Why U.S. Soccer Couldn’t Get Half-Decent Teams For 2022 SheBelieves Cup

Despite pandemics and lawsuits, one constant for the U.S. women’s national team lately has been the SheBelieves Cup. Every year since 2016, the USWNT has hosted some of the best teams in the world in a four-team competition aimed at inspiring young women. Unfortunately, the 2022 SheBelieves Cup looks like it’ll be the least inspiring yet. 

U.S. Soccer unveiled the schedule for the 2022 SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday. As usual, the top-ranked USWNT is the main attraction. The rest of the three-team field, in years past filled by other top-10 teams, now doesn’t feature a single team in the top 15. Iceland, New Zealand and the Czech Republic will be in California and Texas to play in the 2022 SheBelieves Cup next month.

Last year, Argentina was a late replacement for Japan, which pulled out of the 2021 SheBelieves Cup because of Covid-19 concerns. It marked the first time a team ranked above 13th in the world had participated in the competition

This year, all three of the USWNT’s opponents are ranked above 13th in the world. 

Iceland leads the pack with a No. 16 ranking followed by New Zealand (22) and the Czech Republic (24). Only Argentina last year (31st) has competed in the SheBelieves Cup with a lower ranking than these three nations.

It’s a disappointing reality for the competition, which used to be comprised of top teams like Germany, France, England, Brazil and Japan. The U.S. couldn’t even entice reigning Olympic champion Canada to come south for the competition.

So why is the 2022 SheBelieves Cup so disappointing compared to previous tournaments? Other competitions have proven more enticing.

The biggest women’s competition early in 2022 is the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, held in India from Jan. 20-Feb. 6. This made it extremely unlikely the U.S. would be able to get top teams like Japan, Australia or South Korea to come to the States (plus the U.S. has played the latter two a lot recently). 

It makes sense Asian countries will want to focus on the tournament that is serving as 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifying. The harder pill to swallow is England starting its own February tournament to compete with the SheBelieves Cup — and immediately becoming the better competition.

The English FA will host the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup during the same time period as the SheBelieves Cup. The four-team, round-robin competition is basically identical to the SheBelieves Cup, only without the U.S. This year, Germany, Spain and Canada will join England in Middlesbrough, Norwich and Wolverhampton. All four of those nations have previously competed in the SheBelieves Cup, but chose to compete in Europe ahead of the Women’s Euro 2022 this summer.

You can’t blame these other countries for joining these other competitions, but it certainly will make for a boring 2022 SheBelieves Cup. 

Simply put, the USWNT will be expected to cruise past these three opponents without even getting out of first gear. The last time the U.S. dropped points to a team ranked 16th or lower in anything other than a friendly was a 2-2 draw with Colombia at the 2016 Olympics. 

But that doesn’t mean the competition will be a total waste of time. This is the perfect opportunity for coach Vlatko Andonovski test out younger players ahead of the Concacaf W Championship this summer. Iceland, New Zealand and the Czech Republic will provide more similar tests to what the U.S. will see in the Concacaf tournament, which will serve as qualifying for both the 2023 Women’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. 

2022 SheBelieves Cup Schedule

Feb. 17 — Carson, California
Iceland vs. New Zealand, 8 p.m. ET
USA vs. Czech Republic, 11 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Feb. 20 — Carson, California
USA vs. New Zealand, 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
Czech Republic vs. Iceland, 6 p.m. ET

Feb. 23 — Frisco, Texas
New Zealand vs. Czech Republic, 6 p.m. ET
USA vs. Iceland, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The 2022 SheBelieves Cup could be a chance for Trinity Rodman to break into the national team after she refused to go to Australia for the November 2021 friendlies. It could be a chance for Mal Pugh to prove she can be a World Cup starter. It could be the moment Catarina Macario announces herself as the best player on the USWNT. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a farewell tournament for Megan Rapinoe.

Regardless of who is playing, we’ll still eagerly watch anytime the U.S. women’s national team takes the field. It’s disappointing this year’s tournament doesn’t feature the same high quality as previous editions, but it’s still international soccer, and it’s a great opportunity for the nations who were invited. 

The 2022 SheBelieves Cup comes at a bit of an awkward time. NWSL players report to their clubs for preseason training on Feb. 1, only to join up with the national team for a couple of weeks before starting the Challenge Cup in March. But the SheBelieves Cup will once again be a launching point for the USWNT in a calendar year, and I’ll never complain about more soccer to watch, even if the matches end up being snoozefests. 

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