By Michael Lewis
Is it the proverbial canary in the coal mine or is it the start or a continuation of a trend?
We’re talking about the U.S. women’s Under-20 national team’s abysmal showing at the U-20 Women’s World Cup.
On Wednesday night, the Americans were eliminated, dropping a 3-1 decision to Japan in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
It never is good when a USA squad is shown the door of any international tournament, but the U-20 team’s early exit is rather alarming in a competition in which the U.S. once dominated.
In the previous eight U-20 tournaments, the U.S. women secured three titles, finished third once and fourth twice.
You can’t win them all, and that includes youth World Cups.
But for the first time in the history of the tournament, a U.S. team failed to get out of the group stage the in successive tournaments. The Americans finished in their group with a 1-1-1 mark and four points in 2018 in France. Japan and Spain, which took first and second place in the group, battled for the world championship with the Japanese emerging as victors.
The 2020 competition, which was supposed to be co-hosted by Costa Rica and Panama – was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the USA had an encouraging start with a 3-0 win over Ghana, before succumbing to the Netherlands, 3-0, and Japan, 3-1 for a 1-2-0 record and only three points.
On social media, there are alarmed women’s fans and soccer fans in general, fearing that the world has caught up with the U.S.
There are indications that the rest of the world has. After watching Spain perform at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, I predicted that team could win a championship within a decade. The Spanish side is being fueled by a surge of interest in the women’s game in that country, especially by an ascending Barcelona team. Barca went a perfect 30-0-0 with 90 points in the Spain Primera Division, rolling over its foes, 159-11. Real Sociedad, incidentally, finished second 24 points behind the champs.
What transpired in Costa Rica is scary.
Once again. a generation of the USA’s best young women’s players failed to play in the high pressure of knockout rounds.
We should get a barometer of how the senior team will fare against the rest of the world at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The U.S. women’s national team is two-time defending champions and trying to become the first team – men or women – to win three consecutive World Cups might be too much to ask.
The American squad that qualified earlier this summer is a transitional team in which several promising young players needs more international experience before they are able to become impact players.
Whether a year’s time is enough, we’ll discover next July and August.
Australia/New Zealand could be a reckoning for the USWNT or a pleasant surprise.
If it is the former, we might look back at transpired in Costa Rica this month as a harbinger.