US soccer fans started their Tuesday disappointed – and perhaps anxious – as the women’s team only managed a lackluster goalless draw with Portugal, missing out on being bounced from the tournament completely by mere inches.
The result set off alarm bells throughout the US soccer community. But largely missing from the criticism and panic is a simple fact: what this team is attempting to do is near-impossible.
Winning three championships in a row is extremely hard to do at the professional club level in any sport, let alone the World Cup in international soccer – no nation has ever won three consecutive World Cups in either the men’s or women’s game.
The biggest enemies of sustained success in sports are waning motivation and, most often, time. The amount of effort, skill and sustained passion it takes to keep up success over a long period of time is beyond difficult and the years between World Cup editions only ratchet that tension up.
Professional teams have a hard enough time keeping a core championship group together and healthy for three consecutive years on a club level – the US women’s team is attempting to do the same thing eight years after winning the 2015 World Cup. The legendary generation of players which won that tournament is largely gone – just five players from 2015 remain on the squad in this tournament.
The teams that have pulled off three-peats are often legendary: The 1990s Chicago Bulls, the late 90s-early 00s New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers, the mid-century Boston Celtics and Montreal Canadiens, the New York Yankees (again) in the 1930s and 40s – all teams that live long in the consciousness of American sports fans.
But what about in club soccer? Since 2000, only an iconic Real Madrid side led by Cristiano Ronaldo won three UEFA Champions Leagues in a row from 2016 to 2018, while Spain is the only country to ever win three major international championships in a row – Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 – and those were still two different competitions taking place every two years, not very comparable to what the US women are attempting to do in winning three World Cups in a row.
This US Women’s National Team still has a path – albeit one that might be rockier and steeper than most observers expected even two weeks ago – to join those legendary ranks. If they pull it off, perhaps the disappointing draws from the 2023 tournament’s group stage will be seen as a case of survive-and-advance.