Soccer takes center stage this summer at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand. It's no exaggeration to say that this year's event is bigger than ever: For the first time, the field has expanded from 24 to 32 teams, replicating the format of the men's tournament. Excitement is also at an all-time high as fans flock to sold-out stadiums and tune in from home in record-setting numbers.
American fans have every reason to set their alarm clocks as the U.S. women's national team, which previously won in 2015 and 2019, attempts to make history with a World Cup "threepeat." No team has ever won three consecutive World Cups, but if anyone is capable of doing so, it's this roster of returning stars — including Megan Rapinoe, who will be retiring after this year, Alex Morgan, and Rose Lavelle — and next-generation talents like Sophia Smith and Alyssa Thompson. The USWNT is already off to a strong start, winning its first game against Vietnam 3-0, but the players will face stiff international competition if they hope to lift FIFA's trophy for the fifth time.
Win or lose, Netflix's cameras will be on hand to capture all the action. Last week, the streamer announced it has partnered with the USWNT to document the team's World Cup journey and the players' ongoing fight for equality in the sports world. A wide range of players are signed on to participate in the all-access docuseries, from veterans to first-timers like Lynn Williams and Kristie Mewis.
While Netflix's USWNT docuseries is still months away from debuting, there's no shortage of World Cup documentaries available to stream. From ESPN's celebration of the iconic 1999 U.S. team to contemporary docuseries about Australia's Matildas and Angel City FC, these women's soccer documentaries are sure to get fans in the World Cup spirit — or at the very least, help pass the time in between games.
If there's a single image that's come to be associated with the U.S. women's national soccer team, it's the snapshot of Brandi Chastain kneeling on the grass in her sports bra as she celebrates scoring the winning penalty kick against China in the 1999 World Cup. The USWNT's victory was remarkable in every sense of the word: The rockstar group of players made American viewers sit up and take notice, ushering in a new era for women's soccer in the U.S.
ESPN's The '99ers, though, is more concerned with the small moments leading up to the team's historic win. The documentary, released in 2013 as part of series about women's sports (Nine for IX also included a film about Venus Williams directed by Ava DuVernay), features a treasure trove of home movies filmed by captain Julie Foudy and in-depth interviews with her teammates, including Chastain, Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry, and Michelle Akers. As the players reflect on their experience, they paint a portrait of a team that succeeded not because of any one individual, but because of their willingness to leave their egos at the door and come together for a greater purpose.
For More: HBO's 2005 documentary Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team offers a similar look at the '99 World Cup team, with additional details about the USWNT's founding in the 1980s and its first World Cup title in 1991. However, Dare to Dream is not currently available to stream in its entirety (though it's available in three parts on YouTube), which makes 'The 99ers a more accessible option for soccer fans looking to relive the highs of the tournament.
Even die-hard USWNT fans will find themselves cheering for Nadeshiko Japan while watching This Is Football's second episode, "Belief." The hour-long installment tracks the respective journeys of the U.S. and Japanese national teams, which met in dramatic fashion in the 2011 World Cup Final. (Japan won in penalty kicks and made history as the first Asian team to hoist the trophy.) Though footballers from both teams — including Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Homare Sawa — sit for interviews, the Japanese players' story proves far more compelling, largely because it's rarely been told. They speak candidly about their struggle to get a women's league off the ground and their World Cup dreams, as well as the pressure of representing Japan on the world stage just a few months after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the country.
While Nadeshiko Japan has declined in recent years, it's already well positioned to make it to the knockout stage in Australia and New Zealand. Led by veteran defender Saki Kumagai, the only current player to feature on Japan's 2011 roster, Japan won its first match against Zambia 5-0, a dominant performance that gives the team an edge over projected group winner Spain in the goal differential column. A deep run could lead to a rematch with the U.S. in the semifinal, leaving This Is Football viewers to pick a side between the popular squads.
The USWNT has been the most celebrated team in women's football for a decade, but until last year, its players were locked in a legal battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation over the governing body's unfair pay practices. Their fight takes center stage in LFG, a film that uses the team's 2019 World Cup victory — its fourth overall win — as a backdrop for an examination of gender discrimination. Through interviews with the players (all 23 of whom co-signed the class action suit filed on the eve of the 2019 tournament), their attorney Jeffrey Kessler, and helpful infographics, Oscar-winning documentarians Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine plainly lay out the stakes of the equal pay lawsuit and debunk the arguments made by the Federation, including its misogynistic claim that the women's game requires less skill than the men's.
LFG was released before the players and U.S. Soccer reached a $24 million settlement in February 2022, but it provides essential context for the 2023 World Cup, which marks the first real opportunity to see the new collective bargaining agreement at work. (Not to mention, the documentary is driven by the eccentric stars of the 2019 team, many of whom are back in action this year.) If the USWNT wins its third consecutive World Cup, the players will receive $459,800 each, up from an estimated $110,000 in 2019. Even with that increase, there's still work to do on a global scale, as FIFA's prize money for the 2022 men's tournament ($440 million) was four times as much as that of the women's ($110 million). Here's hoping that discrepancy becomes a focus of Netflix's forthcoming docuseries — or perhaps Max should get the Fines back on the case for a sequel.
The usual suspects are expected to perform well at the 2023 Women's World Cup — the U.S., England, and Spain are among the favorites to win it all — but fans shouldn't sleep on the Matildas, who represent host nation Australia. For those unfamiliar with the team and superstar captain Sam Kerr, The World at Our Feet offers a primer: Disney's six-episode docuseries follows the Australian players as they prepare for the 2023 tournament, battle injuries, and navigate life off the field. The show employs a common format, combining personality-filled at-home moments with high-quality game footage, but there's a certain comfort to be found in that familiarity, especially as the sports documentary space remains frustratingly male-centric.
What's more, The World at Our Feet embraces the queer identity of players like Kerr and Ellie Carpenter, who invite cameras into their lives and open up about the struggles they've faced throughout their careers. Their candor makes for a fascinating look at the people beneath the green and yellow jerseys and the burden of representation they carry into the World Cup.
Angel City isn't technically a World Cup documentary, but it spotlights the issues women footballers face around the globe, from poor compensation to inadequate facilities and resources. Released in May 2023, the three-part docuseries charts Angel City FC's founding and its inaugural season in the National Women's Soccer League. Though the ownership group is made up of a slew of celebrities, including Natalie Portman and Serena Williams, and successfully drew multi-million dollar sponsorships, ACFC fell short on the field, in large part because the inexperienced front office wasn't prepared for the obstacles that plague women's professional sports.
On the men's side of the game, poor performance can be waved away, but Arlene Nelson's documentary stresses that in the NWSL, losses become an existential threat to both the players and the league. That problem manifests on the national team level, as well — as injured USWNT midfielder Samantha Mewis recently wrote in The Athletic — making Angel City an unfortunate reminder of how much these players have to overcome before they even step onto the pitch at the Women's World Cup.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.