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The Era Of The U.S. Women's Soccer Team's Dominance May Be Over

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When a great sports team suffers a surprise upset, there will always be a story asking, is this the end of an era? Well, in the case of the U.S. women's soccer team, it kind of feels like it might be. They are bringing home bronze this week from the Olympics, which is terrific. But they were expected to win gold. Stars Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd are 36 and 39 years old respectively, and they're just two of several players over the age of 30. So it is a safe bet that the team that romped through the World Cup in 2019 is going to look different next time in 2023. Well, to walk us through some of these changes is Meg Linehan of The Athletic. Meg, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MEG LINEHAN: Thank you for having me again.

KELLY: Are we staring down the end of an era? You know, this U.S. women's team has seemed so unstoppable. The World Cup champions - and clearly, a bronze medal is nothing to sniff at. Do you think the era of total domination, though, is winding down?

LINEHAN: I don't know if it's necessarily the end of an era. It might be the end of a chapter, but that only means that we get to start a new chapter with new players and some of the same players. So total domination - maybe yes because other countries are really catching up.

KELLY: Well, that's what I was going to ask. I mean, part of this is what's going on within the U.S. team. Part of this is the rest of the world, where, yeah, it's a great good news story if women are playing at higher and higher, more elite levels in the rest of the world.

LINEHAN: I mean, it's absolutely a great thing for the growth of the sport. You have a team like Australia, who the U.S. women's national team played in the bronze medal match today. They're hosting the 2023 World Cup along with New Zealand. They've really gone all in. They have arguably one of the best players in the world in Sam Kerr. This is a good thing to have real meaningful competition for the United States because that's only going to push them into new heights.

KELLY: Megan Rapinoe said today that she is weighing whether she will be playing at the 2003 World Cup or whether she might retire. She's 36. Do you worry that the excitement - that this team, this generation of players has generated about women's soccer, about women's sports, maybe - this team has had such an impact that that will wane if she goes away and some of these other stars we've gotten so used to watching leave the sport?

LINEHAN: I think it's part of sports - right? - where athletes phase in and out of their career, in and out of national team responsibilities. I think one of the best things about the sport is that we have seen so many of this team stay within this realm. I mean, you think about Mia Hamm, who is an owner with Angel City, the new expansion team in Los Angeles. You think about Julie Foudy, who is calling all of these games for NBC. All of these players still want to drive the growth of women's soccer. I don't think that's going to change. But there is absolutely something to the marketability - right? - of this team might change a little bit. But also that is just kind of the nature of the generations of players kind of going through the U.S. women's national team.

KELLY: Well, get us excited about the new generation of players coming up. If I asked you for one or two that we should keep an eye on and start paying attention to, who would you say?

LINEHAN: Catarina Macario and Midge Purce. Midge Purce was arguably one of the last players cut from this team. She's a very dynamic, very crafty player, super-exciting to watch, highly recommend - also just one of the most brilliant people to talk to in this sport. Catarina Macario - if you want to talk about a player that has kind of the expectations of the U.S. women's national team already put upon them, it is Catarina Macario.

KELLY: All right. Now you've got me excited to keep watching, so thank you (laughter).

LINEHAN: The future is very, very bright for this team in terms of talent coming up. Honestly, I don't think people necessarily need to worry about the talent influx for this team anytime soon.

KELLY: That is Meg Linehan of The Athletic. Thank you, Meg.

LINEHAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.