The United States national team’s road to the 2019 Women’s World Cup will run through Le Havre, France, and Alicante, Spain, but also Nashville, St. Louis and Harrison, N.J.
Those sites, and five others, were part of a schedule of matches released Thursday by U.S. Soccer. The slate of games includes tests against World Cup mainstays like France, England, Japan and Brazil, as well as spring friendlies against Australia, Belgium, South Africa and Mexico. The team will play on two continents and in seven states as it prepares for the World Cup in France; only California will play host to the team twice.
The first two games will be in Europe — against France (Jan. 19) and Spain (Jan. 22) — and the schedule includes three matches in the team’s annual SheBelieves Cup tournament and another three in a so-called send-off series in May. The World Cup opens June 7 in Paris.
The United States will learn the dates and sites for its first three World Cup games later this week; the draw for the 24-team tournament is Saturday.
The six-month schedule leading into the World Cup is the longest U.S. Soccer has ever announced at one time for the women’s team, and both the federation and the team’s players association praised the benefits — to both sides — of the longer-term commitment.
In the past, the team was sometimes informed about the dates of training camps and matches as little as six weeks in advance, which complicated everything from planning vacations and birthdays to scheduling surgeries and weddings. But those short windows also posed problems for the federation, which had less time to sell tickets for the matches; for fans, who might want to travel to them; and for sponsors interested in rolling out marketing plans related to the team.
The six-month calendar, then, is the most obvious recent product of an improved working relationship between U.S. Soccer and an energized women’s national team players association, which has pressed, both through its collective bargaining agreement and in bi-weekly meetings between the union’s executive director, Becca Roux, and federation officials, for more concrete commitments about when the players will be expected to be available.
“These little wins, which to other people have little meaning, they’re huge for us,” United States midfielder Allie Long said Thursday morning after speaking at a players association forum in New York.
Long said she planned her October 2016 wedding, for example, by leaning on older teammates more familiar with the rhythms of the team’s training camps, but she said she could not complete the final details until U.S. Soccer had locked in the games that book-ended the ceremony.
The players’ more proactive role in talks with the federation, and U.S. Soccer’s willingness to address their concerns, has also shown up in other ways since the sides agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in April 2017. After years of regular games on artificial turf, the women’s team — which had long grumbled about the surface — played its entire 2018 schedule on natural grass. The 10 matches announced by U.S. Soccer on Thursday also will be on grass.
“It shows that they’re changing,” Long said. “But it also shows that what we have been fighting for is worth it.”