Cary, NC – National women’s soccer teams have been competing in the World Cup for nearly 25 years but there’s been little competition between international club teams. That changes this July with the first International Champions Cup Women’s Tournament and the local North Carolina Courage are participating as the only North American representatives.
Inaugural Women’s Tournament
The International Champions Cup Women’s Tournament takes place from Thursday, July 26 to Sunday, July 29, 2018 in Miami, which will see four of the top professional women’s soccer teams in the world compete. Curt Johnson, president of the North Carolina Courage, said they’ve been talking with the International Champions Cup about the inclusion of a women’s tournament for years.
“The sport continues to grow, both women’s soccer and soccer in general, and women as part of the ICC is a part of that,” Johnson said.
Charlie Stillitano, co-founder and executive chairman of Relevent, which owns and operates the ICC, said the North Carolina Courage were selected to compete out of all North American teams because, in addition to their strong record, they represent a large soccer market.
“North Carolina has such a rich history of soccer and women’s soccer in particular. We knew this would be a nice place to pull from,” Stillitano said.
Additionally, with the tournament occurring during the NWSL season and training camps, this put a constraint on some NWSL teams but Johnson said he sees the added games as an advantage.
“Competition is in the midst of our season so we’re playing two games in the span of three days,” Johnson said. “For our players who aren’t getting a lot of minutes, this will reap dividends.”
Sizing Up the Competition
For this first ICC Women’s Tournament, only four teams will be competing, with Stillitano saying he’d like to expand to eight or even 16 teams in 2019, with an even split between NWSL and UEFA Women’s Champion League teams.
Cary residents are familiar with the Courage and their NWSL competition but may not be as familiar with the other three teams in this tournament: Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyonnais. The latter are not only the defending UEFA Women’s Champion League champions but have won the French Ligue 1 season for the past 11 years straight.
“Olympique Lyonnais are the ‘Real Madrid’ of women’s football right now and are likely one of the best teams in the world,” Stillitano said.
Not to be outdone, Manchester City made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champion League last year and Paris Saint-Germain came in second place in the previous French Ligue 1 season. The Courage won last season while failing to win the championships and lead the league currently, while winning the NWSL championship back when the team was the Western New York Flash.
While the Courage have not competed against these teams directly, Johnson said the players and coaches are familiar with one another.
“Players have competed against one another as part of national teams even if we haven’t competed as clubs. They’re all top teams with world class talent,” Johnson said.
The Courage, and the NWSL at large, not competing with European clubs is something Johnson said he hopes this tournament breaks down.
“I see a need for more diversified competition,” Johnson said. “We want to play the best around the world. There’s not a lot of international competition with clubs and we’re hoping this has the opportunity to spur competition and draw attention to the NWSL and women’s soccer.”
Stillitano said his hopes for the tournament are for it to further spread the attention to women’s soccer, which he said is not growing as quickly in Europe as it is in North America.
“But there’s been a big shift in the past four to five years in women’s soccer abroad. Now, big clubs are starting women’s teams,” Stillitano said. “We want to make sure we build attendance for regular games and not just big championship matches.”
A week before the ICC Women’s Tournament, there will be a Nike event in Portland and the participating teams will be there training and playing with young women athletes.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos courtesy of North Carolina Courage and Hal Goodtree.