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2023 Women's World Cup

Lots of work, little time: What the USWNT desperately needs to correct ahead of the Round of 16

© Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the world isn’t catching up to the United States women’s national team. That already happened, many years ago.

In 1999, the U.S. won the World Cup. They defeated China — a country with a much smaller population of players — on penalty kicks. After that, the U.S. failed to win the tournament for 16 years. Along the way there was a narrow win over Nigeria, a draw with North Korea and humbling multi-goal defeats to Germany and Brazil.

If anything, up until recently the U.S. dominance appeared to be growing, not fading. Their 2019 success, including wins over Sweden, Spain, France, England and the Netherlands, was arguably their best-ever World Cup performance. So much for the European teams getting closer!

Four years on, at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the U.S. is scrambling out of its group stage, chastened and weary. They do so after a 0-0 draw with Portugal, an opponent of neat passers lacking cutting edge, one that went out of the EURO at the first hurdle last year without a win to its name.

Yes, qualification has been secured, but only just. Portugal hit the post in second half stoppage time, Ana Capeta’s shot jolting the woodwork.

Of the nine World Cups, this was the United States’ worst group stage performance. One win, two draws, second place. Oh, and there’s the prospect of a tough Round of 16 clash with Sweden, the opponent that defeated the U.S. by 3-0 at the Olympics two years ago. Mission accomplished? Not so much.

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