For the U.S. women’s national team, preparation for next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup will look a lot like the tournament itself.
The 2019 schedule that U.S. Soccer announced Thursday, the complete schedule leading up to the tournament in France, includes seven World Cup participants among 10 opponents.
That list includes six consecutive games to begin the year against teams currently ranked among the top 12 in FIFA’s world rankings. The U.S. is currently the world’s top-ranked team.
As it did in en route to the World Cup title in 2015, the U.S. will play its first game of the year in France, this time against the host in Le Havre on Jan. 19. It will then travel to Spain to play that country in Alicante on Jan. 22. That will be the first meeting between the U.S. and Spain. The host is ranked 12th in the world but is viewed as a World Cup contender after going unbeaten and untied in qualifying, in addition to increasing its investment in its domestic league and winning the Under-17 Women’s World Cup this year.
The U.S. has played just five games outside its border since the 2016 Olympics, compiling a 4-0-1 record on the road against Canada, Norway, Portugal, Scotland and Sweden.
The U.S. will also conduct its annual training camp at location to be announced in Europe in early January, instead of its usual home base in Carson, California.
After returning stateside, the U.S. will play, in order, Japan, England and Brazil in the SheBelieves Cup over a seven-day stretch in late February and March. Created in 2016, the four-team tournament had until this year always featured England, France and Germany as opponents. Games this year will be in Chester, Pennsylvania; Nashville, Tennessee; and Tampa, Florida.
The next month brings the renewal of one of the best rivalries of the moment for the U.S. in a game against Australia in Commerce City, Colorado, on April 4. Since beating the Matildas in the 2015 World Cup, the Americans are 0-1-1 in the series despite home-field advantage in both games.
The U.S. will play Belgium three days later in Los Angeles, the first game of the year against a team that did not qualify for the World Cup. Belgium was eliminated in a European playoff.
A three-game domestic send-off series in May will close the pre-World Cup schedule. That includes games against South Africa, which qualified for its first World Cup, and Mexico, which lost to the U.S. in October in qualifying and surprisingly failed to advance from CONCACAF.
The U.S. will announce one additional opponent for a game in St. Louis on May 16 based on its World Cup draw, likely a team that plays a similar style to a World Cup opponent.
The U.S. will learn its World Cup draw on Saturday. Barring a change in the top six in the final FIFA rankings to be released Friday, it will avoid any of Australia, Canada, England, France or Germany in the group stage. It could potentially draw one of Brazil, Japan or Spain.
The Women’s World Cup begins June 7.