It is a set of glorified friendlies, but has grown to become one of the most prestigious annual tournaments in women's soccer. That's especially the case this year: with high-ranked opponents Canada, Japan and Brazil, the SheBelieves Cup could offer our best hint at how the Americans will fair in Australia and New Zealand at the World Cup.
So, what exactly is this tournament, where did its unusual name come from and how can you watch the 2023 SheBelieves Cup games? We've got answers.
What is the SheBelieves Cup, what is the format and what's its purpose?
The SheBelieves Cup is an annual four-team tournament hosted by the U.S. Soccer Federation for the USWNT during every February international window.
The format is intentionally designed to mimic a group stage of a World Cup, where teams play three games in three different cities all within the span of roughly one week. Whoever has the most points by the end -- three points for wins, one point for draws -- is crowned the SheBelieves Cup champion, much the same way a team would win their group at the World Cup.
The tournament also has the added benefit of a similar feeling to the knockout stage in a World Cup, where teams have to fly to a new city and face a new opponent in only a few days' time. As striker Alex Morgan told reporters from camp on Wednesday, this is the USWNT's last chance to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the World Cup, which kicks off on July 20.
"This is an incredibly important tournament," Morgan said, "because it's the last time we're going to have a chance to play three games in a short period of time that replicates either a group stage or a knockout stage, where you have consecutive games and you're having to manage travel and fatigue."
When is the 2023 SheBelieves Cup, where is it hosted and how to watch?
Feb. 16, 2023 at 7 p.m. ET: USA vs. Canada
The No. 1-world ranked USWNT kicks off the tournament in Orlando, Florida at Exploria Stadium on Feb. 16 against No. 6-ranked Canada. The match will be available to stream on HBO Max in English, Universo and Peacock in Spanish. Before that, Japan face Brazil in a doubleheader at the stadium at 4 p.m. ET, which will air on HBO Max and Peacock.
Feb. 19, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. ET: USA vs. Japan
The teams travel to Nashville, Tennessee, where the USWNT will face No. 11-ranked Japan at Geodis Park. The match will be broadcast on TNT and HBO Max in English, Universo and Peacock in Spanish. Brazil faces Canada at 6:30 p.m. ET at the same venue, live on HBO Max and Peacock.
Feb. 22, 2023 at 7 p.m. ET: USA vs. Brazil
The tournament closes for the USWNT against No. 9-ranked Brazil in Frisco, Texas at Toyota Stadium. It will be broadcast on TNT and HBO Max in English, Universo and Peacock in Spanish. Before that, Canada and Japan face off at 4 p.m. ET in Frisco, also on HBO Max and Peacock.
Who is on the USWNT's roster for the 2023 SheBelieves Cup?
Goalkeepers (club; caps): Adrianna Franch (Kansas City Current; 10), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage; 12), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 87)
Defenders (club; caps/goals): Alana Cook (OL Reign; 21/0), Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage; 24/0), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC; 128/24), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC; 12/0), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign; 27/0), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 212/0), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign; 70/1)
Midfielders (club; caps/goals): Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 123/26), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC; 9/2), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 86/24), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 47/7), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit; 19/3), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 39/3)
Forwards (club; caps/goals): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit; 15/5), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave FC; 201/120), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 22/4), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign; 197/63), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit; 12/2), Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars; 84/28), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 49/15)
When and why did U.S. Soccer start hosting the SheBelieves Cup?
While the World Cup and the Olympics are the premiere senior competitions in women's soccer, the USWNT's schedule otherwise always includes smaller invitational tournaments. One of those annual tournaments is the Algarve Cup, which has been hosted in Portugal since 1994. The USWNT has competed in that tournament in most years, spending every late February and early March from 1998 to 2015 in Algarve, Portugal.
But in 2016, U.S. Soccer decided a better use of that February/March window would be to launch its own tournament. There are some obvious benefits: the federation would have more control over the level of competition, it would stand to financially benefit from ticket sales, and it could sell the TV rights to the tournament as the interest in the U.S. women's national grew to historic levels.
The idea clearly seemed to work out well, inspiring similar tournaments hosted by other federations. France launched in 2020 their own four-team tournament for the February/March international window called the Tournoi de France ("the French Tournament") and England did the same in 2022 with the Arnold Clark Cup. (U.S. Soccer even launched a second four-team invitational in 2017 called the Tournament of Nations, which was played in July of non-World Cup or non-Olympics years, but in 2021, the federation announced it would cancel it due to FIFA shortening that international window.)
What does "SheBelieves" mean and why is the tournament called that?
It's a bit of an unusual name for a soccer tournament, and the name preceded the SheBelieves Cup tournament itself.
In 2015, ahead of the USWNT's World Cup campaign that year, U.S. Soccer launched an initiative to empower girls and young women with the hashtag #SheBelieves. It was part-marketing campaign to drum up excitement ahead of the tournament, which the USWNT later won, and part-inspirational PSA.
A letter posted on U.S. Soccer's website in May 2015 signed by the USWNT said, in part: "You support us and show us the way. Now it's time to turn it around and let you know we have your back. ... We want you to believe you can be the best." The letter closed by asking fans share their dreams with the hashtag #SheBelieves, across social media.
The campaign worked, and the hashtag became synonymous with the USWNT on social media for a while (these days fans simply stick to #USWNT). When U.S. Soccer announced they would launch the SheBelieves Cup in 2016, they said it was to continue the mission of the #SheBelieves initiative. As a press release at the time said: "The SheBelieves Cup is a showcase event for the campaign, which will continue to spread its positive message to young women and girls."