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W Gold Cup: USA triumph but was it a success?

March 12, 2024

Despite an early shock, the US Women's National Team recovered to win the inaugural women's Gold Cup. But was the tournament a success for a region that has been slower than most to grow the women's game?

Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal in the W Gold Cup final
Lindsey Horan proved the difference as USA lifted the first W Gold CupImage: Ulises Naranjo/Agencia-MexSport/IMAGO

Veteran striker Alex Morgan perhaps said it best when, moments after the USA lifted the inaugural Women's Gold Cup, she described it as a "crazy tournament" for her team.

The aura of invincibility that the US women's national team carried for several years has fallen away in the last year or so, with an early World Cup exit leading to a coach swap and, it was thought, a changing of the playing guard.

But a host of injuries saw Morgan return to the side to score her 122nd and 123rd international goals during the tournament while it was 144-cap captain Lindsey Horan who scored the winner that downed Brazil in the final.

While interim coach Twila Kilgore will be pleased to win a trophy, Emma Hayes, who will take the job on a permanent basis on June 1, ahead of the Paris Olympics, may not have learned too much about her new charges. That said, the performances of Jaedyn Shaw, who was named as the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the tournament does confirm the talent present in the next generation, while the US once again looked defensively sound.

Waterlogged pitch

A US loss to Mexico in the group stages was the biggest shock of a tournament which was largely predictable in sporting terms. But the first running of the competition, designed to give teams in this region more high quality fixtures, offered plenty of other talking points.

Perhaps the biggest was the pitch used for the semifinal between the USWNT and Canada. After a torrential downpour, the surface at the Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, was saturated to the point where the ball could not roll properly and the game became something of a farce, before the USA eventually triumphed on penalties. Plenty of postmatch analysis questioned whether a men's semifinal would have gone ahead in such conditions.

USA and Canada players compete for a football while water flies from the pitch
The semifinal between USA and Canada was played in unlikely, and possibly unsafe, conditionsImage: Ulises Naranjo/Agencia-MexSport/IMAGO

"It was a little bit of frustration, it's not a day that you can play football and it's really unfortunate," said Horan. "But at the end of the day, me and Jessie [Canada captain Jessie Fleming] were like, 'OK well we have got to move forward and play.'"

That game was played in front of a crowd of 15,245 while the final drew 31,528 to the same venue. These matches were natural outliers in attendance terms, with the average mark for game recorded at 3,464. By comparison, the 2023 World Cup in Australia set a benchmark of 30,911 while the Euros in England in 2022, a continental tournament like the Gold Cup, saw an average of 18,544.

Can others match US attendances?

The big question for the next edition of the tournament is whether a country outside of the US can even replicate those numbers. The women's game in the USA and, to a lesser degree in Canada, is much more advanced in terms of infrastructure, history and equality than in other parts of the Americas. Not much is known about the next tournament but CONCACAF know there is a need to build the game in their region.

Zambia's Kundananji making history in women's football

This tournament was undoubtedly a start and during proceedings CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani spoke of his commitment to launching something similar for clubs in the region.

Montagliani pointed to the exciting football of Puerto Rico, the progress of the Dominican Republic and El Salvador's qualifying playoff win over Guatemala as signs of progress.

"We have long had our nations that have had expectations of the highest level but what our W [women's] strategy is all about is creating the opportunities for more stories like we have seen with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic," he said.

"We will continue to strategically invest in development and in competitions to support our federations, and to provide opportunities for coaches and players."

Edited by James Thorogood