Gold Cup gives USWNT first chance at World Cup redemption | United States women’s soccer team

TThe coming year will be pivotal for a beleaguered American team. While last summer’s World Cup disappointment is still fresh, a team in transition has its sights set on redemption, and the Olympic Games in France (just five months away) are the chosen step.

The redemption begins now, with the first Concacaf W Gold Cup. 23 players are gathered in California to play their first matches of 2024, accompanied by a litany of new names and under the care of an interim coach. Over the course of three weeks (if they advance to the final), the United States will test their mettle against Concacaf’s top teams (including reigning gold medalists Canada) and challengers from Conmebol, who sent four teams to the inaugural event (Brazil). , Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay).

Interim boss Twila Kilgore, who will remain with the team as assistant to Emma Hayes once the decorated Chelsea manager arrives in the United States in May, plans to use the Gold Cup as her staging ground. Trying out for an Olympic race, improving their style of play and focusing on “little wrinkles”:

“We know that in major tournaments two things really stand out: who you really are and how your preparation has been… A third thing would just be how you deal with it emotionally. When we come to the Olympics, we know we want the good things to come out. This is a great opportunity to make small course corrections.

Even if the rising expectations remain where they’ve always been for this USWNT (winning the entire tournament), the coming weeks will be a vital testing ground, with more important lessons to be learned than just winning.

Perhaps more importantly, Kilgore worked remotely with Hayes to select a roster filled with emerging talent. Only 11 of the camp’s 23 players were part of last year’s World Cup squad. Only eight of them were part of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad. Keen observers may notice that Alex Morgan, while available, is not among them.

There are some key veterans remaining – Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn aren’t going anywhere just yet – but Emma Hayes has worked with Kilgore to prioritize trying new names in this Gold Cup. Seven of the 23 arrive with fewer than 10 selections. Five of them debuted late last year. These players have the chance to gain experience, show what they can do and make their case for their place on the 18-man Olympic team. San Diego Wave’s Jaedyn Shaw and Chelsea’s Mia Fishel will be some of those names to watch.

Emma Hayes’ handprint can also be felt elsewhere. The USWNT could evolve beyond its tried-and-true 4-3-3, or perhaps more easily transition between and within matches, as Emma Hayes is known to do .

Beyond the analysis of new players and the evolution of the team identity, the Gold Cup constitutes an exceptional test for the Olympic format. Like the Olympics, teams play up to six matches with two days of rest between each test in the group stage.

Kilgore: “This tournament is a great opportunity for us. Not all federations will have the opportunity to participate in a long-lasting tournament leading to the Olympic Games and this tournament reflects the Olympic cadence…”

How players handle the tournament format, short turnaround times, adjusting to meet the different tests posed by each team or handling considerations such as goal differential or accumulation of cautions could have an impact on Olympic selections: “…Part of Olympic selection is knowing how players will perform and what their behaviors are. the response will be under certain stressors.

The three W Gold Cup groups of four will face each other once in the group stage. The Round of 16 will then seed the seeded teams based on their group stage performance (based on total points first, with several tiebreakers to follow). The first two teams in each group progress alongside the two best third-placed teams. The number one seed meets the number eight seed in the quarterfinals, the number two seed meets the number seven seed, and so on.

While Group C (Canada, Costa Rica, Paraguay, El Salvador) opens its group stage in Texas, Group B (Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Puerto Rico) begins in San Diego. And Group A (United States, Mexico, Argentina, Dominican Republic) kicks off in Carson, California. The round of 16 all takes place in California (where the USWNT holds an all-time record of 49 wins, four draws and no losses).

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Beyond their unbeaten streak in California, the United States also holds a dominant record in Concacaf. This is the first W Gold Cup – expanding competitive opportunities for growth in the region – but it is far from the first Concacaf competition for women. Of the 15 Concacaf championships the United States has participated in, it has won 14.

But as recent years have shown us, the competitive landscape is changing rapidly on a global scale. Especially with Conmebol participating, several teams in the 2024 W Gold Cup could battle to give the United States its first ever loss in California. Canada, Brazil and Colombia (who also qualified for the 2024 Olympics) are immediately the most likely contenders.

But emerging programs like Mexico (which plays the U.S. third in Group A and is coming off an undefeated year) could also pose challenges. This team hopes to face them. Arsenal right-back Emily Fox, on growth in the area:

“…From my experience with the national team, the growth of the Caribbean teams and the Latin American teams has been enormous…women’s football in general is gaining momentum. There’s more funding, more resources, and I think a lot more people are watching. In general, I think overall everyone is getting better and better. What we like to see. And I think you saw it at the Euros, during the Concacaf (Olympic) qualifiers for us, and then also at the World Cup last year. So I think for us going into the Gold Cup, we know every game is going to be a challenge. »

If the United States suffers a loss in the group stage or falls short early in the Round of 16, how it learns and recovers will be key to this learning opportunity. Emma Hayes will watch from afar and use the lessons of the coming weeks to refine her quest for redemption this summer.

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