Megan Rapinoe stepped up to the microphone to speak to reporters on Wednesday in Auckland, New Zealand, to a familiar backdrop. A pristine training pitch glowed a vibrant green behind her. Over her left shoulder was a building structure emblazoned in US Soccer branding.
Rapinoe, her United States 22 teammates, and a staff of more than double that, are half a world away from home, but had they arrived blindfolded, they could have mistaken their training grounds for any US city — maybe even Rapinoe’s home in Seattle, as she joked how familiar she is with the rain and wind that defines what is currently New Zealand’s winter season.
“It’s great,” Rapinoe said of the facilities. “Obviously, beautiful pitch. We have the whole setup and a really nice gym, hotel’s bomb that we are staying at. We’re spoiled here. We feel good and comfortable so excited to get this thing going.”
The US will spend nearly a month in Auckland for the group stage of the 2023 World Cup, save for a two-day trip to Wellington, a short flight to the south. This is where, like all 32 teams at the tournament have done somewhere in New Zealand or Australia, they have set up a base camp. That is a huge change from the previous Women’s World Cups, at which teams changed cities, training grounds and hotels every few days.
This ninth edition of the Women’s World Cup is the first in which FIFA has implemented base camps, a concept long utilized (and funded) for the Men’s World Cup. It is an important move towards equality for the women’s game, although like most progress, there are still steps to be taken. US Soccer went above and beyond, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to the $960,000 FIFA preparation stipend to give his team an advantage in an attempt to (they hope) win an unprecedented third straight World Cup. New Zealand’s government also contributed to the renovations.
From building a second field and renting modulars to creating meeting rooms and a custom, on-site gym, to privatizing spaces of its hotel, US Soccer has done what it always tries to do for the national team: create a home away from home. This time, it has been dialed up a few notches.
“It should feel the same,” US women’s national team general manager Kate Markgraf told The Equalizer about the setup. “I think any federation does this: they want the hotel to feel the same regardless of where you are at, so the player doesn’t get distracted by something, so that the standards are at a certain level, so the players know what to expect. Any time you remove an unknown, you lessen player anxiety. It’s impossible to create a bubble with all this movement… when we could have places to train or places of interaction, we did it with intentionality.”
Work towards this operational endeavor began over 18 months ago.
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