There’s absolutely no shame in hopping on the USWNT bandwagon, or even the soccer bandwagon at this point. The US is a fun team to watch, win a whole lot and play beautiful soccer. If this is your first time watching the USWNT, or even soccer in general, here are some things that’ll help you sound like a seasoned supporter.
The World Cup
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is the eighth edition of the tournament. The first tournament was held in 1991 and was called The 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’S Cup. As Caitlin Murray discusses in her book, The National Team, “FIFA worried the women’s event might not be worthy of the ‘World Cup’ label.”
The Americans won the 1991 tournament, comprised of just 12 teams. The US lost to Norway in the semi-finals of the 1995 tournament, coming in third place. The Americans claimed the 1999 trophy in dramatic fashion, with Brandi Chastain famously ripping her shirt off after scoring the game winning penalty in front of a sold out crowd at Giants’ Stadium. The Americans didn’t lift the trophy again until 2015, coming in third place in both 2003 and 2007. The US lost to Japan in penalties in the 2011 final.
The World Cup has grown to 24 teams, organized into six four-team groups. Each team plays three group stage games, one against each of the other teams in their group. Teams are awarded three points for a win and one point for a draw. Since the World Cup has 24 teams instead of 32, like the men’s version, the format is pretty tricky to navigate.
The top two teams out of the four in each group qualify for the knockout stage. After the top two teams from each group, it gets a little messy. The third-place teams in each group have two chances of making it out of the group. The third-place teams are placed in four groups. The third-place team with the most points, or best goal differential if teams are tied on points, out of groups ACD, BEF, CDE and ABF make it out. That means only eight teams out of the 24 are eliminated in the group stage.
As far as soccer in general is concerned, the matches are 90 minutes, divided into 45-minute halves. Group stage games can end in a draw, but not knockout stage matches. If a knockout match is tied after the first 90 minutes, another 30 minutes is added on, called extra time, not overtime. Extra time is also divided into halves, as well, each lasting 15 minutes. The clock counts up, rather than down, and the referee can add time onto halves if there is time wasted due to cards being shown, injuries, or just plain old time wasting antics. Cards are shown by the referee to players as discipline. There are two cards, yellow and red. A yellow card is a warning, and a red is a straight ejection, and the player can’t be replaced meaning the team is down from eleven players to ten. Two yellow cards in the same game equal a red, and yellow cards accumulate throughout the tournament, so if a player is carded enough times, they’re out for the next match.
Next, there’s offsides to talk about. Offsides is complicated and tricky to call. To be onside, a player must either be in their own half or behind the last defender (technically, it’s the second to last defender, counting the goalkeeper) as the ball is played. This means that, when one player passes to another, the receiving player must be onside when the pass is struck, not when the player receives the ball. Sometimes it can come down to inches, where a shoulder or a leg is offsides.
The US Women’s National Team is the top-ranked team in the world, and has never been ranked below second in the world. The USWNT is managed by Jill Ellis. The roster is comprised of 23 players, with a good mix of experience and youth. They are the most talented team at the World Cup and have the most bench depth.
Here’s the complete, 23 player roster: https://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2019/05/meet-the-usas-2019-fifa-womens-world-cup-team
The US played three tune-up games leading up to the World Cup, beating South Africa 3-0, New Zealand 5-0 and Mexico 3-0. The starting eleven against New Zealand will most likely be Jill Ellis’ preferred lineup:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Steppin’ up to the plate for tonight’s match at Busch Stadium: <a href=”https://t.co/4yiVhyyQz6″>https://t.co/4yiVhyyQz6</a>.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/SendOffSeries?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#SendOffSeries</a> X <a href=”https://twitter.com/VolpiFoods?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@VolpiFoods</a> <a href=”https://t.co/nlFUSgyK8Z”>pic.twitter.com/nlFUSgyK8Z</a></p>— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) <a href=”https://twitter.com/USWNT/status/1129164345227792386?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>May 16, 2019</a></blockquote>
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The formation being employed with this system, and what the US will likely play throughout the World Cup, is a 4-3-3. That means that there are four defenders – two center backs, a left back and a right back—three midfielders, and three forwards.
Players you should know:
Megan Rapinoe– It’ll be hard to miss Rapinoe on the pitch with her bright pink hair. She’s the most experienced starter and the captain of the squad. She has a dynamite left foot and is an excellent distributor on the wing. Last year in the National Women’s Soccer League, for the Seattle Reign, she tallied seven goals and six assists in just 17 games. Her creativity on and off the ball will create chances for the US.
Alex Morgan– The center forward for the US is a goal scoring machine. In 162 appearances for the US, she’s scored 101 goals and 40 assists. Her speed and ability to get behind defenses, as well as her on ball skill, combined with her finishing ability makes her an all-around threat. She can score in a myriad of ways and has the keen ability of knowing where to be and when.
Alyssa Naeher– The US’s number one choice in goal, Naeher isn’t tested very frequently due to the prowess of the back line. Despite that, she posted clean sheets (meaning she kept her opponent scoreless) in all three of the US’s send off-series matches. The US’s two previous fixtures in goal, Briana Scurry (1994-2008) and Hope Solo (2008-2016) were among the best keepers in the world. Naeher is the first questionable keeper at a World Cup in USWNT history. She’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s not as sure footed as her predecessors.
Tobin Heath– There was a debate a while ago on who was ‘sauciest’ player. A definition for ‘sauce’ you say?
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Tobin Heath is hands down the sauciest American footballer on the planet, regardless of age or gender. She’ll be perched on the right wing for the US. There aren’t really any words to describe Heath on the pitch than other than “beast.” She has impeccable control with both feet and her body. She’ll terrorize outside backs on the flanks (the outside channel of the field) and run at center backs in the middle. She’s a threat to assist goals and score her own. In 149 appearances for the WNT, she has 29 goals and 37 assists. She only scored a single goal in the 2015 World Cup, but in a much more featured role this time around, she’ll be involved in many more, and possibly the majority of the US’s goals.
Julie Ertz– Formerly known as Julie Johnston, before she married NFL player Zach Ertz, she’s been a fixture on the USWNT since 2013. She broke onto the senior team as a center back and made her mark on offensive corner kicks, scoring on runs to the front post and flicking the crosses past the keeper. She has 18 goals and two assists in 81 appearances for the US. But as her role grew as she matured, manager Jill Ellis moved her from center back to defensive central midfielder, where she is essentially the lynchpin of the offense and the cornerstone of the defense- The US center backs are one of the strongest facets of the WNT. Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper look to be the starting pair in the center of the defense, but Davidson is certainly able to make a difference should her name get called by Jill Ellis. Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper are the more experienced players, with 157 and 39 appearances, respectively, but Davidson has appeared in 20 matches since receiving her first senior team call up in January of 2018. Davidson was named 2018 US Soccer Young Female Player of the Year and is the youngest player on the World Cup roster, at just 20. This tournament is Becky Sauerbrunn’s third World Cup but is the first for both Dahlkemper and Davidson.
Want to learn more about the USWNT? They are, objectively speaking, the best team in professional sports. They have a ‘WNT Dictionary,’ which lets fans in on the players’ inside jokes, and a video series titled, ’23 Stories,’ which tells the stories of every player on the roster. The links to these can be found here:
Soccer/football, because it was invented and grown in Europe, features many terms not used in other American sports. For the sake of the sport, it’ll only be referred to football – or footy for short — from here on out.
Pitch- football isn’t played on a field, it’s played on a pitch. Similar to baseball, there are parts of the pitch that are the same in every pitch, but the overall size of the pitch can differ from stadium to stadium. According to the 2015/2016 FIFA rules handbook, for international matches, the length of the pitch is at a minimum 110 yards and a maximum of 120 yards. The width must be a minimum of 70 yards and a maximum of 80 yards. The parts of the pitch that are universal are the 18 yard boxes on either side of the pitch and the six yard boxes within the 18 yard boxes.
Penalty Area- The 18 yard boxes are known as the penalty area, because if a team commits a foul inside their own 18 yard box, the other team is given a penalty. The 18 yard boxes are also the only areas in which goalkeepers are able to use their hands. The box extends 18 yards from the inside of each goalpost, and then extend 18 yards out onto the pitch.
Touch lines- The sidelines in football are referred to as touch lines, and balls that go out of play are said to have gone, ‘into touch.’ Balls played into touch are throw ins for the opposing team.
Sides- Teams can be referred to as sides, rather than teams. For example, rather than saying, “the US team is playing good football,” one could say, “This US side is playing good football.” This is because there are many different sides for every football team. The US has a Men’s National Team, obviously a Women’s National Team, and a men’s and women’s Under-23, Under-20, Under-19, Under-18, Under-17 sides, and boys and girls Under-16 and Under-15 teams. Club football — compared to international football, which is being referred to — is the same way. So, using ‘side,’ is a much more specifying term than saying, ‘team.’
Finisher– this term is used to identify the best technical goal scorers on a side. Finishers are usually forwards, strikers or attacking midfielders.
Free Kick- Free kicks are given after a player fouls an opponent outside their defensive penalty area. Direct free kicks, the majority of free kicks given, can be scored directly from the free kick, given the name ‘direct.’
Penalties– Also referred to as ‘spot Kicks,’ or simply ‘pens,’ these are the football equivalent of free throws. They are 1-on-1 direct free kicks, between just the kick taker and the ‘keeper. Pens are taken from the penalty spot, thus ‘spot kicks,’ which is 12 yards from goal, directly between the goalposts. Every player on the pitch besides the kick taker must be outside the penalty area, and the semicircle at the top of the area, until the kick is taken. Pens are awarded if a player is fouled in their opponent’s penalty area, or if a team commits a handball in their area.
50/50 Balls– These are balls played in the air of which a player from both teams has an equal chance at winning the ball for their team.
Through Ball- A ball played through the opponents’ back line to another player making a run. Through balls are more efficient than crosses but harder to play.
Crosses- An aerial ball played into the box from the flank. The object of this is for a player to get a head on the cross and redirect it onto the frame of the goal.
Handballs- One of the most basic rules of footy, field players (meaning non-goalkeepers) are restricted from using their hands. A handball is called if the ball touches a field player’s arm, shoulder down, if the player’s arm is in an unnatural position. The handball rule is found under the umbrella of direct free kicks, stating that a direct free kick is given is a player, “handles the ball deliberately,” but that term is very vague and the subject of much debate.
VAR- A brand new aspect of football is video review. In addition to the referee and assistant referees (ARs), FIFA has created the position of Video Assistant Referee. The VAR, or in some instances multiple VARs, watch the match on several monitors and keep an eye on things that the referee can’t see. Their main job is to review close calls, such as handballs or offsides. All goals scored in the World Cup are reviewed by the VAR. If a call is reversed, the referee makes a rectangle gesture with their hands, as to signal a tv monitor, and then gestures the correct call. In subjective calls, such as handballs or whether or not a foul deserves a card, the referee heads to a monitor of their own in the RRA, the referee review area. The main areas that FIFA states are subject to review are goals, penalties, whether or not a card should be issued, or to identify which player committed the foul called.
Box-to-Box- This refers to a central midfielder whose zone in which they’re supposed to play ranges from their defensive box to their attacking box. These players are central midfielders. In football, there are a plethora of terms used to define the same position, so the positions are numbered. The box-to-box midfielder is the number ten. Traditionally – and similar to how baseball players’ numbers used to identify their place in the batting lineup – these numbers corresponded to the numbers on players’ backs. However, this isn’t the case anymore, so the number ten can be any number, although the players are restricted to numbers 1-23 in international tournaments.
Brace- a second goal scored by a player in a match.
Hat Trick- a third goal scored by a player in a match.
Additional Time- The clock doesn’t stop in football. It counts up continuously from 0:00 to 45:00 in the first half and from 45:00 to 90:00 in the second half. But while there aren’t many stoppages of play in footy, when there is a stoppage of play, the time wasted is added on at the end of the half by the fourth referee. Added time isn’t mandated but can range to upwards of 7 minutes, based on how chippy the match is. Added time is generally 2-3 minutes. This is also referred to as injury time or stoppage time. It’s added to both halves.
Extra Time– It’s not overtime in footy, it’s extra time. It’s comprised of two 15-minute halves and can only be played when a knockout stage is tied after regulation. There is no extra time in group stage matches.
Golazo– A golazo is such a beautiful goal that it’s more than a goal: it’s a golazo.
Howler/Ripper/Screamer/Rockets- Words don’t do these terms justice, only videos can:
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This is an absolute howler from USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan, scored for her club team Portland Thorns FC (The greatest women’s club side ever) against rivals Seattle Reign FC. Rose City ‘Til I Die!
The Beautiful Game- Football is called The Beautiful Game for a reason—it’s the greatest sport in the world.
Hopefully this has been a good use of 2700 words and will help people unfamiliar with the sport and the USWNT get acquainted with this most magnificent game. Have fun watching the World Cup! The US play their first match on Tuesday, June 11th at noon Pacific time. But don’t just watch the US, watch as much football as you can because it’s the greatest game in the world. Have I mentioned that, yet?
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