The World Cup is over, but there is so much more to come. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan and Steph Yang — welcome to the first non-World Cup edition of Full Time, which will continue on, coming straight to your inbox every Monday! Sign up here.
From World Cup to NWSL: What’s beyond greatness?
The tagline of this World Cup was “Beyond Greatness,” and I guess you could take that two ways: something that achieves a level that’s greater than great or the idea of what lies beyond the ultimate achievement.
The first… does not make much sense. But the second defines where we are right now. We just witnessed what many — from players to fans to FIFA president Gianni Infantino — called the greatest Women’s World Cup yet. Colombia and Linda Caicedo had a statement win against Alexandra Popp and the Germany giants. The Matildas won over Australian hearts with their run to the semifinals. We saw first-time Women’s World Cup participants Morocco make it out of the group stage and England battle injury adversity. We saw the mighty USWNT fall in the round of 16. With every first game for a nation, first goal, first win, the emotion and intensity were there. And the soccer was just plain good.
So what’s Beyond Greatness?
For starters, FIFA needs to pay the participants the bonuses they were promised. Meanwhile, other teams might likely follow Nigeria’s suit and pick up the boycotts of their federations that they had put off — champions Spain being one of them. For Spain it’s about more than a trophy now. In addition to the pre-tournament dispute, made public by 15 players (three of which were on the winning team) sending a letter to the federation regarding concerns over coach Jorge Vilda’s behavior, there were inappropriate actions of federation president Luis Rubiales during and after the trophy ceremony.
As for the soccer, 60 players from 16 nations will return to the NWSL to compete in the second half of the regular season while others will disperse around the world to only just begin a new campaign.
All this to say, there is more soccer, more ways to watch and more ways to invest. At the international level, the Olympics are 11 months away and the USWNT has work to do and hires to make in order to climb back to the top. And 2027… OK, I won’t go there just yet, but the United States is in the race to host.
How FIFA selects host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup
As we transition out of tournament play and into regular season club soccer, Full Time is here for you with a weekly edition of the newsletter, covering the NWSL and players around the world. Bringing you unique insights that you won’t get anywhere else. So stick with us!
As you read this, I’ve re-entered the multiverse with my flux capacitor (read: taken multiple long-haul flights back to the U.S), so I’ll let Meg guide you the rest of the way…
Meg’s Corner: On to the NWSL, and some big stories
Just like Sophia Smith, we’re wasting no time with our return back home and our continuing NWSL and U.S. Soccer coverage.
The league is already back in fine, chaotic form — just look at Sunday night’s matchup between the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage (the top two teams in the standings right now), where the Thorns went down to 10 players early, then stormed back for a 2-1 win that featured a Sophia Smith game-winning goal almost immediately after she subbed on for her first minutes post-World Cup. Just listen to the reception she got when she entered the match. (By the way, that was the first time in NWSL history that a team won after receiving a first-half red card.)
The Sophia Smith Effect 🤯 pic.twitter.com/XnlPMMZBCS
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) August 21, 2023
There’s only four points separating the top six teams headed to the playoffs at the moment, so all signs point to another frenetic finish as we lead up to this year’s Championship, taking place in San Diego in November.
And, of course, we’re also focusing on the bigger picture storylines coming out of the World Cup. The NWSL is facing some big, existential challenges around the product on the field and attracting and retaining international talent, even as it still enjoys massive growth — but also the league office has decided to head to arbitration (again) over free agency with the players association.
NWSL, NWSLPA going to arbitration over free agency
I won’t lie — there’s always a little bit of a shock coming back from a World Cup and heading to a NWSL game again. But compared to 2019, when I got back from France and headed out to Yurcak Field for a Sky Blue FC game in front of 1,842 people, this time when I head to see the same team, I’m heading to Red Bull Arena to watch Gotham FC play. Earlier this season, they set a new attendance record of over 15,000 at that stadium. A lot has changed over the past four years.
And that continued this past weekend. The Thorns had over 22,000 fans at their match and the KC Current set a new attendance record with a crowd of 13,455.
A lot more will change over the next four years, too. That’s the joy and stress (to steal a concept from Sam Mewis) of this job, watching it all unfold, and telling you the stories about that change. We’ll see you out there at the stadiums.
Coming Up In The NWSL
Friday, Aug 25
Saturday, Aug 26
Sunday, Aug 27
Thanks to their 2-1 win over North Carolina, Portland has a two-point cushion atop the standings (28 to the Courage’s 26), while Gotham sits third and the Washington Spirit fourth on 25 points each. Rounding out the playoff places, OL Reign is fifth after losing to KC and the San Diego Wave are sixth after beating Gotham 2-1. Both OL Reign and San Diego are on 24 points. It’s a tight race! And watch out for seventh-place Orlando Pride, who made a statement with a club record 5-0 win over Chicago on Sunday.
Full Time First Looks
Two San Diego Wave teammates swapped shirts after the World Cup third place match between Sweden and Australia
After not playing a single minute at the World Cup, Ashley Sanchez needed just 40 seconds to score upon her return to the Spirit. Hmm…
Here’s a fun visualization of the NWSL table so far this season
(Top photo: Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)