Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The US women’s soccer team has a chance to make history at the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
It’s been a major story for months, as four teams have defended their World Cup title in a row, but none have secured the hallowed three-time championship.
With the Women’s World Cup kicking off in Australia and New Zealand on Thursday, the pressure is on for the USWNT, as the obvious favorites, to win it all again.
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Despite the expectations, Carli Lloyd, a USWNT legend who helped win two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals during her illustrious career, believes the US women will be calm and collected entering this great tournament.
«I would say business as usual,» Lloyd told Fox News Digital while promoting FanDuel’s support of the USWNT by partnering with a female-owned roastery, North Edge Craft Coffee, to launch FanFuel Extra Kick Coffee for the World Cup. «I would say the focus is always that the USA is the favorite, the number 1 team in the world. Everybody wants to go out there and beat them. They have a target on their back.»
«Most likely, they’re not even talking about a hat-trick or really talking about the story that they can potentially make. Everybody knows that. They know in the back of their minds what’s at stake.»
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Lloyd is preparing for the tournament in Sydney, where he handles its broadcast duties. She knows better than anyone that the expectations for the USWNT can be overwhelming at times, especially as the popularity of women’s soccer has grown exponentially since its first tournament in 2007.
But as Lloyd pointed out, this is what these women are playing for: the chance to etch their name in World Cup and USWNT history. It all comes down to playing and winning, one game at a time.
«You can’t get ahead of yourself because the moment you get ahead, it’s probably the moment you’re going to get knocked out or something,» Lloyd said. «It’s really important first and foremost to come out first in your group. That will be their first battle. Then once they do that, the next challenge will be making sure they get through that first knockout round.» .»
When the USA takes the field at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, for the first time on Friday night (9 pm ET) against Vietnam, there will be some playing in their World Cup opener. But for USWNT captain Megan Rapinoe, it will be the first step toward her last World Cup representing the reds, whites and blues.
The 2019 Women’s Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best female soccer player announced that this will be her last World Cup as the 38-year-old wraps up her soccer career. She was together with Lloyd in 2015 and 2019 when they went back-to-back, and many key members of the team, including Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone, have since gone sunset.
Now it’s Rapinoe’s turn.
«Megan Rapinoe, I’ve just witnessed so many iconic moments, great goals scored,» Lloyd said, reflecting on her time as Rapinoe’s teammate. «What comes to mind is her ability to help people, whether it’s a free kick, a cross or a corner kick, that level of creativity that she’s brought to the team.»
«There is no one like Megan Rapinoe. There will never be anyone like Megan Rapinoe.»
Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Julie Ertz are the superstars in this group that many fans will be focusing on on Friday. But Sophia Smith, the 22-year-old star of Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, is someone fans should get to know quickly when the tournament kicks off.
Smith led the USWNT in goals last year with 11, and with her first World Cup here, it may well be time she makes herself known to the world.
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Lloyd loves what Smith has done in the United States, but he hopes he can control his emotions and his game as he plays on his biggest stage to date.
«She’s cut herself off from everyone,» Lloyd said. «She has shown that she can be a goal-scoring machine from various positions on the pitch. I never like to put too much pressure on people. I think a player already has pressure going into a major tournament. With Sophia being a younger player, the world is putting that pressure on her.
«I hope she can navigate that because it’s so hard to go into a major tournament where the world says you’re going to be the next breakout star and all that stuff. My hope is that she can let her mind just focus on the task at hand.» she’s got her hands on, be here and play freely. She’s got a chance to really show what she’s made of on the world stage. That’s the next leap for her.»
However, winning a World Cup is more than just a few players. It will take the entire roster working collectively on the field to get past each opponent, no matter the challenge.
Lloyd noted that defenders don’t get the most coverage before these major tournaments, so someone like Naomi Girma is a point of interest for her before she plays on Friday.
«He just has a very calm, cool, collected approach to her,» Lloyd said of Girma. «She seems to be very confident on the ball and just plays beyond her age. She seems like she’s been a seasoned veteran, so I’m excited to see that.»
As for that competition, USWNT Group E will feature Vietnam first, followed by the Netherlands on Wednesday and Portugal on August 1 to conclude group play.
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«In their group, there’s the Netherlands,» Lloyd said of the USWNT’s biggest challenge in the group stage. «I don’t think the Netherlands is the Netherlands of 2019, and the US is not the US of 2019. It’s a completely different matchup, but the US doesn’t want to finish second in their group.»
«If they’re second in their group, they definitely have a bigger challenge on the road.»
History, individually and as a team, surrounds the USWNT at this World Cup. However, Lloyd doesn’t think outside noise or historical achievements will faze this group.
Like the previous two World Cups, through the ups and downs of each match, the goal is clear: To lift the trophy at the end.
Nothing else matters.
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«It’s in the DNA of the team to know that there’s always going to be that pressure, and you want to thrive in that moment. I think they’re going to be very excited to finally get going and kick off that first game.»