Much has been made of this team. The most-diverse in U.S. soccer history, it includes seven Black players and one player—defender Sofia Huerta—who has played for both the United States and Mexico. There are three gay players and three mothers—including Julie Ertz, who returns for her third World Cup eleven months after giving birth.
“I think this team has always represented America with a sense of patriotism that flips that term on its head,” Rapinoe told reporters before the match against Wales. “[It’s] one of the greatest strengths that this team has: we are all different and we celebrate that difference and allow ourselves to be our full selves on the field.” Stirring words from a player and team who have been celebrated as much for their off-the-field advocacy as on-field achievements (last year, both U.S. men’s and women’s teams signed equal pay agreements—closing the book on a lengthy dispute over pay gaps that has dogged the U.S. Soccer Federation since the Women’s team won the 1999 World Cup).
The U.S. hopes to continue their winning ways in New Zealand when the tournament kicks off later this week (the program already has four World Cup trophies and four Olympic gold medals), and a World Cup winner’s medal in 2023 would make it a three-peat performance for the U.S. (and Rapinoe). The U.S. will have to contend with ascending teams across the globe, including other favorites: England, Spain, and Germany. Ironically, the success of the U.S. women’s program has inspired competition, with teams all across the globe upping their games and establishing themselves as new threats. But that’s just the cost of being the best—ever. Keep scrolling for a closer look at the team’s pre-tournament preparations. —Alex Hodor-Lee