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Exclusive: Kate Markgraf on SheBelieves Cup challenges, upcoming USWNT schedule

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

Over six years ago, U.S. Soccer looked at its annual March trip to the Algarve Cup in Portugal and realized it would be better served hosting an invitational women’s tournament of its own. Instead of a trip which cost tens of thousands of dollars in travel, and a tournament in which the quality of opponents varied significantly, U.S. Soccer saw an opportunity to play stronger teams on home soil and make money doing so with a sponsored tournament and in-demand, ticketed event.

The SheBelieves Cup was born in early 2016 and it instantly became the marquee friendly tournament, attracting fellow world powers England, France, and Germany in the first three editions. Germany and France dropped out from there, in large part due to the demanding travel of the event, which saw three rounds of games spread out across three different U.S. cities.

Now, the SheBelieves Cup appears to be a victim of its own success — an entirely predictable development given the commercialization of women’s soccer globally.

U.S. Soccer announced the Czech Republic, Iceland, and New Zealand as the teams which will participate in the 2022 edition in February, markedly less heralded opponents from the first six editions of the tournament. The COVID-19 pandemic remains an ongoing challenge for scheduling any matches, but a larger factor for U.S. Soccer and the SheBelieves Cup is that England and France have created their own competing tournaments in the same FIFA window, removing them as opponents and drawing other would-be U.S. opponents to different destinations.

Simultaneous to February’s SheBelieves Cup, France will once again host the Tournoi de France with Brazil (twice previously a SheBelieves Cup participant), the Netherlands, and Finland. England will for the first time host the Arnold Clark Cup, which will feature Canada, Spain, and Germany. Each will be a round-robin tournament, just like SheBelieves Cup. These are positive developments globally, although they offer challenges going forward for U.S. Soccer.

“It’s fantastic that so many countries are putting on tournaments, which increases the opportunity for competition globally,” United States women’s national team general manager Kate Markgraf told The Equalizer. “That’s a great thing, because it shows that investment is happening. It’s going to be critical for us to use every single moment together on the field to enjoy a tournament atmosphere where you are trying to finish first. It’s the only way to try to replicate what you’re going to see in a tournament. So, for us, any opportunity to play in a tournament or host a tournament is an opportunity for us to grow as a team.”

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