Amid the World Cup celebrations, however, the 23 U.S. women’s national team players and their coach have much work left to do — on the international circuit, in their young pro league and with efforts to grow the sport and gain occupational equality.
The United States won a second consecutive title Sunday with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands, adding to a championship portfolio that totals four World Cup trophies and four Olympic gold medals in 14 major competitions over 28 years.
The team took a charter plane back to the United States on Monday, and New York will host a parade down Broadway on Wednesday morning.
Soon, the players will rejoin their National Women’s Soccer League teams and embark on the second half of the season. All involved are hopeful their World Cup success will lead to more ticket sales and media coverage.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle, who scored the second goal Sunday and was voted the third-best player in the tournament, will report back to the Washington Spirit, along with forward Mallory Pugh. They seem likely to play July 20 against the Houston Dash at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.
In its seventh year, the nine-team NWSL has struggled to gain a foothold in most markets. Portland’s average attendance of 18,053 is an outlier. Seven teams average fewer than 5,000 fans, and the Spirit is next to last at 2,990.
While the league marches on, the U.S. program cannot rest: The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are a little more than a year away.
Whether Jill Ellis will continue to coach the team remains unresolved. Ellis, the first coach to win two Women’s World Cups, is entering the option year of her contract.
Because the next major competition is so soon, both she and the U.S. Soccer Federation would probably want to keep the status quo. However, after five years on the job, Ellis might seek fresh opportunities. In that case, she would undoubtedly attract suitors from abroad, both at the club and national team level.
Asked about her future, Ellis said: “I said to the players in the pregame that we have to take this game one minute, one moment, one decision at a time. And I kind of live by that. So I don’t think about anything else but what’s in front of me.”
USSF President Carlos Cordeiro said he did not want to comment on Ellis’s status so soon after the victory. “We’ll get to that in time,” he said.
No matter who is overseeing the program, changes are bound to come before the Olympics. The U.S. roster was the oldest at the World Cup, and some might step aside or receive a nudge. Aside from Olympic rosters being limited to 18 players, the coach will want to integrate emerging players, such as the Spirit’s Andi Sullivan.
The United States will return to action Aug. 3 at the Rose Bowl against Mexico or Ireland. The USSF is also planning to schedule two matches apiece in September, October and November. Washington’s Audi Field is expected to host a game in early November.
Carli Lloyd, a four-time World Cup member who turns 37 next week, sounded as if she will not return. Used primarily as a substitute in recent years, she has grumbled openly about playing time.
“First and foremost, I am proud of this team,” she said. However, “it’s been a really tough couple years. It’s not based on my ability. For whatever reason, the coach made the decision. I tried to put up a good case. So I will go home, let the emotions die down a little bit, speak to my husband and go from there.”
Other veteran players include Megan Rapinoe, 34; defender Ali Krieger, who turns 35 this month; and defender Becky Sauerbrunn, 34. Eight others are 30 or older.
Ellis used the 2016 Olympics to welcome Pugh, who was 18 at the time, and Crystal Dunn, the last player cut from the World Cup squad a year earlier.
Long term, the Americans will begin laying the groundwork for the 2023 World Cup. FIFA will select the host country in March. Australia is the early favorite, but eight others are in the running, including South Korea, which has suggested a joint bid with North Korea.
In the coming years, the U.S. program must prepare for the rise of European challengers. Seven quarterfinalists this summer came from Europe, and with cash-rich federations and clubs on the continent investing in the women’s game, the level of difficulty in major tournaments will inevitably grow.
Investment overseas, particularly from brand names such as Manchester City, Barcelona and Olympique Lyonnais, could begin to pull U.S. stars from the NWSL.
European clubs and federations “see how amazing this World Cup was and how rich in terms of fan support it was,” Ellis said. “—Teams will continue to want to invest in the women’s game. What does that do? It makes our job even harder, but we also have a commitment from our federation to also grow."
In emphasizing the importance of the NWSL to her team’s health, she added, “You can’t just exist as a national team."
Off the field, the players’ vigorous pursuit of gender equality will continue. Winning the championship certainly provides leverage and the backing of the public.
Commenting on chants of “Equal pay!” by fans after Sunday’s match, Rapinoe said: “I love it. The movement is swelling before our very eyes. This is what the people want. Give the people what they want.”
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