USA remains world leader in women’s soccer despite England closing gap | United States women’s national soccer team

METERAtop the stands inside Wembley, signage flashes “European Champions vs. the World”. The build-up to England’s showdown with the USA has rightly been overshadowed by the weight of the conclusions of Sally Yates’ report on abuse in women’s football in the United States and the burden this places on American players, but the narrative of the game itself is hugely exciting.

The United States has been a world leader in women’s soccer for a long time. The gap with the rest has been huge, but it is closing. Megan Rapinoe went on to say Thursday that she feels “there really isn’t a big gap anymore and there hasn’t been for a long time.”

Yet why has a gap existed for so long despite continued and growing investment in England?

There are a number of reasons why the United States has led the way. Most significant was the introduction of Title IX, part of the educational amendments to the Civil Rights Act in 1972. Title IX decreed that government-funded institutions could not discriminate on the basis of sex. It meant that educational institutions had to rebalance their funding of sports programs: continuing heavy support for key men’s sports like football and basketball meant investing the same amount in women’s sports.

That has created a pool of players that is the envy of the world, with scholarships that allow players from the US and around the world to receive a high-quality education and play incredibly competitive soccer. With that has come a culture of competition and expectation, which is in stark contrast to the culture of gratitude that has existed in England. In the US, women have the right to play soccer and to see it properly funded, and they expect it to be.

The US women’s national team and the various professional leagues that have formed over the years have been built on this foundation of talent and support, although, as recent research shows, the system is far from perfect.

Women’s soccer in the US also benefits from not being hidden in the shadows of the men’s game. Soccer is not the number one sport for men, and that has given room for the women’s game to flourish.

Seven players in this camp from England and the coach, Sarina Wiegman, played in the US and experienced what makes it so different.

“I was there for a year, a long time ago, as I am very old,” said Wiegman, with a characteristic wry smile. “It was a life changer. We had a really top sporting atmosphere with a lot of great facilities. I really enjoyed it. That winning mentality really rubbed off. I was 19 years old at the time. I thought: when I go back to the Netherlands, I hope there will come a time when we have the same facilities and the same atmosphere there, because I really loved it. It influenced my development as a person.”

Lucy Bronze, who, like Wiegman, played under renowned University of North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, said: “I think he probably had one of the biggest influences at a big point in my career. When I was younger, in Europe in general, women’s football wasn’t really a big show. While in America, everything was amazing. Going out and playing in college for a year was a dream come true and made me realize that that was really what I wanted to do.

Tobin Heath playing for the USA
Tobin Heath is an example of the US’s world-class talent pool. Photo: David Richard/USA Today Sports

“Playing with the players there who were so successful at such a young age, at 17, had a huge influence on me as a player and as a person. His mindset, learning that at 17, I think that’s what helped me develop my mindset in an England environment.”

There, Bronze faced a young Tobin Heath. “Tobin had broken into the US team and she was the first player I actually played with who had that world-class standard and I was able to go toe-to-toe, literally toe-to-toe, with her in training sessions.” Bronze said. “I realized that I need to work much harder and push myself if I want to compete against those kind of players.”

Women’s teams in Europe and around the world, domestic and international, have had to try to find a way to build a base that rivals the US system that allows players to thrive and creates a group so large that it better you can steal from the top. .

The game plan for the growth of the Football Association in 2017 began to look at the game in England in this way, with the ambition to build the foundation as much as it built and invested in the pinnacle of the sport. Investment has come in and work has been done on growth in all areas, from grassroots and school football to the England way and the fan base.

The success of the Lionesses in the summer European Championship rests on the shoulders of this work. Now England have depth to rival the USA in a way they haven’t been there before and players can play in professional settings from a young age.

The gap is not closed. Until the US is beaten by England in a World Cup, it cannot be said to be closed. Even then, establishing a player pool as deep as that offered by the US university system is still a long way off.

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