What a weird year. It feels hard to look back at 2020 with clear eyes because it felt so long and so piecemeal at the same time. There’s big gaps between games and seasons, jumping from the relatively normal start with things like Concacaf Olympic qualification to sports shutdowns in countries across the globe, then cautious restarts and bubbles. But somehow, some way, women’s soccer still managed to limp along in a year when the economic impact from a global shutdown landed more heavily on the women’s game. Here’s some of the highlights and lowlights of 2020:
Christine Sinclair scores goal 185
Let’s start with a feel-good gimme: Christine Sinclair broke the all time goalscoring record. Sure, it was in front of a tiny audience in small town Texas and not a sold out Canadian crowd, but that’s just how the chips fell, and honestly Sinclair herself probably found this way of doing it a relief, instead of covered with pomp and glamour.
NWSL makes the most out of the Challenge Cup bubble
Things could have easily gone awry here with all the logistical challenges of being the first league back during COVID in the United States. The NWSL had to get it right, not just because they were the first, but because with their margins still pretty slim, there was far less cushion in case of an error. New commissioner Lisa Baird, who officially started on March 10, made sure the league still had sponsorship and broadcast deals, and we got the bonus of a great feel-good story from someone who was, for once, not a loser.
Black athletes speak out
You can’t talk about the Challenge Cup without also acknowledging that 2020 was the year Black athletes spoke out more than ever. Players, and sometimes whole teams, took a knee during the US national anthem, continued to speak out about their experiences, and formed a Black players coalition to help advocate for themselves and future Black players.
Liga MX Femenil was more exciting than ever
If you missed the second leg of the Rayadas/Tigres championship battle, you missed a real banger. This was a final that wasn’t just hold-your-breath exciting as a game in and of itself, it was a continued advertisement for an exciting league with tons of super watchable talent that may help vault Mexico into the next tier of international competitiveness. But even if you don’t want to think so hard about the big picture, how can you pass up a game that had a 94’ equalizer on aggregate that sent things to penalties? Bonus: the second leg was shown on TUDN, giving more access to a larger audience. More broadcast games in 2021 please.
Pernille Harder’s record transfer
Transfer fees are one of the most commonly used signposts for economic growth in soccer. Women’s soccer has historically had low or nonexistent transfer fees - partially a lack of money from small time owners, but also an actual lack of interest in properly valuing players and the women’s game. Danish international Harder went from Wolfsburg to Chelsea for a rumored mid-six figure fee (in USD$), nudging the bar yet higher for top talent. Along with Sam Kerr’s two-year contract valued nearly at USD$1 million, it’s clear that female players are starting to gather more leverage and rich owners are starting to be more willing to dish out big bucks to win. (Faintly, in the distance, Jean-Michel Aulas is claiming he did it first.)
Primera Iberdrola, Women’s Super League, Damallsvenskan all having fun
Speaking of an influx of big internationals into the English league, WSL is definitely growing as a hotspot of competition and rivalry. Were some moves inspired by a need to find minutes and a training environment outside of the US and its crappy COVID-19 response? Sure, but Alex Morgan to Tottenham was exciting anyway, and she got them to give their women’s team some basic respect by moving them to the same training ground the men get to use. You had Göteborg winning the Damallsveskanfor the first time, and you had tension in the Primera Iberdrola table.
Can’t spell drama without Diacre
Where to begin with the saga of Corinne Diacre and her continued friction with the French national team? First, if you managed to miss all of that, you need to read this excellent chronological breakdown from Lyon Offside, where Arianna Scavetti has listed out Diacre’s numerous clashes with her most high profile players. It’s a glimpse into the culture behind a perennially underperforming team, one who, it feels like, should be a bigger world player than it is but tends to collapse late in the game.
Side note, there were some other coaching moves around the globe as well, with Netherlands losing Sarina Wiegman to England in 2021, Canada’s Kenneth Heiner-Møller leaving for a position in Denmark, and former USA AC Tony Gustavsson taking over in Australia. Diacre to Netherlands??
FIFA giveth and FIFA taketh away
After initially postponing the 2020 U-20 Women’s World Cup to 2021, FIFA eventually canceled the tournament outright in November. It was the same for the U-17 Women’s World Cup, which will stay with original 2020 hosts India for the 2022 edition, while the U-20 WWC will stay with Costa Rica. It’s a real shame that COVID put a gap in the regular schedule of these youth tournaments, particularly for those players who are now going to age out of the group before the next tournament. The youth WWC tournaments are important milestones and opportunities for development for dozens of programs, as well as ways to bring attention to up-and-coming players who are soon to step onto the senior scene.
We also got the confederation allocations for the 2023 World Cup.
Direct slot allocation (29 of the 32 participation slots)
- AFC: 6 direct slots
- CAF: 4 direct slots
- Concacaf: 4 direct slots
- CONMEBOL: 3 direct slots
- OFC: 1 direct slot
- UEFA: 11 direct slots
Per FIFA, “The two host countries, Australia and New Zealand, will automatically qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, and their slots have been taken directly from the quotas allocated to their confederations, namely the AFC and the OFC respectively.”
The last three slots have to go through a 10-team play-off tournament, which will be allocated as follows:
- AFC: 2 play-off slots
- CAF: 2 play-off slots
- Concacaf: 2 play-off slots
- CONMEBOL:2 play-off slots
- OFC: 1 play-off slot
- UEFA: 1 play-off slot
What were your highlights and lowlights of the year? What stood out to you, or got overlooked? Let us know in the comments! Here’s to a strong end to 2020, and a much, much, much better 2021.