Watch Women's World Cup Preview: Predictions, Picks, Sleepers and Golden Boot
In our exclusive interview, former USWNT players, Leslie Osborne and Lindsay Tarpley reveal their Women's World Cup picks and predictions.
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2023 Women's World Cup Preview, Picks and Predictions
USWNT World Cup Preview
How do you think the Team USA compares entering this World Cup to 2015, 2019? What are your thoughts around the team?
Lindsay Tarpley: I think it's very difficult to compare teams because every year with the team that you go with to these major championships, you have years to prepare and it's really that journey that helped shape the team. So when they get on that world stage, they're ready to go. So looking at the team this year, there's a great blend of veteran players and also youth. I'm looking forward to seeing how they gel and what they can do. What do you think?
Leslie Osborne: Yeah, I think what you just hit on the youth. This team looks so different because there's 14 players that are experiencing their first World Cup, which is crazy. I think this U.S. team is in a transitional phase. A lot of the older players are gone. They do have the Megan Rapinoes, the Kelly O'Hara's, Alex Morgan's to really lean on. But without Becky Sauerbrunn, their captain, who's been holding it down for the last ten years, they're really going to have to rely on those 14 younger players. So I think this team looks very different than it has in 2015 and 2019. But again, you look at some of these younger players and how amazing they've been doing in the NWSL. Lindsey Horan in Lyon overseas. I think these 14 players are going to have to step up and take some of that leadership absence that Becky leaves. But also they're going to step up and score some goals, too.
LT: Absolutely. And it will be interesting. You know, I remember our first World Cup, and when you get over there, there's nothing like it. So entering that environment and how they feel, the nerves, being able to handle that will be a big test for all of them. But you know, they've prepared as well as they can. I have no doubt that they're going to bring it and they're going to do extremely well. But it will take some adjusting to just make sure that they are caught up with everything and ready to go.
LO: Yeah, you were in town here last week. We spent some time with them at their team hotel. It was really interesting to hear how relieved they were when that roster is named because now they just can focus on those 23 players and the team chemistry. And you could already see they're a little bit more relaxed at rosters named. And now it's all about those details and preparing for their first game.
LT: Yeah, so it's always nice to have that roster announced because it goes from trying to make that roster to then being a part of it. And once you're a part of it, it is a different feeling to know that you're all in it together and you're not competing every day to try to make that final roster. You're on the same team and going to compete against the world. So I can't wait to watch these games. I'm excited to see how the younger players do with this veteran leadership. I have big hopes for of the US.
USWNT are the number one ranked team in the world. Where do you think the real strength lies in this squad?
LT: I like the spine of the team and when I say that, I like Alex Morgan in the middle. Lindsey Horan. I think Becky Sauerbrunn, obviously it's a huge loss but I would love to see Julie Ertz fill in that position and then you have Alyssa Naeher in goal. I really think that their leadership in the center of the pitch will help them give them the leadership, the guidance, and also dictate how we're going to play and being able to speed things up and slow things down against the different opponents that we play. They're going to be different technically and tactically. So figuring that out will be important. What do you think?
LO: I really hope Rose Lavelle is healthy. I think they've missed a player like her and I really hope that she can give the team good minutes. I think her creativity and what she can do on the ball unleashes so much, but I think their real strength lies in that front line and the depth that they have. The fact that Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Lynn Williams, these players can come in and make an impact, whether they're playing 90 minutes or...you saw Trinity Rodman come in the last 15 minutes of the game against Wales and what her and Lynn Williams can do. So the fact that they have that depth and that threatening power attack up front is, I think, something that is just going to be their X factor. But yeah, I do think their backline is something that they're really going to have to focus on without Becky. I'm looking really at that partnership between Alana Cook and really thinking Naomi Girma is going to have to have an amazing World Cup and really have to figure out how they keep that spine intact, especially in their backline.
LT: And I look forward to seeing the game changers that come off the bench. I mean, in big tournaments like this, it's important to have the players who really embrace their reserve role but then channel that into a game changer mindset instead of thinking them as themselves as somebody coming into the game. It's what impact can those reserves have and be able to come in and change the game. It's a long tournament. I mean, we know we've been there. It's long, it's draining, it's exhausting on so many levels. But, you also have to really embrace your role to make sure that your team does as best as they can.
LO: Yeah, that's such a good point. I remember Kelli O'Hara being that role player in 2019 and coming off the bench and helping score that goal. And I look at her and Megan Rapinoe, who are going to have very different roles in this World Cup and how they're going to embrace that. And when they're called upon, how they're going to have to be able to execute for this team.
How important do you think their depth will be in this tournament? Obviously, we're missing Mallory Swanson, Catarina Macario and Sam Mewis. How do you think the depth is going to affect this team?
LT: We are missing quite a few players, but there are other countries that are missing players as well, and we're so fortunate that we have such an incredible investment in women's soccer right now in the States especially, but all over the world. And you look at the NWSL and the rise and the players that it's producing and helping get to that next level. So when I look at their roster right now, I see a lot of opportunity for these players who want to prove themselves and they've had success on other levels, but there's nothing like this level. So getting there, being able to put their stamp on things, I'm excited to see Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, players like that up front for the U.S. that have so much potential. I'm pumped to see them be able to have the opportunity to put their mark on it.
LO: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I think the depth of this U.S. team is always, you know, a strength and something that we bring. And you look at players like Sofia Huerta who have been on the cusp for so long and they've been performing at their club level and now they have the opportunity to make an impact. Look at Savannah Demelo, a player who had never had a cap for the US team until the Wales game, and she's performing game in and game out for Racing Louisville FC and the impact she's had on her club level, to see players like that perform at their club level and get the opportunity to represent their country, we're going to be relying on players like that because at any moment, like we talked about, an injury can happen, something can happen where they're going to be called upon and they're going to need to step up. I think the depth is still there and something that the U.S. is really going to lean on.
Women's World Group E Preview - The Opponents
Let's talk a little bit about the group. You know, you talk about the U.S., you talk about the Netherlands. You talk about two debutants with Vietnam and Portugal. What are your thoughts around the group?
Lindsay Tarpley: It's going to be interesting to see how they play each opponent. And when I say that, throughout the World Cup, you want to build momentum as you go and as you focus on yourself and how you want to play. It's important to make sure you know your strengths and not adapt to other opponents unless you absolutely have to. I look at the Netherlands, that would be a great match up. Vietnam obviously will play differently most likely than the Netherlands. But I'm looking at Portugal. I like the way they play. They're very well coached. And one thing that could be a difference maker for Portugal is how they defend. If you watch them play, they defend very narrow. And with that, if the opponent can break them down by switching the point of attack, hopefully that that will have success. But it will be interesting to see how we break apart the three various opponents.
Leslie Osborne: Yeah, I think this is an interesting group. I remember asking some of the girls last week like what are your thoughts? And kept trying to ask all the teams. And their first answer was like, “We're just looking at game one.” Like they literally don't think about their other opponents. It's game by game, but let's be serious. You're always thinking about your opponents, right? But I do think having so many debutants in this World Cup, you've got 32 teams. It's the biggest World Cup women the women have ever had. A lot of these debutants, you don't know a lot about, you do know a little bit about Portugal watching them in the Women's Euro, but you don't know a ton about Vietnam. And that's what it was tricky. When you have teams like this, you can't look past them. It's harder to prepare for them because you don't know as much.
I think for the U.S. and what I heard from the players is they're focusing on themselves and yes, they're going to change some tactics or personnel, depending on who they play. But it's one game at a time. I think all eyes are going to be on USWNT vs Netherlands, even though they're missing Miedema, it's still going to be an incredible game. And I think that depending on how we do in that game will give us momentum and hopefully be able to carry through into the knockout rounds feeling really confident. But I'm excited with so many different debutants in all of the groups. You just don't know what's going to happen and there's not that buffer anymore with that third team possibly making in. So you need to win games and get as many points as possible or your chances of going through are just diminishing.
Portugal beat the Dutch at the Euro and they appear to be a team on the rise. For the US, what do you think is the key to beating Portugal?
LT: Well, I think I touched on this earlier, but just how you attack Portugal is going to be very important because they play so narrow defensively. Being able to pick your head up and find someone to fire across the field, switch the point of attack, be able to switch through the midfield, through the backs and create diversified attack. That'll be very important as you're facing a team who likes to condense defensively and catch them off guard. Transition will be a key point as well.
2023 Women's World Cup Biggest threats for USWNT
Who do we see as the biggest threat to the US as we move forward through this tournament?
LT: Well, it shows me investment in women's football across the entire world because there are so many teams that could potentially have the ability to win this thing. I look at Spain, England, Germany, France, I mean, they're all very, very good teams. So as we've chatted before and earlier in this conversation, it's really who can gain the momentum and a little bit of luck. Sometimes at the World Cup you get use to have things go your way and you can prepare, prepare, prepare. But when adversity hits, how do you respond? So I'm looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.
LO: Yeah, I think this will be by far the most competitive World Cup. I remember saying that in 2019 and I'm like, “Wow, it's just a whole other level.” And there's ten teams that could possibly beat the U.S. at any given day. I mean, look at Sweden, a team that always has given the US problems. The way that they have that low block and they transition. You're talking about Spain, you're talking about Canada, a team that just won the Olympics. Yes, they're going through some problems with their federation, but the U.S. and Canada always battle it out. You're looking at a Brazil, Pia Sundhage coming into Brazil and really transforming that team, building that foundation in their defense. Good goalkeeping, good spine of the team.
Again, these are all good teams. And then Spain and France, teams that have always given the U.S. problems and actually dominated the U.S. and the U.S. always coming out on top. These are all teams that on any given day can beat the U.S. I would agree with you. I think the U.S. will come out on top. But I think that percentage and that gap has closed so, so tightly that, yes, they're going to lean on luck and they're going to lean on other factors. But I think if the U.S. can play to their identity and I think they're still trying to figure out their identity and get the most out of their players, I do think they're going to they're going to find a way again. And they'll be the first team ever, men's or women's, to have a three-peat, which would be absolutely incredible for this team. But I know they're not thinking about that, but it sure would be.
Related: Check out 2023 Women’s World Cup Futures Odds & Best bets from our soccer experts.
Australia-New Zealand a long way away. Do we see that having that effect on things? Is it a big advantage for the home teams?
Lindsay Tarpley: I remember when our World Cup was in China and when you're at that stage, a big part of it is blocking off all the distractions, shutting off social media, being present to what you're trying to accomplish. So I don't think location matters as much. The investment is there. Regardless, I'm hoping that the players will just tune everything out, focus game by game, and continue to gain momentum as the tournament goes on.
LO: Yeah, I'm really curious to see how Australia does and Sam Kerr. I think she will have the most pressure out of anyone in this tournament. Being in the host country, being the prolific player she is, I think she's going to feel it the most. I do think she will embrace it, but it's something that will be very interesting to see. I think Australia is really going to show up. New Zealand on the other side, I mean, they're just they're looking for their first win ever in World Cup history. So you look at New Zealand and you hope their crowd and being at home is really going to provide some momentum for them. But it also could do the opposite and even feel more pressure to win and perform and not step up. So I think it's interesting, you look back at 2019 and France, too. That was France's opportunity to win and they folded. I think it depends on the team, who can handle the pressure individually, if you can bring along the crowd and make them feel like they're part of it and use that to your advantage, but also just relax and have fun and play your style and your game and control what you can and try, like you said, to shut off those distractions and just get the job done. All eyes are on Australia. I'm really, really curious. I think they have the potential to go very deep in this tournament if they can figure out a way to embrace the crowd.
2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Predictions, Sleepers, Dark House, and Awards Picks
Do we see any other team than the US holding that trophy?
Lindsay Tarpley: No, no. US all the way, all the way.
LO: At the end of the day, the US will do it. But I think that Germany is a team that I rate very highly. Simon just got hurt in the back line and that's going to hurt them. But this is a team that I think under Martina is a very, very good team. They're organized. They've got this great group of veteran leadership and these young players in the midfield, they're creative, they're so fun to watch and they're really, really dangerous. So I think Germany is a very, very good and although I still think US is on top, I think that Germany is a team that will go very, very far in this tournament.
Which team can surprise and make a deep run?
LT: I'm excited to watch Spain play. Also England. I know they've had some massive injuries, but you know, their performance at the Euro last year was incredible. And also Germany, can never count out Germany.
LO: There are so many teams. That's what's so incredible about this World Cup. I think there are literally ten teams where I'm like, they could do it. Like, look at Morocco, the first ever Women's World Cup. They are doing so well in Africa. The federation is pumping in money. They've got billboards, they've got like- this is such an opportunity for them. They might even make it to the round of 16 because they are the kind of that dark horse, no one really knows about them. So Portugal and Spain. Spain, as much as are going through off the field, I still believe that they can make a deep run. So the fact that I don't have like three teams, like the list is long because of the evolution of this game and the impact of that investment in women's football has made. It's such a special time right now where I'm like, there are 20 teams that could make a deep run, and that's something that we've never been able to say before.
Who wins the Golden Ball?
LT: I am going to say Lindsey Horan. And the reason I'm saying that is because I think based on how she controls the game for the U.S., it will have a deciding factor on how we do so.
LO: Alexandra Popp for Germany has an opportunity. This is her last World Cup. England missed her in the Euro finals, which could have dictated that loss to England. I think she has an opportunity to win it. She's a phenomenal player and has that X factor to figure out how to win games for Germany. And I've always just rated her very high. But I'm also looking at Girma for the U.S. She has an opportunity to be the best player for the U.S. We look at that back line and I don't believe they'll win this World Cup without Girma having the tournament of her life. I want to put a defender in that mix because that never happens, right?
Who wins the Golden Boot?
LT: Sophia Smith +750. What about you?
LO: I'm with you. I have Sophia Smith +750. I really want her to win the Golden Boot. I think she has been waiting for an opportunity at the world stage. She is a player that I believe will be the star for the US and international team and in the world going forward. She has so much potential and she just needs to have the world stage and I think she will step up.
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