LYON, France — The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup showcased the best female soccer has to offer but it also revealed there is a lot of room for the game to grow.
The United States proved it is still the dominant force despite gains made by other European countries with the money and resources being poured into leagues and the development of the women’s game.
It will be difficult for the rest of the world to keep pace with the United States and its NCAA development system, which can afford to pour millions of dollars into women’s athletic programs creating a massive talent pool. The system is the reason Canada is competitive on the world stage as well, although it crashed out earlier than expected at the tournament.
There were a lot of great things about this year’s edition of the Women’s World Cup and others that did not sit very well, mainly the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee system for the first time at the tournament.
Here are our top five takeaways from the tournament.
5. IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup showcased the viability of female soccer on a global scale and why it would be wise to invest in the game.
More people tuned into this Women’s World Cup than had ever before, generating an increase in sponsorship deals and advertising dollars.
The talent level is improving exponentially due in large part to the investment of women’s leagues throughout the world and particularly in Europe.
If anything, the Women’s World Cup proved there is a massive global audience interested in the game and with it revenue generating opportunities.
FIFA is taking notice and wants to invest US$1 billion in the women’s game over the next four years. It also wants to double the prize money for the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA is making this investment not out of generosity, it sees the earning potential in women’s soccer. There is money to be made and it wants in on it.
According to Nike, the U.S. women’s national team jersey is the highest-selling uniform in the world this year and soon a new edition will be released with four stars over the logo as opposed to three, representing each World Cup championship.
The U.S. women’s jersey is easily distinguished from the men’s, because the men’s does not have any stars above its logo and is unlikely to get them anytime soon.
The U.S. women are getting paid a portion of their male counterparts, which is unfair considering how much more successful and popular they are than the men’s team.
You could say the same about the Canadian women being more popular and successful than their male counterparts.
4. INSPIRING A GENERATION
A number of members of the U.S. team were quick to point out how pioneers of the women’s game inspired them to want to play at the highest level.
The women’s game will only continue to grow and improve if more girls are given the opportunity to take up the sport at a younger age.
In Canada and the United States, there are opportunities for young women to play the game starting early, but such is not necessarily the case in different parts of the world.
The Netherlands was playing in just its second Women’s World Cup and managed to get to the final, which is expected to boost the level of female participation in the country.
Women’s soccer is slowing growing in South American, Africa and Asia, but the continents will be left behind if more is not done to promote the game.
In one of the most inspiring moments of the tournament, Brazilian star Marta pleaded with her young countrywomen to keep the ball rolling after being eliminated by France in the second round.
“This is what I ask young Brazilian girls,” she said in Portuguese during an on-field, post-match interview. “You are not going to have a Formiga forever, you are not going to have a Marta forever, you’re not going to have a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive, so think about that, value it more.
“Cry in the beginning so you can smile at the end.”
3. CANADA NEEDS A PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S LEAGUE
Canada has been competitive on the world stage in the women’s game, essentially riding the coattails of the United States and its NCAA college system.
While Canadian girls have more opportunity to play the game at a younger age than in some other parts of the world, there are few places to continue playing after college in the country.
The top players need to seek out opportunities in Europe and in the United States to play professionally and, eventually, that is going to hurt the women’s game in Canada.
Canada brought one of its most talented teams to France and had high expectations going into the tournament but lost in the Round of 16 to Sweden.
In order to stay competitive as European and South American countries begin pouring money into the women’s game and developing women’s leagues, Canada must do the same.
Canada Soccer needs to find a way to set up some type of women’s league, giving an opportunity to females to play professionally in its own country.
It can make Christine Sinclair the commissioner after she retires as the most prolific goal scorer in the history of the game.
2. WAIT BEFORE EXPANDING THE WOMEN’S WORLD CUP
FIFA president Gianni Infantino wants to take the Women’s World Cup from 24 teams to 32 teams by 2023 but that might be getting a little too far ahead of itself.
There is still a sizable gap in women’s soccer between the United States, Europe and the rest of the world.
The Americans took the best challenge Europe could present and brushed it aside, dispatching Spain, France and England before defeating the Netherlands in the final.
All four European countries have invested immensely in its women’s leagues and have made great strides since the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Yet, it’s important for the rest of the world to get up to speed before expanding the tournament.
Africa, Asia and South America are getting stronger but are still far behind the pack and attitudes need to change in those parts of the world so women have the same opportunities to play as they do in North American and Europe.
Brazil is the only contending team in South America due to its sheer numbers and affinity for the sport but Chile and Argentina are still far behind as the women’s game is still fighting for a place at the table.
Argentina’s women’s national program was disbanded for two years and it still managed to qualify for the World Cup, which is an indication of how far behind other South American countries are.
The same can be said for Asia, which outside of Japan, is still trying to gain traction.
It’s important to strengthen the 24-team tournament before diluting it by expanding it too soon. Eventually, the tournament should feature 32 teams but it should come in eight years when the women’s game is even stronger not when there is still potential for massive mismatches and blowouts at the tournament.
1. AMERICANS STILL LEADING THE CHARGE
The United States is bold, brash, at times unsportsmanlike but it has done more for the development of women’s soccer than any other country and are forcing the world to try and keep up.
The strength of the American team stems from the NCAA college system, which spend millions of dollars on athletics and makes an absurd amount of revenue mainly through its football and basketball programs.
Title IX in the United States makes it illegal for a school to spend more on men’s athletics than female athletics, which benefits women’s sports at the college level.
There are over 350 Division 1 schools in the United States constantly recruiting players to fill its rosters, which gives America an enormous talent pool for women’s soccer.
Canada benefits from the system as well, with most of its players going through the NCAA systems.
Those players still in school, incidentally, such as Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming, who is attending UCLA, were basically playing in the World Cup for free, not allowed to receive compensation in order to maintain her college eligibility.
Even with its massive investment in women’s soccer, European countries can only offer 20-25 professional teams, making for a much smaller talent pool.
The United States success is forcing Europe to continue supporting the women’s game and the gains can be seen on the field as the quality of play has improved immensely over the past four years.
It’s fair to say without the United States dominance, the women’s game would likely have stayed stagnant and countries would not have invested as much in the game.
The United States will continue to lead the charge because of the popularity of college sports in the country and the billions brought in by football and basketball programs, which in turn benefit women’s soccer.
Winning the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup proved the United States is the lead horse in women’s soccer even if the gap is closing.
The U.S. victory, which included a run through four European powers, will force other countries to keep investing in the women’s game benefiting everyone involved.
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019