The USA kicks off the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup on Saturday, Oct. 1 in Al Zarqa, Jordan, when it takes on Paraguay at 11:55 a.m. ET on FOX Soccer Plus, FOX Sports GO app, FOXSportsGo.com and FOXSoccer2GO.com. Fans can enter a free promo code to watch the games on the FOXSoccer2GO.com registration page when prompted. The promo code is “U17WNT” and can be activated from Sept. 30-Oct. 31 (Complete broadcast schedule). Fans can also follow all the matches of the U.S. U-17 WNT on Twitter @ussoccer_ynt. For full coverage, visit the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup tournament page on ussoccer.com.
Here are five things to know about the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team and the U-17 Women’s World Cup:
A Historic Host
Jordan, which encompasses roughly the same square miles as the state of Indiana, will host the tournament in four venues, two in Amman, one in Irbid, which is about 60 miles north of Amman, and one in Al Zarqa, which is just 15 miles northeast of Amman. The USA will open the tournament at the 12,000-seat Prince Mohammed International Stadium in Al Zarqa. Amman International Stadium, which seats 13,000, will host the Third Place match on Oct. 20 and World Cup Final on Oct. 21. The event marks the first time in history a FIFA women’s competition is being held in the Middle East.
USA’s Path to the Top Begins in Group D
The USA opens the tournament against South America third-place finisher Paraguay in what will be the second meeting between the nations in U-17 Women’s World Cup play. The two countries met in the second group match at the 2008 tournament in New Zealand with the USA prevailing 3-1 after going down a goal. The meeting with Ghana will be the first between these two countries in this tournament, but second against an African team for the USA in FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup play. The USA defeated Gambia, 6-0, in group play at the 2012 tournament. The Americans will finish group play against Japan, which finished second behind Korea DPR in the 2015 AFC U-16 Women's Championship. Japan won this tournament two years ago in Costa Rica, defeating Spain 2-0 in the title match. These will be the first matches by any U.S. Women’s National Team in Jordan and the first matches by any U.S. Women’s National Team in the Middle East.
Of the four total tournaments that have been held, an Asian country has been crowned champion in three out of four occasions, with Korea DPR winning the U-17 World Cup in 2008, Korea Republic in 2010 and Japan in 2014. France is the only exception, taking the title in 2012, but only after defeating Korea DPR in penalty kicks. Teams from the same confederation have met in the final match just once and it was the AFC which holds the honor, with Korea Republic playing Japan in the 2010 U-17 WWC Final.
U.S. History at the U-17 Women’s World Cup
The tournament will mark the third appearance by the USA at a U-17 Women’s World Cup (2008, 2012, 2016). The USA returns to the biggest stage for U-17 women’s soccer after failing to qualify for the tournament in 2010 and 2014, despite outscoring opponents 62-1 over the course of both of the prerequisite CONCACAF qualifying tournaments. The U.S. has never won the tournament, though it did reach the U-17 WWC Final in 2008, falling to Korea DPR, 2-1 in extra time.
The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which is staged every two years, features 16 nations divided into four groups of four teams each. At the U-17 level, each confederation (outside of the smallest Oceania) gets three berths to the World Cup tournament. Eleven countries return from the 2014 tournament, which includes defending champion Japan. In Costa Rica in 2014 the final match was decided in regular time for the first time. Extra time was played in the final matches of both 2008 and 2010, the latter tournament also having to go to a penalty shootout. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinal stage on Oct. 12 and 13. The semifinals will take place Monday, Oct. 17, and the Final and third-place matches will be held on Friday, Oct. 21.
As the 2016 NWSL playoffs approach, we take a brief look at the history of the NWSL playoffs, how it all works and what we should expect this weekend as the Washington Spirit take on the Chicago Red Stars on Friday, Sept. 30 (8 p.m. ET; FS1) and the Portland Thorns host the Western New York Flash on Sunday, Oct. 2 (5 p.m. ET; FS1).
Here are five things to know about the NWSL playoffs:
A Historic Year
2016 marked the first time a woman’s professional league reached a fourth season of play in the United States; a fantastic development for the growth of the sport worldwide. The National Women’s Soccer League began in 2013 with eight teams, which included the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit and Western New York Flash. In 2014, the Houston Dash joined the league to make it nine, followed by the Orlando Pride in 2015 to up the total number of teams to 10.
For Club and Country
Eleven U.S. Women’s National Team players will take the field this weekend, hoping to win it all with their club teams. The Portland Thorns lead the way with five players on their roster (Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long and Emily Sonnett), followed by the Chicago Red Stars (Julie Johnston, Alyssa Naeher and Christen Press), the Washington Spirit (Crystal Dunn and Ali Krieger) and the Western New York Flash (Samantha Mewis). Read more about all 11 players here.
Four; Two; Champion
Unlike other leagues, the NWSL’s small number of teams forces the postseason to be quick. The single elimination tournament begins with four teams (the top four finishing teams in the NWSL regular season automatically advance), with all four teams in actions – two matchups total – in the span of a weekend. The two winners then advance to the championship match. The NWSL Final will take place on Oct. 9 at BBVA Stadium in Houston, Texas, and will air live on FS1. Since playoff games cannot end in ties, two straight 15-minute overtime periods are played, followed by a penalty shootout of best-of-five rounds plus extra if needed. The winner of all three previous NWSL Finals have been determined in regulation.
One Team Looks for Repeat, Other Three Look for First Title
With two-time champions FC Kansas City (2014, 2015) out of the playoffs this year, the NWSL trophy will belong to someone else for the first time since 2013. The Portland Thorns are the only team in the playoffs – and only other team in the league – to have won a title on a previous occasion (2013; a 2-0 win against WNYF). However out of the five U.S. WNT players on the Thorns’ roster, only Tobin Heath and Allie Long were part of the 2013 championship team. If the Chicago Red Stars, Washington Spirit or Western New York Flash were to result triumphant in the championship match, it would make them the third different team in league history to claim the coveted trophy. The Flash (2013) have advanced to the championship match before, while a trip to the finals would be a first for the Spirit and Red Stars.
Several WNT players in the league’s playoffs are nominated for NWSL Awards, including Tobin Heath, Allie Long and Christen Press for Most Valuable Player, Julie Johnston for Defender of the Year, Alyssa Naeher for Goalkeeper of the Year, and Emily Sonnett for Rookie of the Year. Additionally, Heath finished the regular season with a new club and league record for most assists in a single season with 10, while Naeher finished atop the league standings tied with FCKC’s Nicole Barnhart for clean sheets earned in the regular season with six.
On January 26, 2003, three-year-old Jaelin Howell was taken by her mom onto the field at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Her dad, John, a safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had just helped his team defeat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 to win Super Bowl XXXVII.
She was too young to remember that day, but it’s clear from watching Howell play center midfield for the U.S Under-17 Women’s National Team that she inherited some of those hard-hitting genes from her dad.
Jaelin Howell was three years old when her father, John, won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Solidly-built and 5-foot-8 -- making her the USA’s tallest field player -- Howell has been one of the USA’s most consistent performers during this cycle in which she has attended every training camp. She was named to the Best XI at the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship, playing in four games and getting one assist, but her impact is felt in many ways that don’t register on the score sheet. More like on the Richter scale.
Howell has shown tremendous talent in many facets of the game, helping set the USA’s attacking rhythm while locking down the middle of the field on defense, and she is especially adept in one thing her dad was also good at: separating a player from the ball.
“There’s probably some truth to that,” Howell said of following in her dad’s footsteps, albeit it in a different kind of football. “It’s part of my position to tackle and try to own the midfield. I’ve never been afraid to get stuck in, even when I was little. I have two younger brothers [Jack, who is 14 and Jake, who is 11] and we’ve always been super competitive and rough-housed all the time, so I’ve gotten used to being knocked around and knocking them around.”
Although her dad did not grow up with the game of soccer, she says he’s been particularly helpful in molding her competitive mentality.
“He’s always been an inspiration to me although he really didn’t know anything about soccer when I started playing,” she said. “He’s grown to love the game and watches it all time. He watches all the Women’s National Team games so we can talk more soccer now. He came from a really small town in Nebraska and he had to work really hard to get to the NFL, so he has a lot of knowledge and wisdom about work ethic and overcoming adversity. Many things are the same mentality-wise with all sports so he was able coach me up on that aspect of the game pretty easy.”
Despite playing different types of football, Jaelin and her father share a unique bond between athletes; one that relates to persevering against adversity and chasing your dream
This October, Howell and her teammates will embark on their own Super Bowl journey, hoping to earn a place in the world’s biggest game for U-17 women’s soccer players, and she knows the road will not be easy.
“It’s awesome playing for your country and it means a lot,” she said. “Not many people get this opportunity so all of us are really embracing it. We know that all the teams in this tournament will be playing at a high level and so it will be difficult against every team we play.”
Howell feels that she and her teammates are in a good place and up for the challenges after working for two years to get used to the demands of the international game.
“Club soccer can get pretty wild as far as the physical part of the game, but the international game is a whole different type of physicality,” she said. “Internationally, the players are so fast and strong and they know how to use their bodies to shield you off and get you off balance. It’s just crazy how much faster the game is and how the players use their physicality in a smarter way.”
The international soccer learning curve has included many lessons, including navigating social media. “Someone called me Wreck-It-Ralph on Twitter,” Howell said, in a tone that was half amused, half exasperated. “I really hope it’s for my style of play and not how I look.”
If it was for her ball-winning ability, Howell will embrace that. She’s also a big American football fan, and her favorite team is – no surprise -- the Buccaneers. She will close a loop of sorts when she returns to Florida to play for Florida State in the fall of 2018. There, she will surely see some high-level football, when the Seminoles take the field at Doak Campbell Stadium, and fútbol, under head coach Mark Krikorian.
Howell is talented on both offense and defense, helping win balls in the midfield while also playing a role in setting the USA's attacking rhythm
“I still play football with my brothers all the time,” said Howell. “I think when I was younger I wanted to play tackle football, but that didn’t last long. If I did, I think I’d want to be a wide receiver or a running back because you get to catch passes and carry the ball all the time.”
And what would her dad think about her playing on the offensive side?
“He approves,” she said. “He told me I’d be a good receiver!”
High praise from someone who played on a Super Bowl team with Keenan McCardell, Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Jurevicius.
“I never really got to see my dad play football in the NFL because he retired when I was six,” said Howell. “But it’s really cool that he’s getting to see me live my athletic dreams. Hopefully, there are some championships in my future as well.”