Previewing the Women’s Cup Tournament – 18-21 August, Louisville, KY

It’s time for the Women’s Cup in Louisville, Kentucky.

The four-game, four-team tournament hosted by Racing Louisville, starts on Wednesday, August 18, and features NWSL league rivals the Chicago Red Stars and European powerhouses Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) and Bayern Munich. The tournament will be spread over two days – Wednesday and Saturday, August 21 – in two doubleheaders. On Wednesday, Bayern and PSG will play at 5 PM and Racing will host the Reds Stars at 7:30 PM. The winners of each game will move onto the first-place match to be held on Saturday at 6 PM. The third-place match opens Saturday’s doubleheader at 3PM.

Wednesday night’s match between Racing and the Red Stars will also double as an NWSL regular season fixture. As a result, Louisville season ticket holders get into both matches for free! However, they still need to purchase tickets for Saturday’s games on the Women’s Cup website. One ticket gets you into both matches.

International friendlies in the United States with NWSL teams are exceedingly rare. The only other regular tournament is the Women’s International Champions Cup which operates in a similar format. The novelty of these matches makes this opportunity a unique one. It also makes it hard to determine how the matches will actually play out. Bayern has never been the United States and PSG hasn’t for years. Even Racing and the Red Stars have only played each other once.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the four teams, meet some of their biggest players, and try to predict how they might perform during the Women’s Cup.

The squad of PSG players jog during warmup in their blue and white training gear
PSG during practice in Louisville on Monday, August 18 / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

Paris-Saint Germain

PSG has been one of the best European teams in women’s soccer for the better part of the last decade. They’ve been UEFA Champion’s Cup finalists twice and were crowned Division 1 champions in 2021 for the very first time. In 2020-21, they also broke the stranglehold their greatest rival, Lyon, had on the Champion’s League beating them in the quarter-finals. Although PSG went on to be eliminated in the semi-finals by Barcelona, they ended Lyon’s run of six consecutive European titles.

Since the end of the 2020-21 season, however, the Red and Blues have had some massive roster upheaval. Most notably, they lost Spanish international Irene Parades to Barcelona after her contract expired, Nadia Nadim to Racing Louisville, and Christiane Endler, arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, to bitter rivals, Lyon.

These losses don’t mean they’re a weak squad, however. Forward Marie-Antoinette Katoto is only 22 years old but has scored 116 goals in 130 appearances for PSG. In the 2020-21 Division 1 season alone, she had 21 goals in 19 appearances. Sandy Baltimore is another young, French talent who is making her way onto the national team. The midfielder has scored 14 goals in 52 appearances and is the team leader in assists. PSG also recently signed Kheira Hamraoui, a 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympic player for the French national team. They also have Canadian gold medalists Jordyn Huitema, Ashley Lawrence, and reportedly will soon have Stephanie Labbe. Fans might recognize Labbe as the Canadian goalkeeper who clinched the goal for her team by only conceding two goals in the penalty kickoff against Sweden.

Huitema and Lawrence are listed on the team’s roster, but Labbe still hasn’t officially been announced and will not play. Whether Heitema and Lawrence will be on limited minutes or not is also unknown.

Bayern players and coaches have a kick around

Bayern Munich

“I’m really excited to play a game against a team from America,” said Bayern coach Jens Scheurer in a pre-tournament press event. Bayern has never been to the U.S. before so this is a completely novel experience for the team.

Like PSG, Bayern is the reigning champions of their league, the Frauen-Bundesliga. This past season was the first time they’ve won the league since their back-to-back wins in 2014-15, and 2015-2016. Also, like PSG, they made it to the semi-finals in the 2020-21 Champion’s League tournament where they fell to Chelsea. This was quite the achievement as it’s only the second time Bayern has made it this far in the Champion’s League in their seven appearances.

Unlike PSG, Bayern has maintained a relatively stable roster. The most notable change is the addition of Saki Kumagai who is widely considered one of the greatest Japanese players of all time – male or female. Bayern grabbed the experienced defensive midfielder from Lyon after she announced she wouldn’t be renewing her contract earlier this year. Her addition is a huge coup for the club who seems to be building towards becoming a more dominant side in Europe. Kumagai is still recovering from the Olympics, so Scheurer couldn’t determine whether she will play in both Women’s Cup matches or just Saturday’s.

In addition to Kumagai, Bayern has German national team regular Lina Magull, who was a regular starter for Germany during the 2019 World Cup. Swedish standouts Hanna Glas and Sofia Jakobsson are returning to the team as silver medalists from the Olympics. Like Kumagai, they did travel to Louisville with Bayern, but it’s unknown what their playing time may look like.

Chicago's Morgan Gautrat and Racing's Ebony Salmon fight for possession as teammates run towards them
Racing versus the Red Starts when they previously met in June / Image courtesy ISI Photos

Chicago Red Stars

The Red Stars are the oldest team in United States women’s soccer. Their first season was in 2009 as part of the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). Since then, they’ve maintained an active roster through the collapse of that league and into the founding of the NWSL. They’ve been perennial playoff contenders reaching at least the semi-finals every since 2015. In the last NWSL full season in 2019, they were runner’s up in the championship to the North Carolina Courage.

One of the Red Stars’ biggest strengths is their cadre of United States National Women’s Team players including Julie Ertz, Casey Kruger, Alyssa Naeher, and Tierna Davidson. They also have former USWNT player and dual World Cup winner Morgan Gautrat on their roster. While these players are usually a strength for the team, that may not be the case in the Women’s Cup. Goalkeeper Naeher and midfielder Gautrat are out with injuries. It’s also been reported by Hayes Gardner in the Courier-Journal that Julie Ertz is being rested. As for the other Olympians, they’re currently listed on the roster for the match, but whether they will be available or not is still unknown.

Chicago currently sits in fifth place in the league with 20 points.

Predictions

It’s almost impossible to truly predict how these games will go. Not only are international matches like this a fairly novel occurrence, but even the NWSL teams have scant history together. So I may very possibly be completely wrong in every one of my guesses!

Starting with the first match, PSG’s roster updates will possibly affect team chemistry and cohesion. And not having Labbe yet in goal after losing Endler will also weaken them somewhat. Bayern has a bit more roster stability which may give them a leg up over PSG. Both teams just finished a friendly preseason tournament in Toulouse. PSG lost all three matches while Bayern won all three. Therefore, I’m going to predict that Bayern will win against Paris in the first match on Wednesday.

Chicago versus Louisville is hard to predict as Louisville beat Chicago 3-0 the only time they’ve ever met. However, Chicago is significantly higher in the league standings and has racked up points more consistently. Since that match, Racing has added Nadia Nadim to their roster. Already, Nadim is looking hot with two goals scored in two games. Factoring in Nadim’s addition and Chicago missing several key players like Ertz and Naeher, I’m going to give Racing the slight edge for this match.

In the off-chance Racing and the Red Stars game ends in a tie, the match will immediately move to a penalty shoot-out. Considering Racing has never taken a penalty kick in their short history and the Red Stars have taken several, the Red Stars may have the edge. That’s despite the fact that Chicago is using their backup keeper with Naeher injured and Racing’s Michelle Betos is the league leader in saves by a mile. So if it does go to a penalty kick-off, my only prediction is chaos. I have no idea how it’ll end.

Ultimately, I truly cannot predict whether Racing or Bayern or even the Red Stars would come out on top in the championship game. I think they all have a pretty good chance at beating each other. (How’s that for a weak prediction?) A main point to note here might be that the Euro teams are still in their preseason whereas the NWSL teams are deep in midseason. The rustiness of the European teams might make them a bit weaker to the NWSL sides. Additionally, the physicality of the play in the NWSL may be hard for European teams to adjust to quickly.

Still, I believe age and experience will win the day for Bayern. Racing has shown a proclivity for giving up late goals and they’ve been hard-pressed to find insurance goals when needed. If the Red Stars meet Bayern, key player absences may tilt the game in Bayern’s favor.

For third place, I will assume it will be the NWSL team. As mentioned above, the fact that the European teams are still in preseason may mean they haven’t had time to shake the rust off yet. The familiarity of playing in the U.S. without a major time change to contend may give the NWSL teams the edge.

Will my predictions pan out? Am I biased towards NWSL teams due to my greater familiarity with them? Who knows! The only way to find out is to watch starting Wednesday at 5pm ET!

Where to Watch

If you’re in Louisville or near enough to travel, get your butt to Lynn Family Stadium to watch the Women’s Cup! Tickets are still available here.

If you can’t make it and are in the United States, you can watch the matches on Paramount+. This includes watching replays if you miss the live games.

International viewers can watch the matchup between the Red Stars and Racing on Twitch for free. All other games, including the opening match against Bayern and PSG and the third place and championship games will be streamed on ATA Football. If you’re in France or Germany, ATA will be embargoed and you can watch the streams of all games on the PSG and Bayern Facebook pages.

Author

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville and the NWSL. Find me on Twitter and Instagram: @sukiisacat.