While a lot has been dissected by analysts about what went wrong for the United States Women’s National Team following its earliest ever exit at a World Cup, it should be noted that the sky isn’t completely falling.
There are good young players to build around on the national squad for the future, and youth soccer is still a giant force in the United States for girls participation-wise.
The biggest professional sports leagues for women in the United States are in basketball and soccer, which gives young girls another motivation to get into soccer.
It’s not the case for their male counterparts, with football, basketball, baseball and hockey being the four major sports in the U.S. and billion-dollar enterprises.
However, there are two main alarm bells that are sounding for the future of the USWNT and its hopes of returning to the top.
One of those causes of concern is something that the U.S. has control of rectifying. The other it has no control of at all, and simply needs to monitor and stay ahead of.
1. There are cracks in the U.S. developmental system
The biggest reason the U.S. became the world’s premier women’s soccer power in the first place was because it offered something no other country in the world did, which was a place for youth players to play and develop.
The advent of Title IX in 1972 created college programs and other opportunities for girls, and thus youth programs flourished. Fields and other training facilities were abundant all across the country, and girls from other parts of the world flocked to the U.S. because there weren’t such opportunities in their homelands.
But last month, Yahoo did a rather scathing report about how that U.S. youth feeder system is frayed at the moment.
This article provides all the full details, but to make a long story as short as possible, the creation and then eventual elimination of developmental academies for girls fractured clubs and the youth development ecosystem altogether.
It either has left girls all over the country without places to further develop, or created a lot of arguments about how to pick up the pieces and the best ways to restore or enhance the developmental system.
It has caused so much friction among youth coaches and programs that one coach in the article dubbed it a “civil war.”
Meanwhile, that’s a stark contrast to alarm bell No. 2 going forward for the USWNT.
2. European countries are finally tapping into their unlimited potential
Jill Ellis is a revered former coach of the USWNT, having presided over the 2015 and 2019 that won World Cups (and many wish she was still the coach of this year’s squad).
But during the run to the 2019 title in France, Ellis said something that might have gone unnoticed at the time, but looks prophetic now and might look even more so in the coming years.
Before a round of 16 game against Spain, Ellis said that it was only a “matter of time” before the sleeping giant that was Europe was awoken from a women’s soccer perspective.
After decades of ignoring women’s soccer, Europe has finally seen the light.
Countries such as France, Spain, England and the Netherlands are pouring more and more dollars into youth development programs (Germany has long been a power, having won two titles). Sponsors are getting on board for professional leagues. Ratings and attendance are through the roof, including when Wembley Stadium in London sold out for a friendly between England and the U.S. last year.
For the first time in many European countries, there’s a united and committed front about women’s soccer.
They are not just catching up to the United States, but possibly running past.
Even smaller European countries such as Portugal, Ireland and Switzerland have made quantum leaps on the world stage.
Despite that, the USWNT should still be among the world’s best and a contender at each World Cup going forward, likely more so than the men’s national team.
But claiming its spot as the dominant country and the best in the world going forward will be harder than ever for the Americans, especially if the youth development system isn’t fixed and European countries continues to transform.