USWNT can cement Women’s World Cup legacy with three-peat

You try.

You try to come up with a comparison, with some kind of historical parallel here.

Something that can put into context the looming accomplishments of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

You try and it is useless, a hopeless exercise, because this sort of thing does not happen — not in international sports, not in events like the World Cup.

We are used to dynasties in sports.

But the Yankees of the ’50s, the Celtics of the ’60s and the Canadiens of the ’70s did not have to center themselves around a quadrennial tournament.

We are used to great Olympians and World Cup soccer teams.

But Michael Phelps did not change the way the country looks at swimming, and no nation has ever won a World Cup three straight times.

So then that brings us to this group, staring down the barrel of unprecedented achievement having already built an unshakable cultural cachet.

Alex Morgan #13 of the United States dribbles during USWNT Training
Alex Morgan is one of the USWNT veterans going for a third straight World Cup title.
Getty Images for USSF

The United States comes into this World Cup, which starts for them on Friday night in Auckland, New Zealand, as a dynasty staring at the end of a road.

Carli Lloyd, the hero of the 2015 final, will be on a Fox Sports set.

Megan Rapinoe, the star of the 2019 run, announced her imminent retirement before the team jetted off to Auckland and will be used in a bench role.

Becky Sauerbrunn, the team’s captain, will be missing the tournament with a foot injury.

Julie Ertz, whose ability unlocked everything when the team was at its peak, has played just four 90-minute matches since returning from a 20-month injury and pregnancy layoff in April.

Thanks in part to the global growth of the women’s game — which this team does have something to do with — the field in this tournament has more depth than four years ago, when the U.S. beat Thailand 13-0 in the group stage.

This time around, the Americans’ Group E features Vietnam, Portugal and the Netherlands, with a rematch of the 2019 final against the Dutch as the second game the U.S. will play.

That could make for a nervy match against the Portuguese should it go wrong.

Waiting in the knockout rounds could be the likes of England, which won the European title last summer; Sweden, which beat the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics; or Germany, which ranks second in the world and is the last nation to go for a three-peat at the Women’s World Cup, losing to Japan in the 2011 Round of 16.

The U.S. is favored.

But not so comfortably.

Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States takes a shot during USWNT Training
The 2023 World Cup will be Megan Rapinoe’s final.
Getty Images for USSF

“The 7-0 or 8-0 games are gone,” coach Vlatko Andonovski told reporters after the USWNT beat Wales 2-0 in a friendly July 9. “And we can see that. And what we are preparing ourselves for is we don’t come into a game like that with the mentality, ‘Oh, it’s going to be easy.’ No game is going to be easy.

“Right now, we know Vietnam is not going to be easy.”

On top of the opposition being improved, there are also real questions surrounding the USWNT — about who fits where within Andonovski’s system, about how the Americans will attack and with whom at the front, about a nagging Rose Lavelle injury, about a defense missing its beating heart in Sauerbrunn.

“Obviously the mentality is that we expect to win there,” co-captain Alex Morgan told reporters. “But it’s going to be extremely difficult.”

That 2011 Germany-Japan game, by the way, marks the last time a World Cup team, male or female, tried to defend back-to-back titles.

Rose Lavelle #16 of the United States stands on the field during USWNT Training
Rose Lavelle’s knee will be a focus during the tournament.
Getty Images for USSF

None have ever won a game in the knockout stage.

Winning back-to-back World Cups already puts the U.S. in impossible company.

Germany in 2003 and 2007 is the only other country to do so on the women’s side; Italy (1934 and ’38) and Brazil (1958 and ’62) are the only two to achieve it on the men’s side.

To win three world championships in a row would be unprecedented and inimitable, and that is without mentioning the cultural and political impact left by a team that sued its federation and got equal pay in return.

The team the USWNT brings to New Zealand, though, is far from the swashbuckling juggernaut that set the world alight in France.

The core pieces of the locker room are older, but the on-field burden will largely be on the 14 World Cup debutants.

Paradoxically, the ethos is of a team young enough to not know what to expect, but familiar enough that its history can set the expectation.

The chance to make more beckons.

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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