The countdown to the World Cup is on and every match, training session or, hell, day, takes on greater importance as the United States chases a fourth world title. Next up in the preparation for that pursuit is the SheBelieves Cup, which is the stiffest test the Americans will get before they head to France, and arguably the best look at the team we will get before they put their title on the line.
This marks the fourth edition of the SheBelieves Cup, and for the first time there is a change in the field. The tournament that, in its previous three iterations, was made up of the U.S., England, France and Germany, will feature the defending world champions and the Lionesses again, but joining them will be Japan and Brazil this time around.
Is that significant?
On its face, no. The SheBelieves Cup was created primarily to provide the U.S. with tough tests in the gap between World Cups and to help elevate the profile of women’s soccer. Swapping out a couple teams, especially in a World Cup year, doesn’t really change that.
However, that the tournament can lose the No. 2 and 3 ranked teams in the world for teams ranked 8th and 10th while still providing the U.S. with a very stern test is notable.
Japan won the World Cup in 2011 and was the runner-up four years ago, but a gap has grown developed between them and the best teams in the world. Brazil, led by Marta, eliminated the U.S. from the World Cup 12 years ago and made the semifinals at the Olympics in 2016, but they’re just barely hanging onto a top 10 rankings, and for good reason. Other teams have passed them up.
It wasn’t too long ago that Japan and Brazil would be looked at as one of the best teams in the world, worthy of a top five or top three ranking, but they’re not anymore, and it’s hardly their doing. The rise of women’s soccer worldwide has seen more teams make giant leaps forward, ahead of the Japans and Brazils. Now there is a dangerous Netherlands squad, Canada’s deepest team ever and Australia, led by the world’s best player Sam Kerr. Toss in Germany and France, still world powers, and England, who we will see at the SheBelieves Cup is every bit deserving of their No. 4 world ranking, and there have never been more great teams in the sport.
When the U.S. goes to France this summer, they will do so in chase of another World Cup title, but doing so will require they be better than they have ever been before. The Americans may be the best team in the history of the sport, but nothing they have shown before will be good enough to be crowned world champions on July 7. Women’s soccer has gotten so good, and so deep, that the bar has been raised higher than it ever has before.
That is what the U.S. faces this summer.
And before they can get there, they have the SheBelieves Cup – their biggest test before France and one of their last chances to raise their level for the World Cup, when they will have to be better than they’ve ever been. Game on.