Preview: The Women’s International Champions Cup

The third iteration of the Women’s International Champions Cup will commence this Wednesday.  The tournament was first created on the women’s side in 2018 to crown the world’s best club. The North Carolina Courage, then NWSL champions, won it in its first year.  L’Olympique Lyonnais won it in 2019.   The WICC was not held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year will see the 2019-20 UEFA Women’s Champions League winners Olympique Lyonnais, the 2020-21 UEFA Women’s Champions League winners FC Barcelona, the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup winners Houston Dash and the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup winners Portland Thorns as competitors.

The tournament will open with two matches on Wednesday evening in America, Thursday night in the UK, with both European teams playing each other followed by both American teams.  The losers of both matches will play each other for third place on Saturday evening, Sunday night in the UK, followed by the first placed match between the winners.  

It should be a very competitive competition. FC Barcelona are coming off a 99 point season, where they won all but one match. They also won the Copa de la Reina and the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

While they lost their captain Vicky Losada, they have also added several talented players to their squad during the offseason.  So far they have won all of their preseason matches, notably beating Montpellier and Juventus this past week.

Olympique Lyonnais for their part have come off their first season in more than a decade without any trophies.  In addition to losing the Division 1 to Paris Saint Germain, they were also eliminated by the Parisian team in the quarter finals of the Champions League.  In response to these performances Lyon have been on a big recruiting drive.  The have signed Christiane Endler, Signed Bruun and Perle Morroni from PSG, Daniëlle van de Donk from Arsenal and Emma Holmgren from Eskilstuna United. 

While the club will be without the services of Eugénie Le Sommer, Sarah Bouhaddi and Dzsenifer Marozsán who are on loan with parent NWSL club OL Reign, and Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir who is pregnant, the debt of talent which OL has at their disposal difficult to match.  So far this year in pre-season club friendlies they have beaten both Freiburg and PSG, with only Bayern Munich getting a win against them.

Their first match against FC Barcelona will be a difficult one, but also a very close one.  Both teams have highly technical hard working teams.  While Barcelona are better known for ball possession, and the tiki-taka ball movement that marks the club’s style, Lyon have an equal capacity to hold and pass the ball and also score quickly on the counter. 

Both clubs have met each other three times.  The first two were in the quarter-final of the 2017-18 UEFA Women’s Champions League. Barcelona lost both meetings by one goal margins.  They then met again in the final of the 2018-19 UEFA Women’s Champions League final.  Barcelona were beat 4-1. 

FC Barcelona will no doubt enter the game not just with that loss still in mind but also with the desire to truly show the world that they are now the best team in Europe.  Lyon for their part will want to work hard to reclaim that title after a season well below their self-described standards.

Photos: @FCBfemeni and @ThornsFC

When it comes to the American match-up, this will be the second meeting for both teams this year.  The Houston Dash played the Portland Thorns last month and lost 0-1.  The Dash have struggled in the last few months with the absence of a number of key players to the Olympics.  They were one of the the NWSL clubs with the most players absent. 

The return of Olympic gold medalists Sophie Schmidt, Allysha Chapman, Nichelle Prince as well as bronze medalist Kristie Mewis and Team GB’s Rachel Daly will boost the team from their back line to their attacking force.  While they were eight in the NWSL entering this weekend’s play, it is important to remember that only four points separated them from the second place team.

The Portland Thorns for their part are in the lead of the NWSL.  They were seven points clear of the second place team prior to this weekend’s play.  While the Thorns have made the news this year due to their offensive plays, their defensive capabilities has been equally strong.  Both have arguably allowed them to jump ahead in the NWSL league table.  The return of Olympic bronze medalists Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan, Adrianna Franch and Crystal Dunn as well as gold medalist Christine Sinclair will just strengthen an already winning team.

Portland will want to bring that into the first game in order to ensure that they are in the first placed matched in their city.  The totality of the WICC will be held at the Thorns’ stadium of Providence Park.  The 25,218 capacity stadium regularly features some of the highest attendances in the world for women’s football.  A World’s Best Club title will be something they will be chasing not just for themselves but also for the legion of fans who show up and support them every week.

However, the Thorns will have three other clubs chasing the same goal this coming week.

All matches will be available on DAZN in the United Kingdom and 120 more territories. The full schedule of events is as follows, with all four matches available both live and on demand:

Date

Time (BST)

Match

Thur. Aug 19

12:30 a.m.

Olympique Lyonnais vs. FC Barcelona

Thur. Aug. 19

4:00 a.m.

Portland Thorns FC vs. Houston Dash

Sun. Aug. 22

12:30 a.m.

3rd Place Match – American Team vs. European Team

Sun. Aug. 22

3:00 a.m.

1st Place Match – American Team vs. European Team