview article authored by Sean Gregory, a few of those newer names that will be woven in and, ultimately, will replace the likes of the retiring Rapinoe and the aging Naeher and O’Hara are profiled and should be paid attention to, such as:
Alana Cook, 26, Defender
Cook, who along with fellow rookie Naomi Girma is expected to provide the bulk of the team’s defensive protection in the middle of the USWNT backline, scored her first and only international goal in April against Ireland. It was a 40-yard-strike, right before halftime, and gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead. (The U.S. won the game by the same score.) She also scored on her birthday, making Cook just the third American to net an international goal while also blowing out candles. Mia Hamm (1998) and Alex Morgan (2019) are the others, putting Cook in pretty heady company.
Savannah DeMelo, 25, Midfielder
DeMelo became the first “uncapped” player—a player with no prior national-team experience—to make a World Cup roster since Shannon Boxx in 2003. In fact, she made her national-team debut in the July 9 World Cup send-off game—a 2-0 victory over Wales—when she came on as a second-half sub. “It’s such a surreal experience,” DeMelo, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and attended USC, said after the game. “I’m super grateful, and I’m ready for the World Cup.”
Emily Fox, 25, Defender
When Fox was in middle school in northern Virginia, she had to decide between pursuing gymnastics and soccer. She chose soccer because she enjoyed the team aspect of the sport, and that decision has paid off with her first World Cup trip. The first overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, out of the University of North Carolina, Fox watched Racing Louisville FC select her from a hotel ballroom during a national-team training camp. Fox’s U.S. teammates offered a sweet round of applause. Fox started the July 9 World Cup send-off game. The cheers may grow louder down under.
It won’t be easy. The homestanding Aussies have some talent of their own. As SportsLine global expert Martin Green reports, when the Matildas sprint onto the pitch early tomorrow morning U.S. time against Ireland, she will be worth keeping an eye or two on:
Green has an eye on forward Sam Kerr to lead the charge, and notes that the depth behind her will make Australia tough to beat.
“The likes of Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley and Hayley Raso form a strong supporting cast, so they look like genuine contenders for this tournament.
The U.S. gets a prime time slot on Friday night against Vietnam, which people of a certain age will find ironic. Much has been made when the U.S. would wage battle in internatioonal soccer competition against the likes of Russia, Iran or Iraq. To the best of my knowledge, this is a rare occasion when Vietnam, known to younger generations as a vacation destination more than a war zone, has succeeded enough on the international stage to qualify for an event as prestigious as this. But to those of us who remember My Lai and the Tet offensive, this will be a sobering moment to reflect how far the world has come since those days.
Especially in light of the fact that the impact of somewhat started during the Vietnam War era, Title IX, is the de facto progenitor of the kind of acceptance and attention these deserving women will get in the next month. Why most objective people will root unconditionally, even as we grudgingly concede that a few will make judgements about the personal life choices of some of these gallant women, especially ones like Rapinoe who are unafraid to directly challenge such closed-mindedness.
Even those who do think that way do need to concede that at least they’re not seeking to compete against men. Though judging by their track record, and what we’re likely to see from an MLS All-Star team that will not include Lionel Messi against Arsenal tonight in what for many soccer fans will be a tuneup before this main event, I’d give these women some pretty good odds should they ever decide to go head-to-head.
You go, girls!