Commentary

SA's 10 winners of the Women's World Cup

On and off the field, the 2019 Women's World Cup, hosted by France, was a ground-breaking event.

The USA was the big winner, in a category by itself, defending its title in record-breaking fashion.

We present here our 10 winners, in no particular order, of the Women's World Cup ...

1. Megan Rapinoe. The USA was able to, as Rapinoe said after the final, "back up all of those words with performances and to back up all of those performances with words." No one more than Rapinoe, who said, ahead of the France quarterfinal match, she was ready for a "'total s****** circus" and was indeed its ringmaster.

Said teammate Christen Press whom Rapinoe kept out of the starting lineup, “It’s been beautiful to see her fearlessness as we get to the highest level and the highest stages, that she doesn’t back away, she doesn’t shy, but the opposite: She gets even bigger."

Rapinoe won the Golden Ball as the best player of the 2019 Women's World Cup and Golden Boot as its top scorer, edging teammate Alex Morgan and England's Ellen White in a tiebreaker thanks to her three assists. She took on President Donald Trump and FIFA and everything that came in her way.

Arriving late for the post-game press conference after the final because she was randomly selected for the doping test, Rapinoe said, "Hey, I just killed doping, if anyone is concerned.”

2. Jill Ellis. Critics of the U.S. women's national team coach sure look ridiculous now.

All she did was replace the greatest goalkeeper in the history of women's soccer, three of the four starting defenders and her entire midfield from the 2015 championship team and produce the greatest team in the history of the Women's World Cup.

No one would have anticipated some of her moves -- bringing on Carli Lloyd in a defensive role against France in the quarterfinals and not even playing Lindsey Horan, arguably the USA's best all-around player, in the final.

Her view of the criticism? "I don't really care." And the critics? "People know about 1/10th of what we do."

3. Free-to-air TV. The most stunning aspect of the 2019 Women's World Cup was the interest in television audiences around the world. (Interest in the United States was strong but still less than 2015 for most U.S. matches because of the difference in kickoff times.)

More than 35 million people watched the France-Brazil overtime match on Brazil's Globo TV, smashing the world record for a Women's World Cup set by Fox when 25.4 million watched the USA beat Japan in the 2015 final.

France's matches on TF1 drew the largest audiences of the year on the host country's most popular network. England's semifinal defeat to the USA attracted the highest peak television audience of the year so far on British television. The Netherlands-Sweden semifinal on NPO1 was the most-watched program on Dutch television in almost five years.

What they all have in common is they are free-to-air networks -- our equivalent of ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. Experts credited the record viewership for the Women's World Cup to increased media and social media interest in the tournament, increased promotion of the events by the networks themselves and the accessibility of the matches at a time when more and more major soccer competitions are only available on a pay basis.

The latter in itself was most noteworthy -- fans were starved for soccer viewing and found women's soccer appealing.

4. Rose Lavelle. The world was supposed to be catching up to the United States, and in some regards it has. But the breakout star of the 2019 Women's World Cup was an American, not a foreigner, and a player who was playing college soccer four years ago.

In just her third pro season, Lavelle, a product of the University of Wisconsin, was the best player on the field in the semifinals and final, when she scored the insurance goal, making the ordinary extraordinary.

Said teammate Kelley O'Hara, watching from the sidelines after being subbed off with a head injury, “Freaking lost it. That was insane. That girl is -- I knew when she started driving with the ball, I knew it was going in, because that’s just what she does. I feel like she just does things casually that are out of this world.”



5. U.S. fans. An army of supporters followed the USA across France.

From Reims to Paris to Le Havre for the group stage. Back to Reims and Paris and on to Lyon for the final four. The estimates grew to 10,000 fans at the Parc des Princes for the France game and 20,000 and 25,000 fans for the two games in Lyon. Numbers so large they overwhelmed unprepared local transportation companies.

Local businesses loved the U.S. fans. They weren't as visible as the hordes of beer-drinking fans who came for Euro 2016 but they came as families and ready to spend lots more money, quickly snapping up the scarce supply of World Cup merchandise.

6. USWNT Players Association. If merchandise ran out quickly in France, it was gobbled up online back in the United States. USWNT Players Association licensee BreakingT reported (per Front Office Sports) that it had its best online sales day of the year on Sunday:

1. USA Rapinoe
2. Four-time World Champs
3. Rapinoe-Bird 2020
4. And That's The Tea

As part of its new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed with U.S. Soccer in 2017, the USWNT won back its group licensing rights. With more than 25 licensing agreements, that could bring in an additional $1 million collectively to the U.S. champions on top of their salaries and bonuses.

7. Press coverage. The Women's World Cup also drew unprecedented press coverage. More than 100 American journalists were accredited by FIFA for the tournament.

The New York Times' feature coverage matched that of its coverage of the men's tournament in recent editions with stories on such topics as the players in the first international women's match recognized by FIFA, a 1971 France-Netherlands encounter, and how the U.S. women have been a source of inspiration to LGBT soccer players in France. The Equalizer, which specializes in women's soccer, presented unmatched analysis of all 24 teams in the tournament.

For the first time, L'Equipe, the French sports daily, treated the Women's World Cup like it would the men's tournament, even after France was eliminated with page after page of analysis and features and player ratings. It devoted the first eight pages on Monday to the USA-Netherlands final and other tournament news (including French coach Corinne Diacre's blistering criticism of some of her players in her first remarks since the Bleues were eliminated). The coverage was remarkable because it came on the second of the Tour de France, an event owned and operated by L'Equipe's owner, the Groupe Amaury.

8. Alex Morgan. Morgan has been around so long and is such a mega-star that it's easy to forget how good she actually is.

Even in this World Cup when she scored only one goal after she tied a Women's World Cup with five goals in the 13-0 win over Thailand in the opener. All she did was have a hand in the winning goal in the USA's last three victories.

Morgan was fouled for the free kick that led to Megan Rapinoe's first goal in the 2-1 win over France, scored on a header for the winner in the 2-1 win over England and was fouled for the penalty Rapinoe converted to break the deadlock in the final against the Netherlands.

In that regard, L'Equipe dubbed Morgan "Neymar's little sister" in her ability to win penalty kicks.



9. European clubs. In the last few years, some of the big names in European club soccer -- Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus -- have been upping their investment in women's club soccer, and that will continue with the Manchester United's launch of a women's club this fall.

During the Women's World Cup, Real Madrid announced plans to buy a Madrid club and start its own women's program. Trying to capitalize on the interest in women's soccer, Man City will play Man United for the first time at the main Etihad Stadium on Sept. 7 while Chelsea will play Tottenham at Stamford Bridge the following day and make entry free for all fans.

Even if paying support at the club level lags far behind the NWSL, the top European clubs are well-positioned to use the Women's World Cup as a springboard to faster growth.

10. Equal pay. Just how much the U.S. women's fight for equal pay resonated was evidenced by the chants of "Equal pay! Equal pay!" that filled Lyon's Groupama Stadium as FIFA president Gianni Infantino and French president Emmanuel Macron made their way to the field for the trophy ceremonies after the final.

How the U.S. women settle their lawsuit with U.S. Soccer and how FIFA changes its allocation of prize money remains to be seen, but it's a battle cry that has gone worldwide. Rapinoe said it was time to move on to other battles to get more funding for women's programs from federations and leagues.

“We as players, every player at this World Cup, put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for," she said. "We cannot do anything more to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better or do anything. It’s time to take it forward to the next step. A little public shame never hurt anybody, right? I’m down with the boos.”

Photo by Gwendoline Le Goff/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire

12 comments about "SA's 10 winners of the Women's World Cup".
  1. James Madison, July 8, 2019 at 4:12 p.m.

    Good job, Paul!!!

  2. beautiful game, July 8, 2019 at 4:46 p.m.

    Paul, you forgot to mention the typical horrible TV coverage of the action on the pitch and the persistent referee counseling to players on set plays.

  3. Bob Ashpole, July 8, 2019 at 5:11 p.m.

    The US WNT's greatest strength is the entire team and not any one single player. The sum is greater than its parts.

    Jill Ellis and her staff were brilliant. Yes, I have criticized her, but one characteristic of champions is that they never stop striving to improve. Ask Carli Lloyd. Ask Mia Hamm. Heck, ask any present or former member of the USWNT. I am sure Jill Ellis is no different. She deserves recognition as FIFA coach of the year. Again. (I still think the US should add positional play to their game, but bringing change to a successful program is extremely difficult.)

    The thing that is very clear is that this cycle has demonstrated the commercial potential of women's soccer to an extent that cannot be overlooked. When the US won the 1991 finals, most of the US did not pay attention. They are paying attention now.

  4. Bill Riviere, July 8, 2019 at 5:56 p.m.

    Beautiful game, What was so horrible about the TV coverage?  Some people try to make their mark by being unnecessarily critical.  Not deserved here.

    I referee and always counsel the players on set plays--often game changing plays.  No need for player stupidity and an unnecessary quandary/controversy for the referee that could be prevented.  Enough extra time covered that lost time--and then some.  I also presume that the referees were instructed to counsel players and they had also an incentive to do so as VAR was watching...........

    Paul, excellent article.  Amen.

  5. uffe gustafsson, July 8, 2019 at 6:27 p.m.

    One comment that was raised.
    the scarcity of WC memorabilia was obvious.
    we went to Le Havre and none was to be found only inside the stadium and very limited.
    the other issue was public transportation, Le Havre had free shuttles from train station to the stadium, but many of us couldn’t get rooms in the city. We stayed outside in Honfleur just outside Le Havre. Last bus home was 8.30 and game started at 9.00. Going to the game 2 busses going and was filled very quickly so many had to figure out how to get to and from the games. Taxi if you could find one was 70 eurous that’s about $80. They where totally surprised by how many people came for the games.
    poor planning on the public transportation.

  6. Tom Terry, July 8, 2019 at 7:07 p.m.

    nice one

  7. Kevin Leahy, July 8, 2019 at 7:14 p.m.

    Ellis has proven in two World Cup's that, she isn't afraid to make tough decisions. From removing Wambach from the starting lineup to sitting Lindsey Horan she, isn't afraid of the hard choices. Her choices for resting the players on the oldest team in the tournament must be the best move.

  8. Kent James replied, July 8, 2019 at 9:41 p.m.

    Her player selection was uniformly excellent.  She seemed to know just what she could get from her players.  I was not impressed with Mewis, and surprised she started over Horan in the final, but she certainly played well in the final. 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, July 8, 2019 at 9:52 p.m.

    Kent, I suspect Mewis was chosen to make deep runs to reduce some of the physical demand on Rapinoe's hamstring in the first half. Rapinoe was there for the restarts and her distribution. In which case it was a wonderful coaching move. My view is that a lot of her decisions, like switching to a 541 at 70 minutes in the quarters and semi's, was to reduce fatigue on the legs rather than to deal with a game situation. Masterful.  

  10. frank schoon, July 9, 2019 at 7:40 p.m.

    What the league should do is sign some of the foreign players like the Dutch goalie, the Italian striker and a few others . They are still in the minds of the American fans. It is now the right time to improve the league and crowd participation by getting some more talent. 

  11. Bob Ashpole, July 9, 2019 at 9:36 p.m.

    I think this sentence indicates the problem very well:

    "On the wings, Paul Arriola played well and justified his spot on the team. While he wasn’t always polished in the final third, he brings a ton of energy and defensive work to the game."

    The problem lies with our view of how the game should be played.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, July 9, 2019 at 9:37 p.m.

    Sorry misplaced. Must have pushed the wrong comment button.

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