Over the last week, teams from Europe, Asia and Mexico came to the U.S. to participate in international tournaments hosted in Louisville and Portland. The Women’s Cup in Louisville is an invitation-only tournament, while the Women’s International Champions Cup bills itself as a tournament of various champions as only teams that have won a trophy in the past year are eligible for an invite.
However, the shared allure of both tournaments is the rarity of matchups between teams. For instance, Club América faced AC Milan for the first time and played to a wild 5-4 scoreline, Tokyo Verdy defeated Tottenham Hotspur in their first ever meeting, and Monterrey beat Portland Thorns on penalties in their first meeting as well.
For a league like Liga MX Femenil, which had representation in each tournament through Club América and Monterrey, the matches were seen as an opportunity to showcase the growth of the league. For the NWSL, it was a rare opportunity to display the strength and depth of the league versus European and Mexican competition. Tokyo came over to test themselves against some better known clubs, and the European teams will claim it was just preseason, but with bragging rights and notches in the belt over who’s best, it means a bit more.
Every time these tournaments roll around they inspire an inescapable question: What if a single version of this tournament existed, but like for real? What if we made a Women’s Club World Cup that would be a completely unique offering exclusive to the women’s game, make for riveting clashes of styles, elevate women’s club football, and give teams and leagues truer claims to the title of world’s best?
Biggest club competition in the world? Maybe!
National pride makes up for the truth that international competition is quite often lower quality than what’s offered at club level, particularly among the top tiers. Team construction unbound from grandparents’ place of birth or DNA means teams can identify specialists from more expansive talent pools, and can spend more time training intricacies and relationships between players.
In the women’s game, evidence of this can be seen in Barcelona versus the Spain National Team. Though the national side copy/pastes Barcelona’s midfield three of Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Patri Guijarro, they struggle to replicate the fluidity. This is due to coaching and that the complementary players around the midfield three at Barcelona aren’t available for selection on the national team.
Given that the centralization of talent in Europe that exists in men’s soccer but not women’s, a women’s club world cup would offer something that the men’s game simply cannot – the uniqueness of which would elevate women’s club football and inspire growth among clubs around the world.
Whomst is the best?
Women’s soccer is vastly different from men’s in that there isn’t such a mass concentration of talent, resources and funding in Europe. While the FIFA Club World Cup exists for the men, a European club has lifted the trophy the past nine consecutive years. In the women’s game that more than likely would not be the case.
The USWNT have won four World Cups, including the last two, and the quality and depth of talent from having its players nearly exclusively play in the NWSL makes the league one of the deepest and most competitive in the world. Mexico’s Liga MX Femenil is putting itself on the map with key homegrown talents gaining notoriety as well as stars like UCLA great Mia Fishel eschewing the NWSL to sign for Tigres and Barcelona striker Jennifer Hermoso moving to Pachuca.
There’s enough talent outside of Europe to directly challenge the presumed notion of European superiority (real or imagined) common in men’s soccer.
When styles clash we all win
Being slightly reductive, most European teams favor a slower buildup and overall style of play, building through possession and off ball movements to find pockets. In the States, a high energy game with constant pressure is more consistent. Mexico has a good blend, preferring to stretch defenses wide and attack spaces in between through surging dribbling runs or quick passing.
Of course there are anomalies and a slew of variations, but overall the matchups of teams would see a clashing of styles would make contests ultra intriguing beyond fans of the teams involved. Across the globe, multiple women’s club teams are packed with superstar talent designed to excel at a particular style of play. Often, the biggest obstacles they face are within various domestic competitions or, in Europe, the Champions League.
A Club World Cup would force teams to confront and attempt to solve unfamiliar styles. If you want a glimpse of how thrilling that could be, watch the first 20 minutes of Monterrey versus Lyon.
Of course there is a reason this hasn’t happened yet, even as some people have attempted to scream it into reality over the years. It’s difficult to find a time when the majority of teams are in regular season form. The NWSL calendar overlaps at the beginning and end of the standard European league calendar, and only by a smattering of weeks on either side.
However, there are options. There’s enough overlap on either end to do a small group stage style tournament at one end and a semifinal/final round at the other. It also doesn’t need to be an annual thing, and as such, club teams in Europe could adjust some scheduling to ensure a fuller tournament in late May. Whatever the solution, leagues should be committed to making it a reality, as the opportunity for global elevation through a distinctly rare competition should outweigh temporary scheduling headaches.
Until then, unfortunately, we’ll all just have to keep arguing about who’s best and screaming for the creation of a women’s club world cup.