The USWNT Are Out of the World Cup, but Watching Is More Important Than Ever
Following the shocking early exit of the US Women’s National Team at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, it might be tempting for American fans to check out of the tournament and just catch up on scores later – especially considering those 3 and 6 a.m. start times. Allow me to be the one to say, however, that this choice would be a big mistake. Despite the disappointment of the home team’s elimination, there’s still so much to celebrate about this year’s showcase, and really, it’s only getting started.
The special thing about the World Cup is the power it has to bring the world together to cheer on feats of remarkable athleticism, talent, discipline, and determination – and that doesn’t change based on which countries are taking the field. Of course, as an American fan, I tune in hoping to cheer the USWNT to victory (especially considering their dominant history), but I’m also here for the other storylines happening with athletes from around the world. I’m here to cheer for the success of the sport – and, more specifically, for the success of women’s sports as a whole.
We’re doing it for all the players, for the sport, and because we know that every moment we spend watching, every comment we post on social media, and every conversation we have with friends adds to the chorus of support for all women in soccer – and all women in sports, period.
The conversation around equity in sports is well-trod territory, particularly when it comes to the USWNT and their years-long fight for equal pay. Women’s sports, on a global level, are buzzier than ever, and they just keep growing. That expansion is on full display at this year’s World Cup. It’s the first Women’s World Cup to host 32 teams rather than 24 (for the first time matching the number of teams at the men’s tournament), reflecting the growth of women’s soccer around the world. It features major benchmarks for women’s soccer, including the highest prize money pool in Women’s World Cup history, new tournament attendance records, and eight countries making their Women’s World Cup debuts (along with much more).
Whereas previous World Cups have mostly been dominated by a handful of legacy teams outscoring their opponents by notable margins, this year’s tournament features closer scores and more evenly matched gameplay. Giants of the sport, like Germany, the US, and Canada, made early exits, while underdogs like Jamaica, Morocco, and South Africa surprised their opponents to advance. By the end of the round of 16, only one team (Japan) remained in the tournament that had ever won a single World Cup before. Even among lopsided matchups, the scoring reflected some surprisingly narrow margins. Among the 48 matches played in the group stage, 28 ended with score differentials of one or zero goals, while only six matches saw winners outscore their opponents by five or more goals.
For me, these low-scoring nail-biters are far more exciting than wildly mismatched blowouts – and they’re better for the future of the sport, too. As more teams develop and become contenders, things get more exciting, and the bar for excellence keeps getting raised. More success means more inspiration for up-and-coming players and aspiring young people, as well as more positive media attention. And thrilling matchups and high-quality events will also help the teams where it really counts: bringing in the viewers and the sponsorships so that these teams have the money to invest in developing their players and the sport even further.
So let’s keep the energy going! Wake up early to catch the games, pick a new team (or a few) to cheer for, or just tune in to whichever matchup is on when you have a little time. We’re not doing it for one country. We’re doing it for all the players, for the sport, and because we know that every moment we spend watching, every comment we post on social media, and every conversation we have with friends adds to the chorus of support for all women in soccer – and all women in sports, period.
Yes, it’s hard to see the USWNT end their World Cup run with disappointment and abandon the idea of them making a historic three-peat. I’m also sad that we may never again see leaders and legends like Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz represent the US on the international stage. It’s the end of an era for the USWNT – that much is undeniable. But it’s just the beginning of an even more vibrant, exciting era for women’s soccer around the world, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store.