This weekend marks the first post-World-Cup FIFA window, and the North Carolina Courage are going to be well represented around the globe. Seven Courage players will participate in international games this weekend, and those games will have varying levels of importance. The USWNT, fresh off of their fourth World Cup victory, continue their Victory Tour. Those games are purely for show and are designed for fans and players to be mutually appreciative of one another. Brazil will play a game against Argentina, but it’s just a friendly and the match doesn’t hold any particular value for either team. Argentina over performed at the World Cup, and it’s nice to see that they are set to play more games this cycle. The only game with true importance is Ireland’s qualifying match for the 2021 UEFA Women’s Euro. Ireland finished fourth in their qualifying group in 2017, but a strong qualifying campaign for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which they ultimately missed out on, has the team confident that they can succeed this time around.
Injuries bring new faces to the Victory Tour
The USWNT’s Victory Tour is largely designed around the players who just won the World Cup in France playing for their home fans. The experience is fun and light-hearted. Subs will be used often, and every player from the World Cup team should see good playing time. Well, they would see good playing time if they weren’t injured.
The Courage have four players on the USWNT roster that won the World Cup. You probably know who they are, but if you don’t; defender Abby Dahlkemper, defender Crystal Dunn, midfielder Samantha Mewis, and forward Jessica McDonald all contributed to the history-making win in France. Mewis, Dahlkemper, and Dunn all started in the final against the Netherlands, while McDonald played in the group stage match against Chile. After the 1-0 win over Reign FC last weekend, Paul Riley mentioned that he had talked to USWNT head coach Jill Ellis about her usage of McDonald during these Victory Tour games. His goal is to ensure that she will be played responsibly to avoid any possible injury as the National Women’s Soccer League enters the final stretch of its season.
While the Courage players are quite healthy, there has been a rash of injuries amongst USWNT players for other teams. Forwards Alex Morgan (concussion), Megan Rapinoe (achilles), and Mallory Pugh (hip) are all out of action. Midfielder Rose Lavelle is dealing with a head injury that has been classified as a bruise, broken ear bone, or concussion. Defender Kelley O’Hara is out with a foot injury after making it through the World Cup without injury. With so many players out, the United States was heading into the victory tour with just 15 game-ready field players, and even some of those players are nursing knocks. For instance, midfielder Allie Long has been working through an ankle injury since the World Cup.
Those absences and the desire to keep players healthy for their club teams (I know, that’s a ridiculous thought, but we can say it in hopes that it becomes true) has opened the window to new players at a time that is usually reserved for the old guard. The lack of outside backs on the squad allowed Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Short, who was one of the last players cut from the World Cup roster, to join the team in place of Kelley O’Hara. She is a long-standing fixture of the team and her call up has been viewed as both worthy and disrespectful from various viewpoints. I’m sure Short would rather be on the team than sitting at home watching on TV.
The other new addition is dear to the hearts of all Courage fans. Forward Kristen Hamilton, who played her butt off during the World Cup break, is the lone player to earn a new spot on the team. Her hat trick against the Orlando Pride and four-goal game against the Houston Dash put her on the USWNT map, and now she will get a few training sessions with her country. I feel quite confident that she will also get a few substitute minutes with the team, because forward has been absolutely decimated by injuries. The biggest storyline coming from these games will be the play of Kristen Hamilton...at least to my biased eyes.
Brazil hopes to keep the fans engaged
TV ratings and viewers were widely touted by FIFA during the 2019 Women’s World Cup. What you might not have noticed was that Brazil was always one of the highest rated and largest increase numbers on those graphics. 19.9 million Brazilian fans tuned in for the final of the World Cup between the United States and the Netherlands. That is a crazy high number for a neutral territory, and represented approximately 42% of the total TV viewers at the time in the country. Brazil was captivated by the women’s football that was being played.
Today, August 29th, Brazil will host neighboring Argentina in São Paulo, Brazil. Argentina vastly outplayed their ranking at the World Cup, so it’s great to see their federation scheduling friendly matches at the first possible FIFA-sanctioned opportunity. The most memorable moment from Brazil’s World Cup experience, just after they lost to host country France in extra time, was Marta’s speech about the future of women’s soccer in Brazil.
Legendary player, amazing speech, hate to see the World Cup end for Marta and Brazil but this display of passion and perspective was as satisfying to watch as any golazo:— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) June 23, 2019
It certainly seems like North Carolina midfielder Debinha took those words to heart. She came back from the World Cup with a fire that she had never shown before, and she projects to be a huge part of Brazil’s identity moving forward. Debinha has become a mixture of Brazilian flair and American physicality, and it seems like she is on the verge of becoming a superstar.
Ireland looks to take the next step
Europe has an inherent advantage over the rest of the world. Most countries are generally wealthy from a global perspective, and they have an abundance of federation-sponsored major tournaments for both club and country. Ireland is a quality team that would probably make the World Cup in every confederation except for the one that they currently play in. Heck, they haven’t even been able to qualify for the European international tournament.
This year might just be different, though. Ireland was drawn into Group I with Germany, Ukraine, Greece, and Montenegro. Germany and Ukraine are both ranked above Ireland in Europe, but there’s not a big difference the two countries. Germany is, of course, one of the best teams in the federation and is projected to easily win the group. As long as Ireland can come second in the group, they will either immediately qualify if they are one of the three best second place teams or they will be drawn into a playoff derby if they are one of the other six second place teams.
TOC: Denise is one of the best players the country has ever produced. She is brilliant week in and week out in America, and Tyler will really make an impact for us.#COYGIG #IRLWNT pic.twitter.com/cxn6V2mRNZ— FAIreland ⚽️ (@FAIreland) August 24, 2019
The Courage are sending midfielder Denise O’Sullivan to Dublin for their first qualifying match against Montenegro on September 3rd. O’Sullivan has been such a dominant presence in the midfield for North Carolina that she has displaced fan-favorite McCall Zerboni in the starting roster. Zerboni was one of the last two players cut from the USWNT’s World Cup squad, so her being bumped out of the starting lineup by O’Sullivan is a huge tribute to the play of the Irishwoman. Ireland has a brand new coach, so it’s hard to know quite how O’Sullivan will be used. If she is given the freedom to dominate the midfield, Ireland will stand a real chance of making the final tournament.
USWNT vs Portugal: 7:00 p.m. ET Thursday, August 29th @ Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
USWNT vs Portugal: 8:00 p.m. ET Tuesday, September 3rd @ Allianz Field, Minneapolis, MN
Ireland vs Montenegro: 12:00 p.m. ET Tuesday, September 3rd @ Dublin, Ireland