2023 Women’s World Cup: Storylines to watch as USWNT prepares to take aim at historic three-peat

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The men’s FIFA World Cup came to a dramatic conclusion Sunday with Argentina securing a thrilling win over France in penalty kicks, and luckily there’s no reason to bottle up even a drop of that enthusiasm. The U.S. Women’s National Team takes center stage in just seven short months, as the four-time champions look to defend their 2019 title in Australia and New Zealand at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For the first time, the Women’s World Cup will feature 32 teams – eight more than in 2019. Several nations are set to make their debut, including Vietnam, which will face the USWNT in its opening group-stage match on July 22 at Eden Park in Auckland. The tournament kicks off with a doubleheader on July 20, with co-hosts New Zealand and Australia taking on Norway and the Republic of Ireland, respectively.

But the news gets better: Team USA is back in action next month in New Zealand, where they’ll conclude a six-day training camp with a two-game series on Jan. 17 and 20 against the co-host nation. What’s more, the USWNT also will participate in the SheBelieves Cup over Feb. 16-22 and will host Brazil, Canada and Japan in the four-team tournament. All four have already qualified for the 2023 World Cup and are ranked in the top 11 in the world — with the U.S. at No. 1, Canada at No. 6, Brazil at No. 9 and Japan at No. 11.

Additionally, Women’s World Cup action begins in February with a play-in tournament, where 10 teams will vie for the final three spots in 2023 tournament.

As for prize money, while the final numbers have yet to be released, it’s expected that the FIFA will more than double the prize money for 2023. In 2019 in France, the women’s prize money was $30 million — with the U.S. women winning $4 million — and reports suggest that figure reach $69 million or more for 2023. Of course, that’s still a far cry from the men’s 2022 World Cup prize pool, where Argentina took home $42 million of the $440 million total.

Read on as On Her Turf breaks down what you need to know heading into next year’s ninth edition of the Women’s World Cup.


When is the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

The upcoming edition of the Women’s World Cup is set to run from July 20th to August 20th with matches taking place in Australia and New Zealand. Telemundo will be the exclusive Spanish-language home of the tournament, with streaming also available on Peacock.


Veterans, fresh faces highlight USWNT roster for 2023 Women’s World Cup

The U.S. women will be led by star veterans including 37-year-old Megan Rapinoe, winner of the Golden Boot and Golden Ball in 2019, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alyssa Naeher.

But an infusion of new talent is poised to back up those veterans, led by forward Sophia Smith and center back Naomi Girma, who were teammates at Stanford and shined bright in the recent NWSL season. Smith, who won the 2022 championship with the Portland Thorns, was named league MVP, while Girma won both Rookie and Defender of the Year awards. Other young stars to keep an eye on are Mallory Pugh, 24, and 20-year-old Trinity Rodman, who was a Ballon d’Or finalist this year. Catarina Macario, 23, is recovering from a torn ACL but could return as early as late February.


USWNT on course to face England in 2023 Women’s World Cup final

The draw for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was announced in October, with the U.S. women and their perennial foe England on opposite sides of the bracket. The U.S. is aiming to become the first team in either the women’s or men’s game to win three successive World Cups, after taking the title in 2015 and 2019. But they face a battle in their Group E pairings, which includes the Netherlands, whom they beat in the final in Lyon, France, four years ago.

RELATED: Women’s World Cup 2023 draw, schedule, fixtures, groups

Also playing out of Group E is Vietnam and one team still to be determined. That spot will go to the winner of February’s Group A playoff, which includes Cameroon, Portugal and Thailand.

The USWNT World Cup group schedule (all times ET):

  • Friday, July 21: USA vs. Vietnam, 9 p.m. ET at Eden Park (Auckland, N.Z.)
  • Wednesday, July 26: USA vs. Netherlands, 9 p.m. at Wellington Regional Stadium (Wellington, N.Z.)
  • Tuesday, Aug. 1: USA vs. Portugal/Cameroon/Thailand, 3 a.m. at Eden Park

The USWNT, led by head coach Vlatko Andonovski, secured its spot in the tournament this last July at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship, where it clinched the title with a 1-0 victory over 2020 Olympic gold medalist Canada and secured its spot in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

They closed out the 2022 calendar year with a 14-3-1 record, with all three losses coming in the later months of the year. The rare losing streak started with a 2-1 loss to England at iconic Wembley Stadium on Oct. 7, followed by a 2-0 loss to Spain on Oct. 11 and a 2-1 defeat by Germany on Nov. 10. They wrapped the year on a high note, beating Germany 2-1 on Nov. 13.


Who’s playing in the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

A total of 32 nations will compete in the Women’s World Cup for the first time, up from 24 in 2015 and 2019. The event began as a 12-team tournament in 1991 and was expanded to include 16 countries in 1999. The number was increased to 24 teams ahead of the 2015 edition in Canada.

Currently, 29 nations have qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, with three still to be determined in February through a playoff tournament. The groups are:

  • Group A: New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland
  • Group B: Australia, Republic of Ireland, Nigeria, Canada
  • Group C: Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan
  • Group D: England, Group B playoff winner (Chile, Haiti or Senegal), Denmark, China
  • Group E: United States, Vietnam, Netherlands, Group A playoff winner (Cameroon, Portugal or Thailand)
  • Group F: France, Jamaica, Brazil, Group C playoff winner (Chinese Taipei, Panama, Papua New Guinea or Paraguay)
  • Group G: Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina
  • Group H: Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea

What’s the format for the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

The 32 teams were drawn into eight groups of four nations. Each team will play every team in their group once, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout rounds.

The competition then moves onto a Round of 16 (Aug. 5-8), quarterfinals (Aug. 11-12), and semifinals (Aug. 15-16). The match to determine third place will be Aug. 19, with the final set for Saturday, Aug. 20. The tournament is being held across nine cities in Australia and New Zealand, with the final being held in the 83,500-person Stadium Australia in Sydney.


Portugal, Chile among 10 teams for still vying for spots in the Women’s World Cup

The competition to decide the final three final entrants to the 2023 Women’s World Cup is set for Feb. 18-23, with 10 teams from six confederations participating in the play-in tournament. World Cup co-host New Zealand will host the contest at two of the World Cup venues, Waikato Stadium in Hamilton and North Harbour Stadium in Auckland.

The 10 teams that narrowly missed out on qualification via their confederations’ qualifying tournaments make up the intercontinental playoff field for one last chance at a World Cup berth:

  • AFC (Asia): Chinese Taipei, Thailand
  • CAF (Africa): Cameroon, Senegal
  • Concacaf (North America): Haiti, Panama
  • Conmebol (South America): Chile, Paraguay
  • OFC (Oceania): Papua New Guinea
  • UEFA (Europe): Portugal

The 10-team field was then divided into two groups of three teams and one group of four teams. They are:

  • Group A: Portugal (top seed), Cameroon, Thailand
  • Group B: Chile (top seed), Senegal, Haiti
  • Group C: Chinese Taipei, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Panama

The top two seeds, Portugal and Chile, were given the top spots in Groups 1 and 2, respectively, and received first-round byes. The top seed in each group will face the winner of the first-round match between the two unseeded teams in the group final. Hence, Cameroon will face Thailand for the right to play Portugal in the Group A final, while the winners of Senegal-Haiti will take on Chile in Group B. In Group C, the third- and fourth-seeded teams — Chinese Taipei and Papua New Guinea — will take on unseeded Paraguay and Panama, respectively. The winners of each group will punch their tickets to the 2023 World Cup.

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Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC offensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

Courtesy Diana Flores
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Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC offensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

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Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

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When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC offensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

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“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

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