This is not just a friendly: Why the WICC matters

Reason #3: The Thorns are defending a trophy.

Almost exactly a year ago, goalkeeper Shelby Hogan made her debut in the semifinal of the 2021 Women’s International Champions Cup.

It was memorable, to say the least.

After the Thorns’ thrilling second-half comeback from 0-2 down to tie the score and force penalty kicks , Hogan stepped up and made three saves from the spot.

“I had a lot of adrenaline going and could feel the crowd,” recalls Hogan. “I also felt the belief of my teammates, so I had the confidence to be able to make three saves, which was really cool.”

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One of Shelby Hogan's three crucial stops in the 2021 WICC

Hogan's ice cold stops were crucial to the team hoisting the 2021 WICC trophy later that week. And as the tournament begins again, the team is locked for a fight. Of course, with two important NWSL games left to play in August, head coach Rhian Wilkinson knows she must toe that same narrow line between playing to win a trophy and keeping her squad fresh.

“We need to respect the opposition we have here as well as the fan base and put out teams that are ready to win and fight for the badge,” says Wilkinson. “That’s what we’re doing while making sure as well we are getting the players the rest they need to go back-to-back with North Carolina [Courage] and San Diego [Wave] at the end of the month.”

Here are 3 reasons to cheer on the squad.

#1: The Thorns are battling big clubs in game-ready form.

All four teams competing in the tournament (Chelsea FC Women, C.F Monterrey, Olympique Lyonnais Fémenin and the Thorns) are fresh off––or in the middle of––successful club seasons and defending silverware. Lyon are reigning European Champions, too.

This will be Portland forward Janine Beckie’s second time competing in the WICC, but her first as a member of an NWSL team. When she played in the tournament with Manchester City WFC back in 2020, it was a competitive preseason tournament for the European club. Now, it’s coming midseason.

“They have a different perspective with it being their preseason tournament, while for us it’s a nice change of rhythm in the middle of the season to play different opposition and have different challenges,” says Beckie.

#2: Thorns players have a chance to test themselves against international clubs.

The WICC is perfect for young promising players such as Hogan, offering an opportunity for time on the field with high stakes. Being able to step up and make save after save in a meaningful game is a crucial development experience.

Hogan won’t feature this year—head coach Rhian Wilkinson cited “a niggle.” But the starters on Wednesday and Saturday will be able to test themselves against top international competition in a setting with a trophy at stake. In the same game Hogan starred in, for example, Olivia Moultrie scored her first professional goal from a well-taken set piece.

“The WICC is a good opportunity to see new faces and give new people opportunities,” says Hogan. “It shows the depth of all the different teams who compete.”

Moultrie, too, recognizes the importance.

"This tournament is just really cool because it connects the women's soccer game in America to what's happening in Europe," she says. "Everyone views this [the NWSL] as a hard league—the athleticism, how competitive it is. It can be hard on your body. It's high intensity. I think sometimes people look at the games in Europe like they're more technical. But we’re very competitive like the top teams in Europe."

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Olivia Moultrie taking a free kick against the Houston Dash in the 2021 WICC

#3: The Thorns are defending champs.

Most importantly, the tournament offers a chance at a trophy: a visible benchmark even if games won’t affect the NWSL standings. With a great pool of talent coming to Portland promising high-intensity games, the WICC has a place in growing the women’s game in the United States and beyond and it leaves players excited about the prospect.

“Here in Portland, like with every tournament we enter, we want to win,” Hogan said. “We all believe in each other and whatever squad we line up, we are out there to win. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to play in front of a big crowd and against different opponents.”

"It's the best teams in the world," adds Moultrie, who will be cheering on her teammates from Costa Rica, where she's representing the US in the U20 Women's World Cup. "The team definitely wants to defend that trophy. Obviously, I’m sad to miss it, but I'll be watching."