It shouldn’t matter which team completes Group E of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Anything less than a first-place finish in the quartet for the United States women’s national team will be a tremendous disappointment. It doesn’t matter that fellow global power the Netherlands is also in the group. Vietnam is locked in as a guaranteed World Cup opponent for the Americans. The third opponent should be a walkover whether it’s Cameroon, Portugal, or Thailand. That trio of games is all to sort out the shakiness the USWNT showed in their pair of October friendlies.
Losses to England and Spain and the lack of true midfielders give this version of the U.S. women a clear red flag heading into the quadrennial showcase where anything less than adding a star to their crest is viewed as a disappointment. George W. was in the White House the last time a Women’s World Cup final didn’t have the United States in it. A penalty-kick loss to Japan and two straight tournament victories have transpired over the past 11 years. Extending that streak to four will be an uphill battle with the USWNT as exposed as in recent memory. Yet, those challenges shouldn’t derail the USA until the knockout rounds.
It’s the first WWC to feature 32 teams, like the men’s counterpart currently does. The change, up from 24 teams at the showcase, doesn’t truly affect the USWNT due to some third-place teams in the group stage advancing. Now it’s only the top two in every pod. The present for winning Group E? Avoiding Sweden. The incredibly likely consolation for the Dutch or Americans? A brutal Round of 16 matchup against the exporters of ABBA. Mamma Mia!
Saturday morning’s draw was more about determining how much resistance the USWNT will face early in the tournament, barring an absolute disaster. Even with the shakiness of recent performances from the squad, all that matters is how they’ll play in Australia and New Zealand. The 2015 squad looked shaky early in the tournament and won the World Cup. The 2019 team never looked susceptible to defeat and repeated as Earth’s champions. Next summer’s event is as wide open as there’s been at a Women’s World Cup in a long time. I could see as many as 10 teams realistically winning, a staggering amount considering only four countries have ever won the tourney. Of course, both of those groups include the USA.