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ICC Women’s Tournament: Handicapping the field

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The NC Courage will face off against three European powerhouses

Missing six starters, how will the Courage stack up against some of the best teams in women’s soccer?
Rob Gray/isiphotos.com

The International Champions Cup (ICC), known for pitting some of the best men’s clubs from around the world against one another, has set up a four-match mini-tournament between four of the best women’s soccer clubs. The tournament will take place in Miami with two games played on July 26th and two played on July 29th, and the North Carolina Courage will be the only non-European squad in attendance. This first version of the tournament is a soft opening of sorts, with future tournaments expected to have eight or more teams from a more diverse group of leagues involved, but for now only the Division 1 Féminine (D1F - France), FA Women’s Super League (WSL - England), and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL - USA) will be represented.

The timing of the tournament is not ideal for any team. The European sides have not yet started their respective seasons and may be lacking in fitness and cohesion. For the Courage, the tournament falls during the Tournament of Nations and six of their players will be missing. Nonetheless, this should be an enjoyable exhibition. Here is a brief look at each of the four participating teams. As a brief note, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City played an exhibition match in Portland on July 24th. That match was won 1-0 by Man City.

Olympique Lyon Women - The clear favorites

No women’s team on earth is more dominant than OL Women. Lyon has won the D1F each of the last 12 seasons, dating back to 2006. They have the highest paid roster in women’s club soccer, and their roster contains many of the best players from around Europe. Lyon is also the reigning UEFA Women’s Champions League winner. They beat Wolfsburg 4 - 1 for their third-straight championship back on May 24th. Needless to say, Lyon is the prohibitive favorite in this tournament as well.

It’s impossible to go through an entire list of notable players because virtually every player on this squad is an important starter for their respective national team. Seven of the players are consistent starters on the France Women’s National Team, including the captain (Amandine Henry), vice-captain (Eugénie Le Sommer), and starting goalkeeper (Sarah Bouhaddi). The team also boasts three players from the Germany WNT, although the best of those, Dzsenifer Marozsán, is currently injured, Ada Hegerberg from Norway, Shanice van de Sanden from the reigning UEFA 2017 Women’s Euro champion the Netherlands, Kadeisha Buchanan of Canada, and Lucy Bronze from England. All of those players are some of the very best in the world at their respective positions. The entire starting lineup for Lyon is a who’s who of women’s soccer icons, and the odds of them losing this tournament is extremely low.

Paris Saint-Germain Women - The other French team

With absolutely no disrespect to PSG, they don’t hold a candle to Lyon. The team boasts an astoundingly diverse roster, including some of the best players from eleven different countries, but they are more of the “consistent starter” variety than the “international superstar” variety. While Lyon went 21W-1D-0L with a +99 goal differential in the D1F, PSG came second on the table with 18W-2D-2L and a +46 goal differential. Obviously still extraordinarily impressive, but a little off-caliber by comparison.

PSG is probably the third-best team in the tournament, but they have the opportunity to make the final since they are paired up with the NC Courage in their first match. Some of the best players on PSG include Andrine Hegerberg, sister of Lyon’s Ada, Formiga and Erika from Brazil, Ashley Lawrence from Canada, and Marie-Laure Delie and Eve Perisset from France. Like Lyon, it’s unreasonable to list every outstanding player on the PSG squad. As stated earlier, PSG lost 1-0 in their warm-up match against Manchester City, and that falls right in line with expectations for this tournament. PSG is an excellent side, but they are closer to a top-8 women’s team in the world than a serious competitor for #1.

Manchester City Women - The representative from England

Manchester City is one of the best teams in the FA WSL in England. They came second in the league table during the 2017/18 season behind Chelsea with a record of 12W-2D-4L. That record might look less impressive than the one PSG posted, but the WSL is considerably more equal than D1F. In France, there are about three competitive teams while in England there are closer to six. Man City made it all the way to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinals, and they were knocked out by Lyon with an aggregate score of 0-1. They drew 0-0 in the home leg and lost 1-0 in the away leg, so it is clear that this is a team capable of keeping up with the best women’s side in the world. Man City has the unenviable task of playing OL in the first match of the tournament, so they might get bumped down into the third-place game despite being the second best team in the tournament.

Teams in the WSL are much heavier on English players than teams at the top of the D1F, and for this reason, they don’t have quite the same star-studded lineup ability that Lyon, for example, boasts. Fourteen players on the squad hail from England, including starting goalkeeper for the England WNT, Karen Bardsley, and captain Steph Houghton. In all, eleven players on Man City are regular call-ups for the England WNT. While they don’t have quite the international star power of Lyon, they do have German forward Pauline Bremer, Danish forward Nadia Nadim, and Belgian forward Tessa Wullaert. When considering the home-grown defensive talent from England and the attacking prowess from their internationals, it is no wonder that this team is one of the best in the world, and they actually had the best goal differential (+34) in the WSL last season despite coming second on the league table. Chelsea, the team above Man City in the WSL, was also knocked out in the semifinals of the Women’s Champions League. The opening match between Lyon and Manchester City is likely to be the pinnacle match of the tournament despite happening during the first round of matches.

North Carolina Courage - A great team in a difficult spot

You might have noticed that I am ranking our NC Courage last amongst teams in this tournament. The reason for that is simple, the Courage will be missing six of their best players for the Tournament of Nations. In a different timeline where the Courage were at full strength they would probably come in right at the Manchester City level, but any time you take away six of a team’s best players they are going to struggle. Defenders Abby Dahlkemper and Merritt Mathias, midfielders McCall Zerboni and Sam Mewis, and forward Crystal Dunn are all representing the United States this week while Debinha is playing for Brazil. That leaves a lineup that is still very good but definitely has some depth problems. Jaelene Hinkle did not make the final Tournament of Nations roster, and she will be available for the Courage for this tournament.

Despite the missing players, North Carolina does have an outside chance of making the final match or even winning the tournament. Americans play an extremely physical and aggressive brand of soccer that is unfamiliar to many European sides. The Courage take that style and add constant pressure that wears teams down and a suffocating defense. So what does that mean for the tournament? While the Courage are in peak form and fitness, all of the European players are participating in this tournament before their respective leagues get started. None of the other sides have been playing together week-in and week-out for the last five months and none of them have been playing in heat and humidity like they will face in Miami tomorrow. That difference in fitness leaves a sliver of hope for the depleted Courage. North Carolina has one of the best defenses in women’s soccer even missing two of their starters, and if Lynn Williams can find her shooting form we might just steal a win in one of the two matches.

How to watch (Spoilers, you can’t)

So now you’re pumped and you want to watch four of the best teams in the world face off against one another; well you can’t. The ICC currently only has a broadcast for the final match of the tournament. That broadcast will take place at 9:15 pm ET on ESPN 2, and it will show the winners of the first two matches facing off. There has been some limited outcry about the lack of broadcasting, especially since initial projections seemed to have all games available in some format, but there will likely be some live-tweeting or live-blogging available. If we put something up I will make sure to edit this and tell you how to find it. Otherwise, you’ll just have to imagine the game...which really sucks.

Predictions

You might hate this, but here it is. Hopefully I’m overestimating the Europeans.

Match Day 1

July 26 (6:15 pm): North Carolina Courage 1 - 2 Paris Saint-Germain

July 26 (9:00 pm): Olympique Lyonnais 3 - 1 Manchester City

Third-Place Match

July 29 (6:15 pm): Manchester City 3 - 0 North Carolina Courage

Final

July 29 (9:00 pm): Olympique Lyonnais 4 - 0 Paris Saint-Germain