"The Women’s International Champions Cup is a unique tournament and a great opportunity for the fans to see a unique style," said Manchester City and Canada National Team striker Janine Beckie as the Women's FA Cup winners arrived in North Carolina to compete with three of the best teams in the women’s game for the second edition of the competition.
"The European teams and the US teams have different styles – athleticism is a massive part of the game in the US and that’s how the game has been played for a long time, while European teams bring a real love of playing the game, keeping the ball moving and dictating the tempo. We see a lot more teams playing football [passing the ball around] here now. When the two styles clash, it either makes for a one-way game or a competitive game and I think it will be the latter."
In the end, her words had a portentous quality. There was a level of competition to City’s semi-final game against hosts North Carolina Courage; Manchester City were leading until the 85th minute before McKenzie Meehan took the initiative from a corner to rifle home a loose ball, restoring parity between the two sides.
The game also showcased two styles: the American athleticism versus the more patient build-up of the European side. In what proved to be a turning point in the game, Jessica McDonald was brought on to replace Kristen Hamilton up front. Her added height and speed helped stretch the City defence and it was little surprise that when she broke between City's center backs late in the game and finished low past the keeper for the win.
Notably, though, one style of play proved to be more productive than the other. In the course of the match, the Courage managed to unleash 39 shots at Ellie Roebuck’s goal: a staggering 27 more than their opponents. As a result, Manchester City’s edge in terms of possession (56% to the Courage’s 44%) and passing (510 to 378) proved to be immaterial.
When it comes to the battle of ideologies in women’s football, then, it appears as though the American athleticism is winning out: a fact confirmed by the USWNT’s World Cup in France this summer where they beat Sweden, Spain, France, England and the Netherlands on their way to the title.
Worryingly for Manchester City, even when it comes to their ‘unique style’, as Beckie put it, they aren’t even setting the world on fire in their own continent. Yes, there was the FA Cup final win earlier in the year and the FA WSL Continental Cup final win a few months earlier. But since City Football Group decided to invest in the women’s team in a big way, City Women have failed to make quite the same impact as the men’s team. In that time, one WSL trophy and a few domestic cups are all that they have to show for their efforts.
The Women’s International Champions Cup offers a stage upon which the best women’s teams in the world can test their mettle against one another. For Manchester City, though, the process may have been more humbling than they anticipated. Perhaps it is time that they tried a different approach?