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Here’s What To Know Going Into The U.S. Women’s National Team’s World Cup Matches

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Photo: Lindsey Horan Mallory Pugh RiNo Mural
A mural by artist Marissa Napoletano depicts Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh on the side of Improper City Brewery in Denver.

Colorado will be well-represented on soccer fields across France over the next month.

The U.S. Women's National Team is competing at the Women's World Cup, and the roster includes Mallory Pugh of Highlands Ranch and Lindsey Horan of Golden.

The competition kicked off on Friday, June 7, but the USWNT won't play their first game until Tuesday, June 11, against Thailand. The team enters the World Cup as the reigning champs and ranked number one the world, but it won't be a cake walk.

Sportswriter Caitlin Murray, author of "The National Team," outlines the driving factors affecting the U.S. team's performance and why Horan and Pugh may be supporting players on the field this year.

Horan and Pugh will shine, they'll just be next to megawatts like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd.

Murray, as with other women's soccer fans or Portland residents, have gotten used to Horan being the center of the Portland Thorns' play. That won't be the case on the national team, Murray said.

"She is sort of at the center of everything that the Thorns do. She was the league MVP last year in the NWSL because she's so good," she said. "(On the national team) you play sort of a different role. She isn't necessarily on the ball as much, whereas here in Portland, everything is flowing through her."

Photo: US Soccer Women Pugh 1 HV
Women's National Team member Mallory Pugh of Highlands Ranch meets the press at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2019. She opted to skip college and turn pro in 2017.

Meanwhile, Murray said fans shouldn't expect to see Pugh hit the field right out of the gate. Pugh joined the team when she was only 17 years old, and is the second youngest player on the team, after all.

"She'll probably be a player that comes off the bench and sort of impacts games as a substitute. And she showed she can do that really well," Murray said. "She can come off the bench and kind of give defenses trouble, especially when they've been playing for awhile and they're a bit tired."

The world is catching up to the U.S., where Title IX has helped encourage a culture favorable to women's soccer.

"That's really inspired young girls to want to be good at sports, so they could get a scholarship and get a free ride to college," Murray said. "Then when they get to college, they're competing in these really sort of professional environments with their college teams, and the rest of the world hasn't had that."

Soccer is also a younger sport in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world, and the idea of it being a man's sport is less entrenched. But other countries are also more passionate about soccer, and as attitudes catch up toward women's sports, that'll be an advantage.

"Because they have such rich soccer histories, they produce such good players on the men's side. Once they start doing that on the women's side, it's really gonna present a challenge for the United States," Murray said.

Photo: US Soccer Women Horan 1 HV
Women's National Team member Lindsey Horan of Golden speaks with reporters at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2019.

While the players wouldn't admit it either way, an ongoing suit between the women's team and the U.S. Soccer Federation could affect play.

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team has two ongoing complaints: nonmonetary and monetary. In the former the team alleges they aren't treated as well as the men's team, who have had access things like natural grass fields and charter flights when often the women did not. The latter, which was lodged in March, digs into pay inequalities between the two teams.

"I think (the complaints do) add pressure," Murray said. "One of the arguments that I think really works in the team's favor, maybe not in a legal sense but certainly in a public relations sense, is that this team is a team of winners. The men's team are not winners. Ergo the women need to be treated better. They need to be treated like winners."

That pressure to come off as winners in the court of public opinion could add another layer of stress to the World Cup, Murray said. If they lose, it could hurt the cause.

"I think that would sort of hurt the perception. And I think people might talk about, you know, 'Were they distracted?' 'Should they be focusing more on soccer instead of getting into these fights with their boss the Federation?'" Murray said.

Where To Watch Women's World Cup Games

Denver: The British Bulldog | 303-295-7974 | 2052 Stout St. Denver, CO, 80205

Boulder: Pearl Street Pub & Cellar | 303-939-9900 | 2860 Arapahoe Ave. Boulder, CO 80303

Colorado Springs: Jack Quinn's Irish Pub | 719-385-0766 | 21 S. Tejon St. Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Fort Collins: Snack Attack Specialty Sandwiches & Brews | | 120 W. Stuart St. Fort Collins, CO 80525 | 970-825-5989