The Women’s International Champions Cup is an odd tournament. It’s the women’s version of an even odder men’s tournament where top teams travel to random corners of the globe to play cash-grab friendlies in front of crowds that vary in size and enthusiasm. The women’s version, which so far has been played in a single location between four teams, is somewhat less cynical, if only a little more tournament-like: Wednesday will see Barcelona play Olympique Lyonnais, and the Houston Dash play the host Portland Thorns, in the “semifinals,” with the winners and losers of both games playing for “first” and “third” place, respectively, on Saturday.
For fans, it’s a unique opportunity to see how teams who play very different styles stack up against each other. For teams, it’s a little harder to see the allure. The European teams have flown an awfully long distance to play two meaningless games; the National Women’s Soccer League clubs are midseason, with Houston in a tight race for a playoff slot and Portland coming off a difficult stretch of road games and heading into another midweek game next week.
But it’s also a rare test for all involved. With the Europeans in preseason, the ICC represents a much more intense warmup than their competitors back home will get. Both clubs are used to cruising through most of their domestic season against much weaker teams, with their toughest competition coming in Champions League, so the chance to play another top European side before the season even starts is unique.
“This is preseason, so we’re getting ready physically and getting our bearings,” said Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas. “What better way to do that than against a great team like Lyon? We’re looking to win, even though it’s a preseason game. We’re going to get off to as strong a start as possible at the beginning of the season.”
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