Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The U.S. women’s national soccer team has a chance to make history at the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
It’s been a major storyline for months as four teams have gone back-to-back defending their World Cup title, but none has ever secured the sacred three-peat.
With the Women’s World Cup beginning in Australia and New Zealand on Thursday, the pressure is high for the USWNT, as the obvious favorites, to win it all again.
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Despite the expectations, Carli Lloyd, a USWNT legend who helped win two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals during her illustrious career, thinks the women from the U.S. will be calm and collected entering this major tournament.
“I would say it’s business as usual,” Lloyd told Fox News Digital while promoting FanDuel’s support of the USWNT by teaming up with a female-owned roastery, North Edge Craft Coffee, to launch FanFuel Extra Kick Coffee for the World Cup. “I would say that the approach is always the U.S. is favorites, No. 1 team in the world. Everybody wants to go out there and beat them. There’s a target on their back.”
“They’re most likely not even talking about a three-peat or really talking about the history that they can potentially make. Everybody just knows that. They know that in the back of their minds, what’s at stake.”
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Lloyd is gearing up for the tournament in Sydney, where she is handling her broadcasting duties. She knows better than most that expectations for the USWNT can be overwhelming at times, especially as women’s soccer has exponentially grown in popularity since her first tournament in 2007.
But as Lloyd pointed out, this is what these women play for: The chance to etch their name in World Cup and USWNT history. It comes down to playing, and winning, one game at a time.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself because the minute you get ahead of yourself, it’s probably the moment where you’re going to get knocked out or something,” Lloyd said. “It’s really important to, first and foremost, come out first in their group. That’s going to be their first battle. Then, once they hopefully do that, the next challenge is going to be making sure that they get past that first knockout round.”
When the U.S. takes the field at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, for the first time Friday night (9 p.m. ET) against Vietnam, there will be some who will be playing in their first-ever World Cup match. But for USWNT captain Megan Rapinoe, it will be the first step toward her final World Cup representing the red, white and blue.
The 2019 Ballon d’Or Féminin winner as the best female soccer player in the world announced this will be her final World Cup as the 38-year-old winds down her soccer career. She was alongside Lloyd in 2015 and 2019 when they went back-to-back, and many key members of the squad, including Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone, have walked off into the sunset since.
Now, it’s Rapinoe’s turn.
“Megan Rapinoe, I’ve just witnessed so many iconic moments, huge goals scored,” Lloyd said, reflecting on her time as Rapinoe’s teammate. “The thing that comes to mind is just her ability to assist people, whether it’s off a free kick or a cross or a corner kick, that level of creativity that she has brought to the team.”
“There’s no one like Megan Rapinoe. They’ll never be anyone like Megan Rapinoe.”
Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz are the superstars in this bunch that many fans will be focused on at kickoff on Friday. But Sophia Smith, the 22-year-old star from Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, is someone fans should get to know quickly when the tournament begins.
Smith led the USWNT in goals last year with 11, and with her first World Cup here, it could very well be the moment she makes herself known to the world.
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Lloyd loves what Smith has done in the States, but she is hoping she can control her emotions and game as she’s set to play on her biggest stage to date.
“She has separated herself from everybody,” Lloyd said. “She’s proven that she can be a goal-scoring machine from various positions on the field. I never like to put a lot of pressure on people – I think there’s already pressure that a player has going into a major tournament. With Sophia being a younger player, the world is kind of putting that pressure on her.”
“I hope that she’s able to navigate that because it is very difficult to go into a major tournament where the world is saying you’re going to be the next breakout star and all these things. My hope is that she can allow her mind to just focus on the task at hand, be here and play freely. She has an opportunity to really show what she’s made of on the world stage. That’s the next jump for her.”
Winning a World Cup, though, is more than just a few players. It will take the entire roster working collectively on the field to get through each opponent, no matter the challenge.
Lloyd pointed out that defenders don’t get the most coverage leading up to these major tournaments, which is why someone like Naomi Girma is a point of interest for her heading into play Friday.
“Just has a very calm, cool, collected approach to her,” Lloyd said of Girma. “She seems very confident on the ball and just kind of playing beyond her age. It seems like she’s been a seasoned veteran, so I’m excited to see that.”
As for that competition, the USWNT’s Group E will feature Vietnam first, followed by the Netherlands on Wednesday and Portugal on Aug. 1 to wrap up group play.
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“In their group, it’s Netherlands,” Lloyd said regarding the USWNT’s biggest challenge in the group stage. “I don’t think that the Netherlands are the 2019 Netherlands, nor is the U.S. the 2019 U.S. It’s a completely different matchup, but the U.S. don’t want to go second in their group.”
“If they go second in their group, they definitely have a bigger challenge along the way.”
History, individually and as a team, surrounds the USWNT in this World Cup. Nonetheless, Lloyd doesn’t believe the outside noise and or historic accomplishments will faze this group.
Just like the previous two World Cups, through the highs and lows of each match, the goal is clear: Hoist the trophy at the end.
Nothing else matters.
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“It’s in the DNA of the team to know that there’s always going to be that pressure, and you want to thrive in that moment. I think they’re going to be really excited to finally get started and kick off that first game.”