Why Is USWNT So Far Ahead of Their Male Counterparts?

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The United States Women’s National Team are the crème de la crème of women’s soccer, placing no lower than third in all seven World Cups and winning the tournament three times. They are gunning for their eighth straight World Cup appearance next year, and with it, the chance to defend the championship they won in 2015 in Canada. The team currently sits top of the FIFA Women’s World Rankings as well, where they have been ranked at either first or second since 2003.

In contrast, the USWNT’s counterparts, the United States Men’s National Team, are conspicuously absent at this year’s World Cup in Russia. The USMNT failed to qualify for the quadrennial showcase after a sorry loss to Trinidad and Tobago in their final Hexagonal World Cup qualifier. As a result, the US missed their 11th World Cup overall and first since 1986.

The USMNT’s shock setback comes hot on the heels of a strong showing in the 2014 World Cup, where The Stars and Stripes, then managed by Germany’s Jürgen Klinsmann, managed to get into the round of 16, only to fall to Belgium, 2–1. Interestingly, Belgium have built considerable momentum off of their impressive performances in Brazil, looking mighty impressive in Russia. The first European side to qualify for the World Cup per Ladbrokes’s in-depth preview, Belgium went blemish-free in the qualifiers, scoring an astonishing 43 goals in the process. In contrast, USMNT have regressed since that strong showing four years ago, with things coming to a head against Trinidad and Tobago.

Given the struggles of the men’s team, it’s only natural to wonder: Why is the USWNT so far ahead of their male counterparts?

Talent, clearly, is the main difference. The women’s team have some of the game’s best players, including Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, and Becky Sauerbrunn, who can legitimately be considered among the finest on the planet. In years past, the team had Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and Brandi Chastain. In short, the USWNT talent train is chugging along, routinely churning out elite soccer players. The NWSL, one of the most competitive women’s league in the world, is actually so full of world-class talent that some believe if North Carolina played in the next World Cup they would be one of the favorites to win.

The USMNT, on the other hand, have a dearth of world-class talent, especially now. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey are towards the end of 30 and pretty much past their prime, while Christian Pulisic, the one player on the men’s team with legit A-level talent is still scratching the surface of his immense potential.

This talent disparity has caused another problem for the USMNT: they are caught between generations. Howard and Dempsey are 39 and 35, respectively, while squad regulars DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Orozco, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Ream are in their early 30s. The aforementioned Pulisic, meanwhile, is only 19 and is already burdened with being the best player the USMNT has by a mile. This means that the team is rolling with a mix of past-their-prime veterans and unproven youngsters with relatively no international experience. The USWNT, on the other hand, have no such problems, as they continuously parade talent-rich lineups fortified by veterans, in-their-prime superstars, and up-and-comers ready to make their mark on the sport. This means that every women’s team that the USWNT rolls out in international tournaments is well balanced, and neither too young to be overwhelmed by the bright lights of international play nor too old to get left behind.

The USWNT have also benefited from a stable, not to mention very capable, coaching staff. The fact that Jill Ellis and her assistants have steered clear from controversy certainly helps, too, as the players have been able to focus solely on football. Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure with the USMNT, in contrast, was marred by controversial decisions that in many ways led to the German losing the confidence of the locker room. His replacement, Bruce Arena, was no better, with Yahoo! Sports sportswriter Nick Mendola ruing Arena’s clear preference for his favorite MLS players.

It helps, too, that the team has consistently won over a long period, which has allowed the USWNT to build a winning culture among a talented pool of players. A high standard has been set and this positive mentality has been passed down from team to team and is very prominent in the current USWNT.

Now, the women’s World Cup is still a year away, and with the men’s team not playing in the current tournament, the pressure is on for the USWNT to prevent a World Cup double whammy for the red, white, and blue. But given the sustained excellence of the USWNT, a trip to France in 2019 seems very likely, as does the chances of bringing the World Cup trophy home for the fourth time.

Image courtesy of Corri Goates