By Scott Adamson
The FIFA Women’s World Cup debuted in 1991 and has since evolved into a true sports spectacle. This year’s event – starting Friday in France with the hosts taking on South Korea at Parc des Princes in Paris – offers more prize money than ever before ($4 million to the winners and $30 million distributed) and total in-game attendance is expected to be near one million.
More than 720,000 tickets had been sold 50 days ahead of the Cup, and the opening match as well as the semi-finals and final are already sold out.
A global television audience of 764 million watched the WWC in 2015, and those numbers are projected to be even larger this time around.
In short, the month-long competition will be yet another testament to the rapid growth of women’s soccer and a feast for supporters all over the planet.
The United States is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and comes in as defending champions of the competition. Twelve players from that squad are back, including Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe.
France is also one of the favorites to lift the Cup, buoyed by the 1-2 punch of Kadidiatou Diani and Eugenie Le Sommer. The fact that Corinne Diacre’s charges spend the entire tourney in friendly confines also provides a big advantage.
But there are plenty of other countries in the mix, with Germany, England, Japan and the Netherlands leading the way.
Certainly the teams will be eyed closely by those who play and coach the game, such as Unity FC’s Harlie Ford and The Citadel gaffer Ciaran Traquair. Their interest goes beyond a quadrennial showcase.
For them, the World Cup lets the world see what they do day in and day out.
Ford is a 21-year-old defender for the Deltona, Florida-based club, which plays in the Florida Central Division of the United Premier Soccer League’s Southeast Conference. A standout on the field and in the classroom, soccer has been a major part of her life for most of her life.
Already a graduate of Stetson University, she’ll play collegiately for Webber International University as a student assistant in the fall.
Unity’s team captain and among its career leaders in minutes played, Ford is a fierce defender who can also step up and be a presence wherever needed on the roster. She even filled in as goalkeeper in a match last season, recording a clean sheet.
Traquair is entering his fourth season as head coach of the Bulldogs’ women’s soccer team. His 2018 club finished 9-10, marking the most wins for the program since the 2010 campaign. Kessy Bradshaw was The Citadel’s first postseason award winner since 2014 when she was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman Team last fall.
Before coming to The Military College of South Carolina, Traquair coached three All-South Atlantic Conference performers and the SAC Freshman of the Year at Division II Anderson University in the Palmetto State.
One of his former AU players, Idoia Agirre, currently plays professionally for SD Eibar in Spain.
Traquair is a native of Scotland and played soccer at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia, before going on to suit up for Mississippi Brilla FC and Chattanooga FC.
He’s been coaching since 2007, with his first head coaching job coming at Wesleyan College.
The player and coach were asked to provide their perspectives on World Cup 2019, and here’s what they had to say:
The first WWC was in 1991 and it has grown in stature ever since. Which was the first one you remember watching?
Harlie Ford: The first WWC I remember really being invested in has to be the tournament from 2011. It was the last year Abby Wambach played, and the U.S. took the pitch by storm, playing with such great energy, up until Japan took us down in penalties. Every game was close, I think three of the games in the knockout round went to penalties. Pretty awesome soccer all around.
Ciaran Traquair: I think the 2011 World Cup was one of the first instances where I looked on with added interest. Germany had done a fantastic job of making it a true spectacle like they have done before on the men’s side on many occasions. It was probably the first time I started witnessing genuine direct competition for the U.S. women’s national team. Several countries had really advanced their women’s game from top to bottom, and it was showing on the highest stage.
What match stands out most in your mind, and what player do you remember best?
Harlie Ford: Again, I have to go back to the final of the 2011 Cup. Every time the U.S. thought they had it, Japan would come back with such fury, refusing to be beat. Wambach was insane, though, matching their tempo and was the only U.S. player to score on penalties. Even though the result didn’t slide in our favor, it was a good note for her to retire off of. It also helps that we ended up getting Japan back for the loss in 2015.
Ciaran Traquair: Probably the 2011 final between Japan and the USA. Japan ended up winning on penalties after a 2-2 draw after extra time. It was Japan’s first World Cup win and it was done with a bit of style and class. Aya Miyama was a player who stood out. I was fortunate to train alongside her on a few occasions in the summer of 2010. A good friend was on staff at the now defunct Atlanta Beat. We were drafted in as the opposition ‘scout team’ in preparation for one of their upcoming games. Miyama was a fantastic player up close, and it was outstanding to go on and see her score in a World Cup final.
How important do you think the WWC has been in not just getting young women interested in soccer, but in athletics overall?
Harlie Ford: The 2015 WWC saw record television ratings and a dramatic increase in game attendance. All eyes were on these lady ballers and they all performed above expectations. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the WWC has encouraged thousands, if not millions, of young women to challenge adversity in sports and to go out there and be active. In countries where there wasn’t a place for women’s soccer, we are seeing clubs and teams rise up and flourish, which makes the world all the better for it. National teams that used to be known for an easy match (i.e., South Africa vs. USA this past May) have proven their resilience and growth. The women’s game is changing and I am personally so excited for it. I hope this World Cup proves to be just as inspiring as the rest.
Ciaran Traquair: I don’t think we can underestimate the hype and excitement that this World Cup has already created worldwide. The message is always clear from the top athletes in the women’s game – believe in yourself, work hard, don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it. The women involved in the WWC are top professionals who set a great example of the heights a young girl can aim for. For me, being active, involving yourself in sports, and realizing your competitive potential is exactly what this WWC should bring out in young people. On top of that, let’s hope that young girls see the true fun and enjoyment of this sport and tournament.
Finally, who is your favorite in this year’s WWC and who is your dark horse?
Harlie Ford: As much as I would love to root for the U.S., I think France is by far the favorite for this tournament. Their technical skill and calm control of the pitch is beyond admirable and it looks like they are going to be a heavy hitter this year. I’m going to put England up as a dark horse, simply because of the energy coming out of their head coach (Phil Neville). It’s clear that he loves his team and I think he makes the game more about his players than the result, which is a great way to build character and chemistry. I would also like to give Jamaica a good run at the tourney. I played against Jody Brown, who is one of the youngest players at this Cup, and I would love to see her go all the way. Regardless, I am certain she will be making waves and I hope to buy her jersey one day.
Ciaran Traquair: I’ll have to side with France since they have home advantage. It was a huge advantage for the French men’s national team at the recent World Cup. France WNT are a quality side, and they will be playing in front of a full house for every game. The expectation of the French people will be to win the whole thing. A lot of the French squad play their club football at Lyon (the best women’s club team in the world). My dark horse would have to be Scotland – solely because of my allegiance and it being their first ever tournament. Good luck to (manager) Shelley Kerr and the squad.