It's no secret that the United States Women's National Soccer team has been a dominant force of late.

Currently ranked No. 1 internationally, the U.S. is the defending FIFA World Cup Champion, winning in 2015.

With a growing dedication to the women's game, other countries are nipping at the Americans' heels. 

And the World Cup semifinal matchups on Tuesday and Wednesday are evident.

On Tuesday, the U.S. squares off against England, while Sweden and the Netherlands will do battle Wednesday for a spot in Sunday's World Cup Final. Tuesday and Wednesday's matches are scheduled to begin noon and will be aired on Fox.

"The U.S. has always been a dominant force in women's soccer because we have places like Southern California that invest a lot of money in youth soccer," Peninsula High girls soccer coach Scotte Massey said. "Now, the rest of the world has been starting to step up. Major clubs in Europe are starting to sponsor their own women's teams, and it's become a situation where the U.S. isn't as dominant as it once was."

Palos Verdes High's girls soccer coach Sean Lockhart has seen other countries shed their fear of the U.S. squad, instead taking on the mentality of matchup with a team once considered unbeatable.

"I think that other countries aren't afraid, where in years past, because the U.S. was on their perch, they where highly regarded," Lockhart said. "In a tournament like this, everyone is vulnerable."

No stranger to competition, Lockhart said other countries getting better is positive for the U.S. team's growth.

"Ultimately, the growth and confidence of other countries to be able to go toe-to-toe makes the U.S. better," Lockhart said. "You know you can lose, and that fuels your passion and drive to know that you're playing a team that is trying to knock you off."

The Americans entered the 2019 World Cup as the heavy favorite to advance to Sunday's final, but Massey mirrored Lockhart's sentiment.

"If the U.S. doesn't win, it's big for the rest of the world. It's a huge signal that there are many contenders for the title," Massey said. "If the U.S. does win, it's a great statement to kind of etch in stone a heritage of dominance."

Both coaches have seen the team's governing body invest in the future of women's soccer, including the U.S. Development Academy. Three years ago, Lockhart saw the academy pluck more than 10 girls from the Sea King program. That was right after PV High won the CIF championship in 2015.

And while this was detrimental to the success of PV's program, he knows such a program is beneficial for a young athlete's growth.

"One aspect is that development program hurt me as a coach, but it helps our national team get to where it needs to be," Lockhart said. "You get the competitiveness every week against the rest of the country. You're getting four days of training and professional coaching each week. They're going all in."

One local athlete resides on the U.S. roster—Chadwick alum and Palos Verdes Estates own Christen Press. She is one of two Southern California athletes on the roster. The other is Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan.

A third local athlete will suit up Tuesday, but for England. Goalie Karen Bardsley was born in Santa Monica and grew up in Chino Hills before playing at Ayala High School and Cal State Fullerton.  

"Southern California is a pretty talent rich environment for soccer," Massey said. "As the women's game expands, there's going to be a lot of opportunities for our kids."

 

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