As winners of the last two World Cups, victors of 124 out of 151 games (82%) since that 2015 World Cup year and holders of the top spot in the FIFA rankings, it is hard to find a team more dominant - ever - than the United States Women's National Team.
Their juggernaut status means it is easy to forget FIFA does not just hand the USWNT a World Cup spot every four years. They still have to earn one, so their focus is on the start of Concacaf World Cup qualifying next week at the Concacaf W Championship, the opening chapter in the journey toward a record third-straight World Cup trophy.
The Concacaf W tournament has three opportunities up for grabs - World Cup qualification, Olympic qualification and the regional championship. Here's a look at each one and what the USWNT needs to go three-for-three:
World Cup Qualification
Eight nations have gathered in Monterrey, Mexico, with the tournament's pool play beginning on Monday, July 4. The U.S. is in Group A, joined by Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti. Group B consists of 2020 Olympic gold medalist Canada, along with Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.
The group stage is a standard round robin, with each team playing everyone in its group. The top two countries from each group advance to the knockout round while also securing a spot at next year's World Cup. The two third place teams can attempt to join their fellow Concacaf nations in Australia and New Zealand through the intercontinental playoff.
The U.S. should finish comfortably in the top two, but everyone knows anything can happen in Concacaf. Mexico will be the USWNT's toughest opponent. The tournament's hosts are unbeaten in their last 10 games, with nine of those results being wins. In addition to beating Canada during that stretch, the combined score for Mexico and its opponents across through those 10 matches was 52-3.
Here is the U.S. group stage schedule (all times Eastern):
Monday's match will be on the CBS Sports Network, with Thursday's and the following Monday's on Paramount+. While the Americans are favored in their group regardless of the roster, Vlatko Andonovski has a solid first-choice team in Mexico. Longtime stalwarts such as Lindsey Horan, Alex Morgan, Kelley O'Hara, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn are all there, joined by key contributing newcomers like NWSL Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch.
U.S. Soccer announced on Friday that Rapinoe would miss the match against Jamaica, as she will be at the White House receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While obviously the award is a huge honor for Rapinoe, the coaching staff's willingness to let her go during a qualifying tournament may also indicate how comfortable they feel with their odds of advancement and World Cup qualification.
“Megan is of course very disappointed about missing a game, but I told her to go,” Andonovski said in a press release. “She has to go. This is a once in a lifetime honor, she deserves it, and she will be representing herself, her team and her country at the White House. I think I can speak for everyone at U.S. Soccer when I say we are very proud of Megan and the impact she’s made on our sport and our country as a person and a player.”
Olympic Qualification and Regional Championship
The four teams that advance from the group stage will have semifinal matches on July 14. Both games will be available on the CBS Sports Network that evening. The final is set for July 18 at 10 p.m. ET. Paramount+ is the only viewing option for the final, with the streaming service also showing every game in the tournament.
In addition to being crowned champions of Concacaf, the final's winner will receive a berth to the 2024 Summer Olympics. The loser of the final will take on the winner of the third-place game (played earlier in the day) in September for Concacaf's second Olympic spot. The USWNT will be looking to join the US men in Paris, who just qualified for their first Olympics since 2008.
The biggest obstacle for the U.S. in the knockout round will be Canada, a country in the midst of a soccer revolution. The Canadians will be eager to prove that their recent gold medal means they are the best team not just in the region, but the world, and they certainly have the potential to do so.
The next two weeks will feature plenty of high octane soccer to accompany numerous meaningful storylines. The USWNT is confident in its ability to come out on top, but nothing in this tournament is a given with so much on the line.