The U.S. women’s national team is the World Cup champion again, and its vanquished competitors are still searching for the key to the team’s ongoing success. While some will point to the team’s winning history, saying success breeds success, I think an even bigger factor is the competitiveness of the NWSL.

All 23 women on the U.S. squad play in the NWSL, but they’re spread throughout the league, with no more than four players from any team. Contrast that with France, which had seven players on the all-conquering Lyon team that scored 89 goals and allowed six in the just-concluded French season. Lyon is amazing, but the French league isn’t a challenge. You see this throughout Europe, with players often stacked on the best teams, sometimes from other countries — as with Germany, whose best player also plays for Lyon.

Paradoxically, it’s the bottom and not the top of the NWSL that’s the league’s true strength, that tests U.S. players day in and day out, without surrounding any with a superteam. European teams are catching up, and quickly, but their biggest growth will come when their domestic leagues stop being easy walkovers for the handful of top teams.

Short takes

• Before the Women’s World Cup even concluded, FIFA was already promoting the 2023 edition. President Gianni Infantino, who does seem to have a thing for making tournaments bigger, announced that the next edition of the World Cup would include 32 teams, up from 24. Some have complained that this will promote more 13-0 blowouts, like the U.S. win over Thailand, but four years is a long time for an additional eight countries to get their acts together.

• Every year, the USA Cup soccer tournament in Blaine, which began Friday, seems to grow slightly, despite already being the largest soccer tournament in the world. The number of teams hasn’t grown much, as the 1,152 teams are about the maximum number the National Sports Center can handle. But the places teams arrive from has expanded. This year’s edition includes 20 countries, including the first Liberian girls’ team to travel outside the country’s borders, and 22 states and five Canadian provinces.

WATCH GUIDE

MLS: NYC at New York, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, FS1. NYC FC has lost only one league game since the beginning of April, but its visits to eastern New Jersey haven’t been pretty. Last year the Red Bulls laid two 4-0 beatings on their rivals, once in the league, once in the U.S. Open Cup. New York is finally getting healthy, just in time for the first Hudson River Derby of the year.

 

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: jmarthaler@gmail.com