It begins in two days: the world’s second biggest soccer tournament; the largest single-sport women’s event in the world; and the biggest non-Olympics competition Canada’s ever hosted. It’s the star-maker that’s vaulted celebrities like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo to the forefront of sporting celebrity, with vestiges of the title the U.S. dramatically won on home soil in 1999 having shaped a generation of fans, male and female. It is the Women’s World Cup, Canada’s version, and it’s the biggest soccer tournament of the summer.
Copa América fans may disagree, as will those looking at a quadrennially competitive Gold Cup. The soccer hardcores busy tweeting about the U.S. U-20 and U-23 games might be focusing elsewhere. But given the immense growth seen the last time around, the status of the Women’s World Cup is beyond doubt. It is the preeminent event in women’s sports.
Four years ago, 845,751 attended the 2011 finals in Germany, a number that could be eclipsed this year, given the tournament has grown by eight teams (from 16 to 24). That means two more groups, one more knockout round, 20 more games, and a global representation that reflects a dramatically expanding women’s game. Whereas increasing the tournament’s size by 50 percent once looked like a recipe for blowouts, the emergence of a sea of nations previously dormant in the women’s landscape means the 2015 World Cup may prove as competitive as 2011, if not more so.
Whereas we approached that tournament with two clear favorites (Germany and the United States, neither of which won), this year’s field is more open. Most could pick out three major favorites, but predictions are amazingly muddled, partly because a group of dark horses is set to create a knockout round minefield.
We are going to get bigger games earlier in the tournament. We’re going to see new teams previously squeezed out by the smaller fields arrive in Canada with world-class talents. We’re going to have more time to enjoy the likes of Lotta Schelin, Veronica Boquete, and Aya Miyama – players who few in the U.S. recognize, but players who will have one or two more games to make their marks.
And we’re going to get these games in prime time. Previous World Cups in China and Germany have helped dim the spotlight. Not this time. Taking place over six weeks across Canada, the 2015 World Cup gives us our games at night (and the afternoon) and time for hype once we wake up.
But already, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Given the women’s club game doesn’t have a major footprint in this country, fans who enjoyed the U.S. run in the 2011 World Cup and at the 2012 Olympics may just be dropping into the 2015 buzz. And given the U.S. doesn’t play its first game until Monday, many may use the weekend’s game to ramp up for the tournament.
Whether you’re brand-new to the women’s game, a casual fan looking to brush up on your knowledge before the tournament starts, or a longtime enthusiast looking for expert analysis, we’ll have a guide to suit your needs. Get ready: the summer’s biggest soccer tournament is about to start.