USWNT players welcome increased competition at World Cup

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — United States women’s national team midfielder Kristie Mewis and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher have said they are glad to see the Women’s World Cup be more competitive than it has ever been as they as they prepare to defend the trophy having won it in 2019 and 2015.

The USWNT have won four World Cups, more than any other team, but conventional wisdom — including from USWNT players — is that there are more viable contenders in this 2023 tournament than previous editions of the Women’s World Cup.

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“It’s incredible. I think it’s such a good thing. This is what we want, we want all women’s teams to get better and better, and we want to get better and better,” Mewis said. “It’s such a [good] time to be in women’s sports and to be following women’s sports.

“We encourage it but obviously we still want to be the best so we’re going to keep pushing the limit and everybody else can try to follow us.”

The U.S. are the favourites to win the tournament which starts on Thursday and lift what would be the country’s third consecutive World Cup.

“It’s always tough being at the top because everyone’s chasing you and giving you their best game, but there’s no place you’d rather be,” Mewis said.

“You want to be at the top, you want to be the best team. It’s definitely hard at times but this team historically has handled it so well and been consistent with it.”

Naeher echoed a motto the team has used for years — “pressure is a privilege” — and said the USWNT have gone into every World Cup with the mindset of winning it ever since the inaugural tournament in 1991.

“This team, starting 1985 [the year the USWNT started to play international fixtures] they set the standard way back then, and each World Cup we’ve had the opportunity to build in the groundwork that has been set for us,” Naeher said.

“Previous generations of players have started that and it’s now our responsibility to continue that mindset of the U.S. women’s national team.”

The USWNT arrived at their base camp in Auckland, New Zealand last week for training ahead of their World Cup opener, which will be played on July 21 against Vietnam in Auckland.

Monday was the first time USWNT players have taken questions from reporters since they arrived, which Naeher said “makes it more real” that the tournament is about to begin.

“This is incredible to sit in a room like this with so many reporters and cameras. It’s not usually my favorite thing to do, but I can admit the growth we’ve gotten to is good for us and it’s good for the game,” Naeher said.

USWNT winger Megan Rapinoe announced her intention to retire later this year after the World Cup and Naeher said the players will not only miss Rapinoe on the pitch but also in the locker room.

“She’s willing to do the extra,” Naeher said. “She’ll do a lot more of the interviews, a lot more of the media, she’ll take on the hard questions — the difficult thing that then allows other people to not have that as a stressful factor, she lets them be them.”

“She’s attacked everything as unapologetically herself and allows other people to do the same and people who they are as well.”

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