USWNT to earn more from men’s World Cup than from winning title in 2019 | USA women’s football team

USA’s World Cup win over Iran on Tuesday paid dividends for both the men’s and women’s national teams.

The US men are guaranteed $13m in prize money for reaching the last 16 in Qatar. That will be shared equally between the men’s and women’s teams under the equal pay agreement struck between US Soccer and the USWNT Players’ Association earlier this year (10% of the money will go to the US Soccer Federation). For context, the $6.5m coming to the women’s team is more than they won in total for their last two World Cup victories. The USWNT earned $4m for winning the 2019 World Cup and $2m for their title in 2015.

The prize money for the 2023 Women’s World Cup has not yet been set, although Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said he wants to “at least double” the pot from 2019. However, even if the prize money doubles to $60m, it would still be dwarfed by the $440m handed out to men’s teams in Qatar. Under this year’s agreement the US men will get 50% of the US women’s prize money in 2023.

World Cup prize money was not the only area where equal deals were reached in the US teams’ agreement, which was ratified in May and formally signed in September. Shares of ticket sales will now be equal, as will win bonuses. Some aspects of income and benefits will differ between the teams. The men did not share their $2.5m bonus for qualifying for this year’s World Cup as it was part of the their previous CBA.

Walker Zimmerman, who is part of the US squad in Qatar and a member of the US men’s players’ union, said in May that he was happy with the deal.

“There are tough conversations, but at the end of the day, it is the right thing to do,” Zimmerman said. “It’s something that [the US women’s team players] deserve. It’s something that they have fought for so hard, and, to be honest, sometimes it does feel like we had just kind of come alongside of them and had been a little late.”

Becky Sauerbrunn, the USWNT players’ association president, said in May that the agreement would ensure success for the team in the future. “We hope that this agreement and its historic achievements in not only providing for equal pay but also in improving the training and playing environment for national team players will similarly serve as the foundation for continued growth of women’s soccer both in the United States and abroad.”

The US women’s team has long fought for equal treatment with the men’s team. In December 2020 they reached an agreement with US Soccer over equal work conditions with their male counterparts. The players were granted the same conditions as the US men’s team in areas such as travel, hotel accommodation, the right to play on grass rather than artificial turf, and staffing. Then, in February, the team agreed a $24m settlement that ended a six-year legal battle over equal pay.

The teams will be guaranteed $17m if the US beat the Netherlands on Saturday to reach the quarter-finals. In the unlikely event the US win the title in Qatar they will earn $42m. They US women shouldn’t hold their breath though – their male counterparts are 90-1 with most bookmakers to lift the trophy.

USA’s Sophia Smith: ‘You won’t get far if you don’t love the game’ | USA women’s football team

Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s free women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below:

In October Sophia Smith sat in front of the gathered media in Washington DC and calmly outlined her ambition: to become the best player in the world. It is quite a claim but then she had already had a pretty good year: She was the 2022 NWSL MVP (the youngest ever), was awarded the same accolade for the season’s final, which her club Portland Thorns won, and scored in the final.

The goal – in the fourth minute – was celebrated with a shrug, which went viral. What was it for? The critics. Smith said there had been people who didn’t feel she deserved being the league MVP. She added: “And that’s that.”

When we catch up with the rising star of the USWNT she is in relaxed mood but reiterates that her drive to become the world’s No 1 is as much about having the right mentality as it is about any end point. The goal, to some extent, is the point.

“I think it’s going to be a constant grind and getting better,” she says. “I don’t think there’s an end goal in what that looks like. But I think it’s just putting myself in an environment every day where I know I’m going to be challenged and I’m going to get better and grow. Not only just as a player, but a person as well.”

To achieve that mindset, she says she needs to be constantly challenged: “I know that I need someone to push me. I need someone to have very high standards for me. Even if I don’t like to hear certain things, or get frustrated, ultimately I understand that that’s what’s helping me get better and what’s helping me grow.”

Sophia Smith (centre) of the Portland Thorns celebrates her MVP trophy after the NWSL Cup Final against Kansas City Current
Sophia Smith (centre) of the Portland Thorns celebrates her MVP trophy after the NWSL Cup Final against Kansas City Current on 29 October, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The success of women’s football has been hard to ignore in 2022 and Smith is excited about that growth. Reflecting on the upward trajectory of the game, she is keen to mention the women that laid the foundation for her: “I’m lucky enough to have grown up with NWSL as a career and a goal to have. I know a lot of players before me didn’t have that.

“Throughout my career there’s been so much growth in the investment of women’s soccer. I think people are finally starting to realise that if you pay attention, and if you put the game on a channel where people can watch it easily like the men’s … and if you invest, and if you take the time, it’s a really amazing sport and people want to watch, and people care about it.”

Like a few USWNT stars before her, Smith rose through the ranks at Stanford University and helped them to the championship title in 2019 before being the No 1 pick in the 2020 NWSL draft. Smith’s growth with Thorns has been steady since then, something she credits to the legends and veterans she plays with. That’s a list that includes Canadian powerhouse Christine Sinclair, who Smith says is one of the best goalscorers of all time.

Smith was also among the first of the new generation’s stars to break into the USWNT. When Vlatko Andonovski began to transition eras in earnest this year, she was the first to break into the lineup and has been the coach’s go-to on the wing since then. She is very likely to be found playing there in the World Cup next year.

She has some advice to aspiring footballers, based on how she handles the hard work it takes to keep progressing: “The main thing is you have to love it. I don’t think you will get too far if you don’t genuinely love the game. Because you know as a career, it’s fun, but it’s also a grind.”

She adds: “So I say to have fun and enjoy it. But also you have to do the work. You have to do work when nobody’s watching and put the time and put the effort into it. Because women’s soccer is growing, and it’s becoming harder and harder to be great. And I think that’s great, but I also think it’s important for people to know that you have to put in the work and you have to truly care about what you’re doing.”

Sophia Smith celebrates after scoring against Colombia in June
Sophia Smith celebrates after scoring against Colombia in June. Photograph: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Smith is currently resting and enjoying time with her boyfriend, reflecting on a successful year with the Thorns. But everything from here forward, she says, is about the World Cup. It’s always on her mind, and watching the men’s tournament now has her even more excited: “Honestly, everything I do is for that, to make that roster and to contribute to that team. I think we started preparing for the World Cup a long time ago. Now it’s just getting closer and closer.

“Everything – how we train, how we recover – you know, everything goes into our preparation for that World Cup. It’s definitely something that I’m constantly thinking about. But also, I’m just so excited. If I get the chance to represent this country, that would be a dream come true.”

Talking points

Statistics: This month the stats website Fbref said it was expanding its data reporting service to include a vast array of women’s football competitions. The announcement includes 19 total new competitions, eight of which are women’s leagues, as well as both the men’s and women’s World Cups. Their service provides data on everything from xG and shot-creating actions to data on passing and ball progression.

Women’s Champions League: The group stage picked up again last week. Now halfway through, Chelsea, Wolfsburg, Barcelona and Arsenal sit atop their respective groups. Chelsea lead their section by the widest margin, with three wins, 11 goals scored and none conceded.

Sophie Ingle of Chelsea celebrates with teammate Erin Cuthbert after scoring against Real Madrid
Sophie Ingle of Chelsea celebrates with teammate Erin Cuthbert after scoring against Real Madrid. Photograph: Harriet Lander/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

Injury research: Beth Mead’s recent ACL injury has sparked renewed calls for more substantial research and support regarding this devastating injury in women’s sport. Global stars such as Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Alexia Putellas as well as younger rising talents such as Catarina Macario and Ellie Carpenter are currently sidelined with the injury, which affects women six times more often than it does men.

Quote of the week

“The greatest moment in Canadian soccer is hands down #CANWNT winning the Olympic gold medal. There is no debate about that. Differentiating between Canadian men’s and women’s soccer is also imperative” – the CBC journalist Shireen Ahmed, in response to a pundit’s claim that Alphonso Davies’s World Cup goal in defeat against Croatia was the greatest moment in the country’s football history.

Chelsea’s 11th goal in this year’s Champions League group stage came from Erin Cuthbert. Her 75th-minute strike from the wing made it 2-0 against Real Madrid – although it may have been more of a cross.

Got a question for our writers – or want to suggest a topic to cover? Get in touch by emailing or adding a comment below.

Women’s World Cup 2023: the complete group-by-group preview | Women’s World Cup 2023

Group A – New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland

Co-hosts New Zealand will be delighted. With the Olympic champions (Canada), the 2019 World Cup runners up (the Netherlands) and the 2011 World Cup winners (Japan) in Pot 2 there was a chance their Pot 1 placement, as a home nation, could mean little. Instead, out came Norway, thumped 8-0 by England in the group stage of the Euros, Switzerland, a team ranked one place ahead of them and debutants the Philippines. Switzerland and Norway will be favourites to progress, but New Zealand have a real chance to move on to the last 16.

Group B – Australia, Republic of Ireland, Nigeria, Canada

Canada and the Republic of Ireland have a nasty trek to and from Perth sandwiched between games on the east coast. If New Zealand have been lucky in the draw, co-host Australia have not. The Matildas have struggled of late and Canada could easily beat them to top spot, setting up a tricky tie with the winners of Group D, which will most likely be England. Upsetting an Australia and Canada one-two, whichever way round it might be, will be tough, but Nigeria and Ireland will not be walkovers.

Canada are aiming to top Group B after becoming 2019 Olympic Champions in Tokyo.
Canada are aiming to top Group B after becoming 2019 Olympic Champions in Tokyo. Photograph: DPPI/Photo Kishimoto/LiveMedia/Shutterstock

Group C – Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan

Spain and Japan will be eyeing a very smooth run to the quarter-finals. Spain’s pre-World Cup situation is complicated by the dispute of many of its senior players with the federation and coach, Jorge Vilda, but their understudies showed they can beat the best, with an unlikely victory over the injury-hit USA in a recent friendly. Costa Rica and Zambia, making a second and first appearance respectively, are unlikely to trouble Spain regardless of who is on the pitch, or Japan. With the winner and runners-up of Group A guaranteed to play lower-ranked sides a deep run is a tantalising prospect.

Group D – England, playoff B winner, Denmark, China

The draw has been kind to England with Denmark, China and the winner of playoff B (Chile, Senegal or Haiti) all unlikely to troublethem. They have also avoided the dreaded cross-country trip to Perth the other two confirmed sides have to make for their opener. The challenge comes in the last 16 as Australia or Canada potentially lie in wait. The battle for second place is where the juice is, with China, ranked 15th in the world, up against Denmark (18th in the world) and built around Pernille Harder.

Denmark’s Pernille Harder.
England need to be wary of Denmark and Pernille Harder. Photograph: Simon Dael/Shutterstock

Group E – United States, Vietnam, Netherlands, playoff A winner

A rematch of the 2019 final between USA and the Netherlands is a tasty prospect. They will be hoping to top the group to avoid a last-16 tie with likely Group E winners, Sweden, and the Netherlands will be eager to finally get the better of the USA on a big stage. One of Portugal, Cameroon or Thailand will complete the group, and the playoff winner and Vietnam are unlikely to upset the applecart.

Group F – France, Jamaica, Brazil, playoff C winner

France could do very well in 2023 if they get their act together. The off-field drama, with manager, Corinne Diacre, falling out with Eugénie Le Sommer and Amandine Henry, did surprisingly little to disrupt a strong Euros performance. Instead, it was an injury to Marie-Antoinette Katoto that caused them to stutter. Katoto is in a race against time to come back from her ACL injury for next summer but it is possible. Brazil will compete in the World Cup without influential midfielder Formiga for only the second time in the competition’s history. They have lost three, drawn three and won twice against European opposition this year, including a 2-1 defeat to France. Jamaica make their second appearance and one of Chinese Taipei, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea and Panama complete the group.

Group G – Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina

Sweden will be favourites to clinch the group with their pedigree. Italy had a hugely disappointing summer, where they finished bottom of Group D at the Euros behind France, Belgium and Iceland with one point and scoring only twice. Should the Italians finish second then the winner of Group E, likely to be the USA or the Netherlands, awaits. South Africa and Argentina will be targeting improvement on the 2019 edition after the former lost all their games and the latter drew twice and lost once at the group stage.

Group H – Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea

Germany are nailed on to top Group H. The Euros runners-up impressed in England and are ranked third in the world behind the USA and Sweden. Secure victory and they play the runner-up of Group F, likely to be France or Brazil, and then a possible Euros final rematch with England is on the cards. Morocco are making their World Cup debut, while Colombia failed to qualify in 2019 having reached the last 16 in 2015. South Korea offer Germany’s biggest challenge, though this is their fourth World Cup and they have qualified from the group stage once, in 2015.

Women’s World Cup 2023: England draw Denmark, China and playoff winner | Women’s World Cup 2023

England have been drawn in Group D along with Denmark, China and a qualifying playoff winner at Saturday’s 2023 Women’s World Cup draw in Auckland.

The European champions will begin their campaign in Brisbane on 22 July, but won’t know the identity of their first rival until February’s intercontinental playoffs decide the remaining three entrants in the expanded 32-team tournament.

Sarina Wiegman’s side will then head to Sydney to play Denmark on 28 July and then Adelaide to face China on 1 August, as they begin their bid to knock the two-time reigning champions, the United States, off their perch.

England avoided an early run-in with the likes of 2019 runners-up the Netherlands, who will play a rematch of that final against the USA, this time in Wellington on 27 July. Both sides are in Group E, which also features newcomers Vietnam and another playoff winner.

Co-hosts Australia, already placed into Group B, face their tallest task against reigning Olympic gold medallists Canada, to whom they lost twice in a recent friendly series, and will also come up against the Republic of Ireland, who have qualified for the first time, and Nigeria.

Fellow co-hosts New Zealand, already settled in Group A, kick off their campaign against Norway at Eden Park and will also play the Philippines and Switzerland. France, 2019 quarter-finalists at their home tournament, are in Group F alongside Jamaica, Brazil and another yet-to-be-determined playoff winner.

Spain, in the throes of a player mutiny against their manager, Jorge Vilda, are in Group C with Costa Rica, Zambia and Japan. Sweden, South Africa, Italy and Argentina make up Group G with Germany, Morocco, Colombia and South Korea together in Group H.

England are in a terrific place to better their 2019 semi-final run, on a high of their home Euros triumph and having beaten the USA 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley Stadium earlier this month.

“I think we can take on the world,” said Ian Wright, who was in attendance to help with the official business of ball-drawing. “European champions in our own backyard. The pressure they were under to produce, they did it. We’ve got a target on our back now. People want to beat us. That’s what happens when you’re a good team. We’ve proven we can beat the best – we beat the best recently.”

Also in attendance were the American two-time World Cup winner, Carli Lloyd, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, Australia’s minister for sport Anika Wells, the Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura and president Gianni Infantino, who declared that “Fifa is the official happiness provider”.

Hours earlier, at the conclusion of Saturday’s bi-annual Fifa council meeting, Infantino criticised broadcasters hoping to televise the World Cup for offering up to “100 times less” than they did for the men’s equivalent.

“When broadcasters – often public broadcasters, but also private broadcasters – offer us 100 times less for the Women’s World Cup than the men’s World Cup, even more than 100 times in some occasions, that is not acceptable,” said Infantino, who added that the tournament would cost Fifa around $US400m. “We are not going to accept this.”

Spain beat USWNT as both teams deal with off-field problems | USA women’s football team

Laia Codina and Esther Gonzalez both scored for Spain in a 2-0 victory on Tuesday over the US women’s national team, who have now lost two games in succession for the first time in more than five years.

Codina scored in the 39th minute. It was the first goal off a set piece that the United States had conceded since last summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Gonzalez added Spain’s second in the 72nd.

The United States hadn’t lost two straight since the March 2017 SheBelieves Cup, when the team lost consecutive games to England and France.

Both teams are preparing for next summer’s World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The United States have won the last two World Cups.

Both teams also have been rocked by scandals, with Spain missing some of their best players because of it.

The US players are reeling following the release last week of a report on misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League. A year-long investigation found “systemic” abuse and misconduct in US women’s soccer. US captain Becky Sauerbrunn said players were “horrified” by the revelations. Five of 10 coaches in the NWSL last season were either fired or stepped down amid allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Meanwhile, a group of Spanish national team players recently called on the federation to professionalize the women’s team. But the federation responded by saying the players asked for coach Jorge Vilda to be fired, which the players denied. The federation made matters worse by asking the players to apologize and ask for forgiveness. In announcing his team for a pair of friendlies this month, including Tuesday’s game, Vilda excluded the players who called for change, among them Barcelona’s Patricia Guijarro and goalkeeper Sandra Panos, and Manchester United’s Lucia Garcia. Jenni Hermoso and Alexia Putellas were not included because of injury.

The United States was coming off a 2-1 loss to England on Friday in front of a sold-out crowd at Wembley. The Americans have conceded goals in their past three matches, after allowing just two total goals in their previous 19 games.

The United States have won the previous three meetings against Spain.

Lionesses put down World Cup marker to prove sights are limitless | England women’s football team

Under an almost full moon, England poured a few more golden rays of sunshine. As homecomings go, this ticked most boxes: a celebratory atmosphere; the national stadium near enough full; the palpable sense of occasion as the tube station funnelled its public down on to Olympic Way. Then there was the rip-roaring spectacle delivered inside and the invigorating sense that, while the Lionesses’ summer heroics were its springboard, there is still no telling exactly where they will land.

The answer may be known by 20 August, when the World Cup’s two best teams will square off at Stadium Australia. It is hardly outrageous to suggest we were watching them here. England and USA served up a sometimes alarmingly open, consistently full-throttle affair that simultaneously meant nothing and everything. Even if no prizes were on offer, there in plain sight was the proof that England’s sights should be limitless: that, in delivering only their third win in 19 iterations of this fixture, they have set down a marker at a time of seemingly inexorable momentum.

It was an evening to bathe in the glow, but also one on which to understand the shadows. Before kick-off a dozen of the first-ever official England women’s team from 1972, led by their captain, Sheila Parker, were presented with caps in the home dressing room. Holding their new awards, given out 50 years too late, they formed a guard of honour for their modern-day successors and it was impossible to escape the poignancy. Every step forward taken by this team, by this sport, feels all the more necessary and loaded due to the neglect that came before.

How Parker and her contemporaries must have delighted in the speed and imagination of England’s front four, who ran an understrength USA defence into the ground and deserved the breaks that brought their goals. How they must have admired the class of Keira Walsh, star of the European Championship and now the world’s most expensive player, who drew cheers in the 24th minute when she picked Rose Lavelle’s pocket and broke the lines with yet another crisp pass to her attackers. And how they would have delighted in the moment if Lucy Bronze, blasting inches wide, had put a cherry on top after a counterattack that offered a showreel of this team’s strengths in 10 exhilarating seconds.

The visitors brought plenty of their own despite having darker clouds to navigate. Only Vlatko Andonovski’s players will know whether the Yates report, which cast a shocking light on abuse and sexual misconduct in their domestic game upon its release on Monday, affected their collective or individual performances on the night. Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn had been among those to acknowledge the emotional burden it had placed in the buildup and the surest conclusion is that, with or without the bleak context, they performed outstandingly too.

Georgia Stanway scores in England’s victory over USA
This was a vibrant reprise of everything that saw England captivate a nation over the summer. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

If Sophia Smith, the 22-year-old from Portland Thorns who led the line thrillingly, had converted an early chance they would have established the kind of early cushion they rarely give up. But Smith atoned for that with a precise equaliser and came close to repeating the trick after half-time with a shot that trickled wide. Amid stiff competition she was the best forward on the pitch and alongside the even younger Trinity Rodman, whose cruelly disallowed goal was wonderfully worked, stated overwhelmingly that no eras ended upon Riem Hussein’s full‑time whistle.

When that sounded, Walsh raised her arms aloft in triumph. It was important that England kept the wave rolling here and the sound when Lauren Hemp opened the scoring, at the end of a breathless first 10 minutes, bore respectable comparison to the din when Chloe Kelly wrote history against Germany back in July from similar range. The crowd of almost 77,000 were engaged throughout, whether gently goading the visiting fans’ chants or baying for yet another VAR decision to go their way, correctly as it happened.

The way to pack out huge stadiums is to play with quality, intent, a taste for drama and to win through all of those. Only 14,389 were present in Milton Keynes when the USA last visited England in February 2015: an awful lot has gone right since then.

Plenty more must continue to if past and lingering ills are to be banished for good. The teams stood behind a banner reading “Protect the players” after walking out, in pointed reference to the lack of safeguards identified in Sally Q Yates’s findings. It seems inevitable that this sport will conduct further reckonings with itself. The 90 minutes that followed offered a brief antidote: a celebration of the reason anyone takes it upon themselves to do this at all.

As Sarina Wiegman and her squad communed with their support one more time, it was easy to appreciate that anew. Whether or not this was an appetiser for the final of Australia and New Zealand 2023, that tournament will raise the bar yet further if it offers many spectacles of similar standard. This was a vibrant reprise of everything that saw England captivate an entire nation; it was also the timeliest reminder that football should offer wholesome, unfettered fun.

Georgia Stanway penalty gives England victory over world champions USA | England women’s football team

On a night dominated by a moving show of unity, the Lionesses edged the USA winning a thrillingly open battle between the European champions and world champions 2-1 to main Sarina Wiegman’s unbeaten run as England manager.

England’s win over the World Cup holders was their first since an 89th-minute goal from Ellen White gave them victory in the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, and it was only their third ever win against the Americans in 19 games.The gap though is closer than ever, with the Football Association investing heavily from top to bottom in a bid to bridge it.

This fixture always matters, but it was dripping with extra poignancy. To mark the 50th anniversary of the first official England women’s match on 18 November, 12 members of the original 1972 squad would take to the field clutching the long overdue caps they had been presented with ahead of the match. While close to 150 former and current players were presented to the crowd at half-time.

The game has come a long way. But the celebrations of just how far women’s football has come, with this fixture the fastest-selling England game – men’s or women’s – at the new Wembley were tempered by moving acknowledgements of just how far there is to go, even in one of the most advanced women’s footballing nations.

The Sally Yates report which found emotional and sexual abuses to be “systemic” within women’s domestic football in the US was published on Monday. In solidarity during a traumatic week for the US women’s national team, all players took to the field wearing teal armbands, the Wembley arch was lit in the colour that represents the campaign against sexual violence, and players stood united behind a “protect the players” banner before kick-off.

There had been questions about whether the US players would take part in these games, with Spain up next in this international window. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski had said that players would be given whatever support they needed and could sit out training, meetings and games as they needed because “this is more than a game”.

However, players, and this US team in particular, are used to playing through the pain and struggle, in the knowledge that we still live in a time where success on the pitch forces hands and change off it.

Both teams were missing key players for the Wembley showdown. Alex Morgan, who has been in electric form, Catarina Macario and Tobin Heath were among the many names to be ruled out through injury before the US squad was even announced, while Taylor Kornieck and Mal Pugh were both withdrawals. For England there was no Alessia Russo or captain Leah Williamson.

Lauren Hemp slots the ball past Alyssa Naeher to put England 1-0 ahead
Lauren Hemp slots the ball past Alyssa Naeher to put England 1-0 ahead. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Instead of Russo, Lauren Hemp led the line, with Beth Mead and Chloe Kelly either side of her.

For the visiting team, potent young duo Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith lined up alongside veteran Megan Rapinoe in a front three. That potency was almost demonstrated instantly as Smith swept in on the left but her effort on goal was tame and easy for Mary Earps.

It took 10 minutes for the European champions to put the USA behind for the first time in 22 games. Euros golden ball and golden boot winner Mead was critical, flying forward on the right and swinging a cross into the middle. Centre-back Alana Cook could only propel the ball into the path of Hemp with her sliding body and the Manchester City forward slotted past Alyssa Naeher.

England had the lead but it was a wide open encounter and just shy of the half-hour mark the world champions were back level. Captain Lindsey Horan put pressure on Georgia Stanway as she attempted to collect Millie Bright’s underhit pass and forced the ball to Smith who collected and fired coolly past Earps.

England’s lead was restored four minutes later, with a high foot from substitute Hailie Mace, on in place of injured Emily Fox, catching Lucy Bronze as she bent to head the ball and a VAR review awarding a penalty and handing Mace a yellow card. Stanway converted from the spot, firing low into the corner with Naeher having gone the wrong way.

The Americans could feel aggrieved that they were not back level before the break. Smith nutmegged Bright on the break sending the ball across the box, Rapinoe backheeled it past Bronze and Rodman’s low shot flew past Earps. It was a beautifully worked goal, but VAR ruled Smith was very narrowly offside in the buildup.

There was little to separate the teams after the break, but both threatened. With 63 caps between the four starting players in the US backline prior to this match, and Williamson absent for England, both defences looked fallible.

There was late controversy, as a penalty awarded for handball was overturned, with the ball ricocheting off Hemp’s bum rather than her arm.

The final throes for both sides would yield no reward for either side. With the World Cup nine months away England can take heart from a win against the competition’s holders, while the United States can take heart from getting through the week, and the game.

USA still world leaders in women’s football despite England closing gap | USA women’s football team

Midway up the stands inside Wembley, the signage flashes with “European v world champions”. The buildup to England’s showdown with the USA has been overshadowed, rightly, by the weight of the findings of the Sally Yates report into abuses in women’s football in the States and the burden of it on the US players, but the narrative of the match itself is hugely exciting.

The USA have been the world leaders in women’s football for a long time. The gap to the rest has been vast, but it is closing. Megan Rapinoe went as far as to say on Thursday that she feels “there isn’t really a huge gap any more and there hasn’t been for a long time”.

Why, though, has a gap existed for so long despite continued and increasing investment in England?

There are a number of reasons why the US have led the way. Most significant was the introduction of Title IX, part of the education amendments to the Civil Rights Act in 1972. Title IX decreed that government-funded institutions could not discriminate on the basis of sex. It meant educational institutions had to rebalance their funding of sports programmes: to continue large backing for key men’s sports such as American football and basketball meant putting the same amount into women’s sports.

That has created a player pool that is the envy of the world, with scholarships allowing players from the US, and across the globe, to receive a high-quality education and play incredibly competitive football. With that has come a culture of competitiveness and expectation – which contrasts greatly with the gratitude culture that has existed in England. In the US, women have a right to play football and for it to be properly funded, and they expect it to be.

The US women’s national team, and the various professional leagues that have been formed over the years, have been built on top of this base of talent and support – although as recent investigations show, the system is very far from perfect.

Women’s football in the US also benefits from not being hidden in the shadows of the men’s game. Football is not the number one sport for men, and that has given the women’s game space to flourish.

Seven players in this England camp and the manager, Sarina Wiegman, have played in the US and experienced what makes it so different.

“I was there for one year, a long time ago, as I’m really old,” said Wiegman, with a characteristically wry smile. “It was life-changing. We had a really top sports environment with lots of great facilities. I really enjoyed it. That winning mentality really came across. I was 19 at the time. I thought: when I go back to the Netherlands I hope there comes a time that we have the same facilities and environment there, as I really loved it. It influenced me in my development as a person.”

Lucy Bronze, who, like Wiegman, played under the renowned University of North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, said: “I think it had probably one of the biggest influences at an important time in my career. When I was younger, in Europe, in general, women’s football wasn’t really a huge spectacle. Whereas in America, everything was amazing. Going out there and playing at college for a year was a dream come true and made me realise that’s really what I wanted to do.

Tobin Heath playing for USA
Tobin Heath is an example of USA’s world class talent pool. Photograph: David Richard/USA Today Sports

“Playing with the players there who went on to be so successful at such a young age, at 17, it had a huge influence on me as a player and a person. Their mentality – learning that at 17 years old – I think that’s what has helped me grow my mentality in an England environment.”

There, Bronze came up against a young Tobin Heath. “Tobin had broken into the US team and was the first player that I really played with who was that world-class standard and I got to go head-to-head, literally head-to-head, with her in training sessions,” Bronze said. “I realised that I need to work a lot harder and push myself if I want to compete against those kinds of players.”

Women’s teams in Europe and across the world, domestic and international, have had to try to find a way to build a base that rivals the US system that allows players to flourish and creates such a huge pool that the best can be skimmed off the top.

The Football Association’s Gameplan for Growth in 2017 started to look at the game in England in this way, with ambitions to build the base as much as it built and invested in the top of the sport. The investment has come and work has been done in growing all areas, from grassroots and school football to the England pathway and the fanbase.

The Lionesses’ success at the Euros in the summer sits on the shoulders of this work. Now, England have depth to rival the US in a way that had not been there before and players are able to play in professional environments from an early age.

The gap isn’t closed. Until the US are toppled by England at a World Cup it cannot be said to have closed. Even then, establishing a player pool as deep as the college system provides in the US is still a long way off.

Megan Rapinoe says NWSL had ‘zero guard rails’ to protect players from abuse | Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe and her teammates are “emotionally exhausted” after the release of the Sally Yates report into emotional and sexual abuse in the NWSL, but she added that the US women’s national team are used to shouldering off-field burdens.

“As sick as this sounds, I feel like we’re used to having to take on so much more than gameplan and tactics,” said the winger. “We’ve had to shoulder a lot on this team. I think we have a lot of experience, particularly with the older group, whether it was the lawsuit or equal pay, or kneeling or whatever it may be. I think we have a bit of experience in that and that older players can help shield and shoulder a lot of it, whether it’s media attention or just what we do, how to act.”

The vocal support from their opponents on Friday, England, has been very important to the US. “It means everything,” said Rapinoe. “Our women’s national team gets a lot of attention globally for things off the field but it’s all of us. In so many ways. Even just us watching their Euros run, you couldn’t help but want them to bring it home.

“To have them acknowledge what we’re going through [is huge]. As Lucy [Bronze] said, there’s no report that came out here [in England], but I’m sure that there could be one, just as there could be one in likely every single country, which is a really sad reality. But there’s just so much solidarity between the things that we have to fight for. Come the time, we will be competing on the pitch, but I feel like everything before that, we’re all fighting together for the same things.”

Accountability is “essential” following Yates’s report, said Rapinoe. “Those people are in positions that have responsibility, and they didn’t fulfil those responsibilities and they didn’t protect players at all. It’s year after year after year, it’s impossible to overstate that every single year someone said something about multiple coaches in the league, about multiple different environments so if, year after year after year, you cannot perform your duties … I know I wouldn’t be in my position if I couldn’t perform my duties year after year.

“[There needs to be a] signal to players that we’re being heard, and we are being respected and that action is being taken. The [NWSL] was set up in a way that got it off the ground and gave us a place to play and every player would say that we’re thankful and appreciative for that, but it was also done with absolutely zero guard rails and that’s just unacceptable for the future of the league.”

Rapinoe added that players have had a “lot of practice” at having to separate the bad from the good in their sport. She mentioned three coaches who were named in the Yates report as being guilty of abuse. “Rory [Dames] has been an asshole for the entire time I’ve known him, from the first second I heard him on the sideline the first season I ever played. Paul [Riley]’s the same. I didn’t know Christy Holly personally, but everything I heard about him was horrible.

“This week is a little bit harder to compartmentalise for sure, I think the Yates report was just devastating in every single way. Even when you know some of the information, just to read it plainly and have it spelled out like that, that is just horrible.”

Fifa too must do more to make women’s football safer, she added. “Obviously, that’s a monumental task and a lot of these federations that are funded really well only get together a couple of times a year. I know that can be difficult. But from Fifa’s standpoint, as the stewards of the game, they have a responsibility to do everything in their power to ensure that every player is in a safe environment.”

In the immediate future, the task for Rapinoe and her teammate is to find the joy in football again.

“It is possible this week,” said the double Olympic champion. “I feel like there’s a reason that we’re at Wembley right now, there’s a reason that 90,000 people are coming, there’s a reason that these two particular teams have stretched way past the field and done something really special. I feel like this is a really special moment in women’s football: I know it’s just a friendly but it does feel like more than that, I think it signals more than that; we should be really proud of that.

“We shouldn’t have to do this. We shouldn’t have to shoulder all that we have, but I think we’ve done it in a pretty amazing way and continue to grow the sport and we should be really proud of that and ultimately, have a great opportunity to play in front of a packed house.”

‘Women need to be taken seriously’: Beth Mead sickened by US abuse report | England women’s football team

Beth Mead has said the Lionesses are in contact with the USA team about how they will show solidarity with players in the US after the publication of a report that found sexual misconduct and emotional abuse to be “systemic” there.

Mead, announced on Thursday as England’s player of the year, said before Friday’s meeting of the European champions and world champions at a sold-out Wembley: “I was quite sickened when I found out. It’s a worldwide problem. Women need to be taken seriously a lot more. I’m proud of the victims that stood up. People need to start doing better.

“We’re in contact with the USA team and some of the players. We are working on something on our support of them.”

England’s manager, Sarina Wiegman, said her first reaction to the report was that it was “horrible and unacceptable”. She said: “I feel very sorry for all the victims and it should stop immediately, of course. I think it’s a worldwide problem still. It’s time we will step up and stop these things.”

Mead believes England players feel more empowered to speak about off-field issues they did in the past. “We feel we have a good platform to make a difference,” the forward said. “We wrote the letter [to the Tory leadership candidates] about [equal access to] PE in schools. We want to use our platform for the greater good of the women’s game and women’s sport in general.”

Friday’s friendly will be the teams’ first meeting since the SheBelieves Cup in March 2020, when the US won 2-0, eight months after they knocked England out of the World Cup semi-finals in France.

“We took [the semi-final defeat] hard but it’s made us more hungry and motivated to prove ourselves against a world-class American team,” said Mead. “We’re looking forward to seeing where we are.”

Wiegman, who is without the captain Leah Williamson, striker Alessia Russo and defender Lucy Parker because of injuries, said: “We want to win the game but we also want to see how we can do. Then we have 10 months to the World Cup.

“The European game is getting closer and closer [to the US]. We’re not only thinking in results. Yes, we want to win, but we hope we can dominate the game. You have to perform at the highest level and these games give you the best information. We can play lower teams and score lots but it doesn’t give you the picture you need to prepare for next year.”