It happens once every four years, and when it does, the excitement leading up to it and throughout its monthlong schedule is palpable.
This week marks the much-anticipated start of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, with first-round matches taking place in Australia and New Zealand, where the tournament is being held. The tournament kicks off Thursday, and the final is set for Aug. 20.
In essence, this means that for everyone from the casual soccer fan to the “I have been following women's pro soccer since the 1990s” diehards, it's time to figure out where to watch one match, a handful of matches in support of a particular team or the entire tournament.
For the last group, now is the time to check those remaining vacation and sick leave hours to accommodate the viewing of the 60+ scheduled games.
Danielle Slaton, a former member of the United States Women's National Team (USWNT) and a co-founder of the new Bay Area women's professional soccer team Bay FC, says, “Women's sports is seeing huge momentum, and this year's Women's World Cup is only going to add fuel to the fire. There is a tight connection between the excitement surrounding the sport and the strength of the greater community around it.”
The official slogan for this Women's World Cup is “Beyond Greatness,” and while that certainly applies to all of the teams representing countries throughout the world, it seems particularly applicable to the USWNT.
After all, they've come home with the gold in four previous World Cups, winning the final match in 2019 (held in France), 2015 (held in Canada), 1999 (held in the U.S.) and 1991 (held in China).
They'll be walking on the Australian and New Zealand pitches with four stars on their jerseys to represent those past successes, and the team is no doubt looking to add another star this time around.
One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is the local support for women's professional soccer. There's the newly formed Bay FC franchise, part of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), which will have its inaugural season of play in spring 2024; the Bay Area is also home to the USL W League team Oakland Soul.
The Bay Area ties to the upcoming Women’s World Cup are strong, with Reina Bonta, daughter of California Attorney General Rob Bonta and state Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, playing for the Philippines national team.
“The Bay Area has historically been and continues to be a hotbed for women's soccer," Slaton says. "The region's influence on the Women's World Cup will be visible on and off the pitch as 35% of the USWNT roster has ties to the Bay Area, with Bay Area fans cheering them on and myself and fellow Bay FC founders involved in game commentary and broadcasting.”
The USWNT local connections are all the more reason to check out this summer's Women’s World Cup, even if a trip to Australia and New Zealand is out of the question. As far as Bay Area public events go for the tourney, the nonprofit Street Soccer USA has partnered with the city of San Francisco to provide fans with the Women's World Cup Village SF.
The “Village” will feature jumbo-screen viewings of World Cup games at different locations throughout the city, and each location for these public screenings is accessible via public transit. On Friday, head to the Crossing at East Cut for the U.S. vs. Vietnam; on July 26, Embarcadero Plaza will be the go-to spot for the U.S. vs. Netherlands match.
On Aug. 5, the Village event heads to John F. Kennedy Promenade in Golden Gate Park for the "Round of 16" game (the knockout stage of the tournament); then, on Aug. 10, the event returns to the Crossing at East Cut for the semifinal match. To add to the celebratory vibe, each Women's World Cup Village SF will have food trucks, local merchants, performances, activities and live music. For start times and to reserve free tickets, go to the World Cup website.
Another option is to head to PayPal Park in San Jose for a few USWNT World Cup viewing parties hosted by the San Jose Earthquakes. These free-to-attend parties, which will take place in the park's Epicenter fan zone, are scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. for U.S. vs. Vietnam; July 26 at 6 p.m. for U.S. vs. Netherlands; and Aug. 1 at midnight for U.S. vs. Portugal.
The viewing parties will feature a variety of activities, as well as prizes and giveaways, and food and drinks will be available to purchase during the matches. To RSVP, visit the team’s website.
And there are plenty of local pubs wherein bartenders will gladly pour pints and turn up the volume on their televisions to better hear World Cup game commentary, accurate or questionable referee whistle blows and fans cheering in the stadiums.
In San Francisco, some go-to sports-watching spots include Kezar Pub just outside of Golden Gate Park, the Mad Dog in the Fog on Haight Street, the San Francisco Athletic Club on Divisadero and Hi Tops in the Castro. In the East Bay, there are McNally's Irish Pub in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood and the Athletic Club Oakland on Grand Avenue.
To brush up on the impressive history of the USWNT and know the names of “that one who took her shirt off after she scored a penalty kick” and “the one with pink/purple hair who feuded with Donald Trump” before heading to a public viewing event or pub, consider checking out one of these documentaries:
Or, when en route to a Women's World Cup get-together, pop in the AirPods and give a listen to The Women's Soccer Show, Snacks with USWNT members Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams or Attacking Third—each of these podcasts focuses on women's soccer.
And, in the We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle podcast episode “A Legend Says Goodbye to the Game,” current USWNT member Megan Rapinoe chats with Doyle about her legacy, retiring after the 2023 Women's World Cup and how she thinks the USWNT will fare in the tournament.
To Doyle and her wife, former USWNT player Abby Wambach, Rapinoe says, “I not only want to win, but I think we definitely have the team to win. Our team is so talented and so dynamic in so many different ways.”
There’s also a multitude of relevant books out there, such as The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer by Caitlin Murray, Soccerwomen: The Icons, Rebels, Stars, and Trailblazers Who Transformed the Beautiful Game by Gemma Clarke and autobiographies from USWNT members past and present, such as Rapinoe, Wambach, Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Briana Scurry and Mia Hamm.
For younger readers, there are titles such as World Cup Women: Megan, Alex, and the Team USA Soccer Champs written by Meg Walters and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith and What Is the Women's World Cup? written by Gina Shaw and illustrated by Ted Hammond.
A final consideration for Bay Area fans is what to wear while watching the Women's World Cup—i.e., how to visually show support for this all-important quadrennial event and the USWNT.
The U.S. Soccer and FIFA online stores are certainly options when it comes to fan apparel. Another acceptable decision is to repurpose recently worn July Fourth attire and go with a patriotic theme when chanting “U-S-A!” and excitedly sharing the tidbit of “Did you know that this team has Bay Area connections?” to a person nearby.
Just don't be surprised when they say “yes.”
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