US dual national players include, from left, Haiti’s Danielle Etienne, South Korea’s Casey Phair, Jamaica’s Cheyna Matthews, and Philippines’ Olivia McDaniel. AP/Reuters/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images CNN —
A goalkeeper from southern California. A defender from Seattle. A forward from Washington DC.
These are just a few players on the Philippines’ team at this year’s Women’s World Cup – where 18 of the country’s 23-member squad were born in the United States.
And it’s not just the Philippines. Despite the early exit of the US team on Sunday, the influence the country has on other competing nations is clear, with dozens of players born or raised in America representing other teams including Haiti, Jamaica and more.
It’s a reflection of the global nature of the sport, with dual-nationality athletes increasingly hopping across borders to seek better career opportunities, or to connect with parts of their heritage.
But while US-born women soccer players have flowed outward, populating other countries’ teams, the opposite trend has been seen in the US men’s team, with an influx of athletes born or raised overseas.
At the men’s World Cup last year, the US team featured several prominent players with overseas ties, including Fulham defender Antonee Robinson, who was born in the United Kingdom; Netherlands-born Sergiño Dest, who plays for FC Barcelona; and – perhaps most notably – US-born forward Tim Weah, whose father – legendary former striker George Weah – captained Liberia before becoming the West African country’s President.
There are various factors behind this trend, experts say – but it mostly boils down to a massive gap in talent and performance between the US men’s and women’s teams.
The US women’s team has been historically dominant, winning four World Cups (and four Olympic gold medals). In contrast, since reaching the World Cup semi-finals at the inaugural tournament in 1930, the US men’s team have reached the quarter-finals just once and have never been serious contenders for the title.
This stark difference in performance means there’s an “inverse (path) of migration and citizenship options,” said Gijsbert Oonk, director of the Sport and Nation research program at Erasmus University Rotterdam, which focuses on the role of citizenship and migration within football and the Olympic Games.
UK-born US national team defender Antonee Robinson in action for Fulham in the Premier League on May 8, 2023. Warren Little/Getty Images
History of US women’s dominance
The civil rights law Title IX, passed in 1972, is one major reason why the US women’s team is so strong, experts say.
The law, which prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded schools, meant if colleges offered scholarships to male athletes they would have to offer them to female athletes too. Soccer became a pathway to higher education, consequently increasing participation in the game and pushing colleges to invest huge amounts of money in women’s programs.
“In a vacuum where there were practically no resources for women’s sports, Title IX was a game-changer for American female athletes. And since the rest of the world didn’t invest in women’s sports either, it gave the [US women’s team] a huge advantage,” said Leander Schaerlaeckens, a senior lecturer in sports communication at Marist College.
The US was also ahead of the curve – Title IX became federal law a year after a ban on women’s soccer was lifted in England, the country where the modern sport began. In Brazil, a giant of the men’s game, it was still illegal for women to play soccer.
While the rest of the world was changing its attitude towards women’s soccer at a snail’s pace, Title IX gave the US a head start.
By the time the world’s traditional soccer powerhouses had started to invest in women’s soccer, which is only relatively recently, the well-oiled wheels of the US production line had been churning out female athletic talent for decades.
But the men’s team has long lagged behind their global peers for a host of reasons that are also, in many ways, unique to the United States.
International rivals have long established robust youth development programs, making a far tougher playing field.
And for American men, college actually hindered their professional soccer careers, “since talented teenaged boys in Spain or England or Argentina or wherever were hopping straight from academies into the pros, without needing to go play in college first,” Schaerlaeckens said.
There were cultural social factors, too.
For decades, the top sports for American boys were baseball, American football, and basketball – with soccer often viewed as “not a real man’s sport,” said Oonk, the Erasmus University director. It’s an “entirely different picture” in much of Europe and Latin America where soccer is by far the most popular sport.
Denmark’s Amalie Vangsgaard, left, and Australia’s Caitlin Foord compete for the ball during a Women’s World Cup match on Monday, August 7. Australia won 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals. Brendon Thorne/Getty Images Australia fans wave placards during the match in Sydney. The team is nicknamed the Matildas. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images Foord scores a goal past Denmark goalkeeper Lene Christensen. David Gray/AFP/Getty Images Denmark’s players gather in a huddle before the match against Australia. David Gray/AFP/Getty Images England’s Chloe Kelly, bottom, celebrates with teammates Mary Earps, left, and Rachel Daly after scoring the winning penalty against Nigeria in the round of 16 on August 7. The match went to a shootout after ending 0-0. Dan Peled/Reuters Members of Nigeria’s team react during the penalty shootout. Elsa/FIFA/Getty Images England’s Lauren James received a red card in the 87th minute after stepping on Michelle Alozie. Matt Roberts/FIFA/Getty Images Earps makes a save against Nigeria. Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images US players comfort one another after being eliminated by Sweden in a penalty shootout on Sunday, August 6. The United States won the last two tournaments. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images US star Alex Morgan cries after the loss to Sweden. Alex Pantling/FIFA/Getty Images Swedish players celebrate the victory over the United States. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sweden’s Amanda Ilestedt, left, and Fridolina Rolfö celebrate the win. Alex Pantling/FIFA/Getty Images US forward Lynn Williams, left, and Sweden defender Jonna Andersson compete for the ball. William West/AFP/Getty Images Megan Rapinoe takes a corner kick for the United States. Alex Pantling/Getty Images Morgan heads the ball against Sweden. William West/AFP/Getty Images Morgan and Ilestedt go up for a header. Brad Smith/Getty Images US midfielder Lindsey Horan grimaces in pain after a collision. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher grabs the ball in front of her goal. Scott Barbour/AP Horan gets to a header against Sweden. William West/AFP/Getty Images Swedish goalkeeper Zećira Mušović dives to save a Horan header. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sweden’s Johanna Kaneryd, center, fights off Andi Sullivan. Scott Barbour/AP Naeher rises for a ball during the match against Sweden. Hamish Blair/AP Rapinoe, left, looks on from the substitutes’ bench. William West/AFP/Getty Images Swedish captain Kosovare Asllani talks to her teammates before the US match. Alex Pantling – FIFA/Getty Images The Netherlands’ Jill Roord celebrates after scoring the first goal in her team’s 2-0 victory over South Africa on August 6. With the victory, the Dutch advanced to the quarterfinals. Jaimi Joy/Reuters Fans of the Netherlands cheer before the start of the match against South Africa. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images South Africa’s Bambanani Mbane grimaces after colliding with the Netherlands’ Lieke Martens. She was taken off on a stretcher shortly after. Mark Baker/AP Japan’s Risa Shimizu, third from left, celebrates with teammates after scoring in the 3-1 victory over Norway on Saturday, August 5. Hagen Hopkins/FIFA/Getty Japan’s Ayaka Yamashita of Japan dives in vain to stop a Norway shot on goal. Maja Hitij/FIFA/Getty Images Japan’s Mina Tanaka, center, rises for a header against Norway. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí celebrates a goal in the 5-1 win against Switzerland on August 5. Jan Kruger/FIFA/Getty Images Spain’s Alba Redondo puts the ball past Swiss goalkeeper Gaëlle Thalmann to score her team’s second goal. Andrew Cornaga/AP Spectators show their support during the match between Spain and Switzerland. Phil Walter/Getty Images Morocco players celebrate on Thursday, August 3, after beating Colombia 1-0 to advance to the round of 16. Alex Grimm/FIFA/Getty Images Fans of Colombia watch their team’s match against Morocco. Maddie Meyer/FIFA/Getty Images Colombian teenage star Linda Caicedo, left, challenges Morocco’s Zineb Redouani during their final group match. Gary Day/AP German players react after they crashed out of the tournament following a 1-1 draw with South Korea on August 3. Dan Peled/Reuters South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi dives for the ball during the match against Germany. Chris Hyde/FIFA/Getty Images South Korea’s Cho So-hyun celebrates after giving her side the lead against Germany. Tertius Pickard/AP Brazil’s Marta, right, competes against Jamaica’s Tiernny Wiltshire on Wednesday, August 2. The two teams drew 0-0, but it was Jamaica that advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament. This was the last World Cup for Marta, the tournament’s record scorer and veteran of six tournaments. Hamish Blair/AP Jamaica’s Deneisha Blackwood celebrates with teammates after the draw with Brazil. Alex Pantling/FIFA/Getty Images Marta reacts after Brazil’s elimination. Elsa/FIFA/Getty Images France’s Vicki Becho celebrates after scoring her team’s sixth goal against Panama on August 2. France won 6-3 to advance to the knockout stage. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images Panama players spend time with fans after the France match. This was Panama’s first year playing at a Women’s World Cup. Carl Recine/Reuters France’s Maëlle Lakrar celebrates after scoring her team’s first goal against Panama. Mark Baker/AP South Africa’s Linda Motlhalo celebrates her team’s 3-2 win over Italy on August 2. It was South Africa’s first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup, and it helped them clinch a spot in the next round. Italy was eliminated with the loss. Hagen Hopkins/FIFA/Getty Images South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana tries to hold off Italy’s Elena Linari. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Italy’s Arianna Caruso celebrates after scoring against South Africa. Amanda Perobelli/Reuters Sweden’s Elin Rubensson celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot against Argentina on August 2. Sweden won 2-0. Fiona Goodall/FIFA/Getty Images Sweden’s Rebecka Blomqvist heads the ball for a goal against Argentina. Andrew Cornaga/AP Argentina’s Florencia Bonsegundo lies on the pitch after getting injured against Sweden. Abbie Parr/AP England’s Chloe Kelly celebrates after scoring against China on Tuesday, August 1. England won 6-1 to advance to the tournament’s round of 16. James Elsby/AP England’s Rachel Daly, right, scores the sixth goal against China. Hannah Mckay/Reuters Chinese forward Wang Shuang, left, celebrates with Yang Lina after scoring against England. Brenton Edwards/AFP/Getty Images Chinese defender Yao Wei, right, blocks a shot from England’s Lucy Bronze. Brenton Edwards/AFP/Getty Images Pernille Harder celebrates after scoring the first goal of Denmark’s 2-0 victory over Haiti on August 1. The win, coupled with China’s defeat against England, meant Denmark would advance to the knockout stage and face co-host Australia. Paul Kane/Getty Images Denmark’s Amalie Vangsgaard shields the ball from Haiti’s Ruthny Mathurin. Gary Day/AP Haiti fans cheer their team at the stadium in Perth, Australia. Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters Haiti’s Melchie Dumornay, left, gets tangled with Denmark’s Simone Boye. Paul Kane/Getty Images US forward Sophia Smith heads the ball during the goalless draw against Portugal on August 1. The result meant that the Americans, the two-time defending champions, would advance to the round of 16. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images Megan Rapinoe consoles Portugal’s Jessica Silva following the draw, which knocked Portugal out of the competition. Rafaela Pontes/AP US forward Alex Morgan collides with Portuguese goalkeeper Inês Pereira in the first half. Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images US fans show their support ahead of the Portugal match. Andrew Cornaga/AP US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher collides with the post. Andrew Cornaga/AP Referee Rebecca Welch shows a yellow card to US midfielder Rose Lavelle. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images Dutch midfielder Wieke Kaptein takes a selfie with fans after the Netherlands defeated Vietnam 7-0 and advanced to the knockout stage. Joe Allison//FIFA/Getty Images Vietnamese players Trần Thị Thu Thảo, left, and Dương Thị Vân react after the loss to the Netherlands. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Dutch forward Katja Snoeijs celebrates her team’s first goal, which was scored by Lieke Martens. Sanka Vidanagama/AFP/Getty Images The Netherlands’ Sherida Spitse, top, and Vietnam’s Nguyễn Thị Thanh Nhã compete for the ball. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Australian defender Stephanie Catley, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring her team’s fourth goal against Canada on July 31. Australia won 4-0 to book a spot in the round of 16. William West/AFP/Getty Images Australia fans in Melbourne celebrate after the Canada match. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan makes a save against Australia. Canada was eliminated because of the loss and Nigeria’s goalless draw against Ireland. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Australia’s Hayley Raso, right, celebrates after scoring her side’s second goal against Canada. Victoria Adkins/AP Ireland’s Lily Agg, right, battles for the ball with Nigeria’s Uchenna Kanu during a 0-0 draw on July 31. Tertius Pickard/AP Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala, center, misses a chance against Ireland. Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images A fan shows support for the Nigerian team during the match in Brisbane, Australia. Chris Hyde/FIFA/Getty Images Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie and Ireland’s Kyra Carusa react after a collision. Dan Peled/Reuters Japanese players celebrate at the end of their 4-0 victory over Spain on July 31. Both teams are advancing to the round of 16. John Cowpland/AP Fans of Japan help clean after the match in Wellington, New Zealand. Japan’s fans have become known in recent years for their efforts to clean stands after matches. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Japan’s Hikaru Naomoto, top, and Spain’s Ona Batlle compete for the ball. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa, second from left, celebrates scoring the team’s third goal with Honoka Hayashi, left, and Risa Shimizu. Amanda Perobelli/Reuters Costa Rican players appeal to referee Bouchra Karboubi before a VAR check on July 31. Zambia beat Costa Rica 3-1. It was Zambia’s first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup. Phil Walter/Getty Images Zambia’s Barbra Banda celebrates after scoring her team’s second goal from the penalty spot. Hannah Peters/FIFA/Getty Images Costa Rican midfielder Melissa Herrera, right, scores her team’s lone goal. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images Costa Rica’s Fabiola Villalobos, left, takes a shot at goal as Zambia’s Racheal Kundananji attempts to block. Andrew Cornaga/AP Colombia’s Manuela Vanegas celebrates her team’s winning goal against Germany on June 30. The goal came in the final seconds of the match and lifted Colombia to a 2-1 victory. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images Germany’s Alexandra Popp and Colombia’s Jorelyn Carabalí battle for the ball. Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images/Getty Images Vanegas marks Germany’s Jule Brand. Sajad Imanian/DeFodi Images/Getty Images Germany fans attend the match against Colombia. Jaimi Joy/Reuters Linda Caicedo celebrates after scoring Colombia’s opener against Germany. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images Norway celebrates a goal in its 6-0 victory over the Philippines on July 30. The victory helped Norway clinch a spot in the knockout stage. Phil Walter/Getty Images The Philippines’ Dominique Randle, center, consoles a teammate after the loss to Norway. The Philippines, playing in its first Women’s World Cup, was eliminated with the loss to Norway. Hannah Peters/FIFA/Getty Images The Philippines’ Hali Long makes a heart with her hands at the end of the Norway match. Rafaela Pontes/AP Philippines goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel fails to stop Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen from scoring the third goal of the match. Abbie Parr/AP Norway’s Sophie Roman Haug is challenged by Jessika Cowart. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Philippines fans cheer for their team before the match against Norway. Rafaela Pontes/AP Ali Riley and Katie Bowen hug after New Zealand was knocked out of the tournament on July 30. The co-hosts drew Switzerland 0-0, but they will miss the knockout stage because of goal differential. Molly Darlington/Reuters Bowen clears the ball in front of Switzerland’s Julia Stierli. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Swiss forward Ramona Bachmann controls the ball against New Zealand. Sanka Vidanagama/AFP/Getty Images Moroccan players celebrate their 1-0 win over South Korea on July 30. James Elsby/AP Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina, the first player to wear a hijab at a World Cup, is shown a yellow card by referee Edina Alves Batista. Hannah Mckay/Reuters Morocco’s Ibtissam Jraidi controls the ball before shooting on goal. Brenton Edwards/AFP/Getty Images Panama’s Aldrith Quintero, right, reaches for the ball in front of Jamaica’s Deneisha Blackwood and Kameron Simmonds on July 29. Jamaica won 1-0. It was Jamaica’s first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup. Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters Jamaican players celebrate after Allyson Swaby scored against Panama. Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters French coach Herve Renard kisses defender Wendie Renard on the forehead after her winning goal secured a 2-1 win against Brazil on July 29. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images Brazil’s Debinha celebrates her goal against France. Katie Tucker/AP Renard celebrates with teammates after scoring her team’s second goal. Aisha Schulz/AP Sweden’s Amanda Ilestedt, center, heads the ball to score the opening goal against Italy on July 29. Sweden won 5-0 to clinch a spot in the round of 16. John Cowpland/AP Sweden’s Rebecka Blomqvist celebrates after scoring her side’s fifth goal against Italy. John Cowpland/AP Italy fans cheer before their team’s match against Sweden in Wellington, New Zealand. John Cowpland/AP China’s Wang Shuang celebrates after scoring against Haiti on July 28. China won 1-0. Maddie Meyer/FIFA/Getty Images Haiti’s Melchie Dumornay, left, collides with China’s Dou Jiaxing on July 28. Alex Pantling/FIFA/Getty Images England’s Chloe Kelly attempts a bicycle kick versus Denmark on July 28. England won 1-0. Carl Recine/Reuters England goalkeeper Mary Earps makes a save against Denmark. Andy Cheung/Getty Images Denmark’s Janni Thomsen, left, collides with England’s Alex Greenwood. Carl Recine/Reuters Lauren James celebrates after scoring against Denmark. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images England’s Keira Walsh is stretchered off after sustaining an injury. Walsh, England’s midfield metronome, went down clutching her knee with no other player in her vicinity Jaimi Joy/Reuters South Africa’s Bambanani Mbane slides in for a tackle against Argentina’s Mariana Larroquette on July 28. Their match ended in a 2-2 draw. Molly Darlington/Reuters Argentina striker Yamila Rodriguez has received criticism for her Cristiano Ronaldo tattoo, the rival of Argentina star Lionel Messi. Matthew Lewis/FIFA/Getty Images South Africa’s Linda Motlhalo celebrates with teammates after scoring her team’s first goal against Argentina. South Africa led 2-0 before Argentina’s dramatic comeback. Lars Baron/Getty Images Onome Ebi, left, and Osinachi Ohale celebrate after Nigeria defeated Australia 3-2 on July 27. The stunning result means Nigeria has a one-point lead going into its final group game against already eliminated Ireland, while co-host Australia faces a must-win match against Canada. Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images Players from Australia and Nigeria compete for a ball in the air on July 27. Dan Peled/Reuters Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese takes a selfie with fans before the Nigeria match in Brisbane. Matt Roberts/FIFA/Getty Images Portugal forward Jéssica Silva, right, watches a shot go wide during a match against Vietnam on July 27. Portugal won 2-0, eliminating Vietnam’s hopes of advancing in the tournament. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images Portugal’s Telma Encarnação reaches for the ball during the Vietnam match. Fiona Goodall/FIFA/Getty Images Vietnam fans show their support before the Portugal match. Phil Walter/Getty Images Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar grabs the ball over the United States’ Julie Ertz during their 1-1 draw on July 27. Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images US fans react during the Netherlands match, which was played in Wellington, New Zealand. Andrew Cornaga/AP US midfielder Lindsey Horan celebrates after scoring against the Netherlands. It was her second goal of the tournament. Joe Prior/Visionhaus/Getty Images Horan’s header tied the match after the Dutch took an early lead. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images More than 27,000 fans attended the Netherlands-US match. Amanda Perobelli/Reuters Canada’s Vanessa Gilles competes for a header with Ireland’s Niamh Fahey, bottom, and Louise Quinn during a match on July 26. Canada won 2-1. Coliin Murty/AFP/Getty Images Ireland’s Katie McCabe applauds fans after the match against Canada. Paul Kane/Getty Images Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan can’t get to a McCabe corner kick that went directly into the goal to give Ireland a 1-0 lead. The incredible “Olimpico” goal came in just the fourth minute of play. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile/Getty Images Canadian forward Adriana Leon celebrates after scoring her team’s second goal against Ireland. Colin Murty/AFP/Getty Images Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso is thrown in the air by teammates as they celebrate their 5-0 victory over Zambia on July 26. With the win, Spain clinched a spot in the tournament’s knockout round. David Rowland/Reuters Hermoso, left, scores her first of two goals in the win over Zambia. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images Spain fans enjoy the Zambia match at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. David Rowland/Reuters Spain’s Alexia Putellas consoles Zambia’s Mary Wilombe after the match. Zambia still had one match to play, but it was not going to be able to advance to the knockout stage. Phil Walter/Getty Images Japan’s Hikaru Naomoto, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal in the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on July 26. It was Japan’s second win in as many games, and it clinched a spot in the knockout stage. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Japan’s Mina Tanaka heads the ball toward the Costa Rican goal. Lars Baron/Getty Images Japan fans react during the match against Costa Rica, which took place at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Costa Rican goalkeeper Daniela Solera is shaken up during a play against Japan. She was able to continue. Molly Darlington/Reuters Switzerland players, in red, defend their box during a match against Norway on July 25. The match ended in a 0-0 draw. Phil Walter/Getty Images Rain pours down during the Norway-Switzerland match. Fiona Goodall/FIFA/Getty Images People in Indigenous dress perform during a welcome ceremony that was held before Norway-Switzerland. Phil Walter/Getty Images Philippines midfielder Sarina Bolden celebrates scoring against New Zealand on July 25. Bolden’s first-half header lifted her country to a 1-0 victory — its first win ever at a Women’s World Cup. Amanda Perobelli/Reuters New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson attempts to head the ball past Philippines goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel during their match on July 25. Andrew Cornaga/AP Bolden scores on New Zealand keeper Victoria Esson. Katelyn Mulcahy/FIFA/Getty Images Philippines fans show their support during the team’s first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup. Hagen Hopkins/FIFA/Getty Images Colombia’s Catalina Usme celebrates with teammates after scoring her team’s first goal against South Korea on July 25. Colombia won 2-0. Jaimi Joy/Reuters South Korea’s Cho So-hyun, bottom left, competes for the ball against Colombia’s Jorelyn Carabali and Carolina Arias. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Colombia fans show their support in Sydney. Carl Recine/Reuters Usme tries to control the ball in front of South Korea’s Kim Hye-ri. Carl Recine/Reuters Colombia midfielder Manuela Vanegas receives a yellow card from referee Rebecca Welch. David Gray/AFP/Getty Images Brazil’s Marta, left, heads the ball during a match against Panama on July 24. Brazil won 4-0. Matt Turner/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Brazil’s Ary Borges celebrates her third goal during the Panama. Her hat trick was the first of the tournament. James Elsby/AP Brazilian fans watch the match against Panama, which was held in Adelaide, Australia. James Elsby/AP Moroccan goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi tries to punch the ball away during a match against Germany on July 24. Germany dominated Morocco 6-0 in what was the biggest scoreline of the tournament so far. Victoria Adkins/AP Germany’s Alexandra Popp celebrates scoring a goal against Morocco. Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters Germany fans celebrate as their team gets off to a great start. Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters Morocco’s Fatima Tagnaout runs during the match against Germany. Hamish Blair/AP Italy’s Cristiana Girelli celebrates after scoring a late winner against Argentina on July 24. Italy won 1-0. Kim Price/CSM/Shutterstock Italian goalkeeper Francesca Durante makes a save during the match against Argentina. Abbie Parr/AP Argentina coach German Portanova reacts during the Italy match. David Rowland/Reuters Italy’s Giulia Dragoni is challenged by Estefania Banini of Argentina. At the age of 16, Dragoni became the youngest player to represent Italy in the competition’s history. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Jamaican players celebrate on July 23, after their 0-0 draw against France earned them their country’s first-ever point in the Women’s World Cup. David Gray/AFP/Getty Images Jamaica’s Atlanta Primus tugs the shirt of France’s Grace Geyoro. Mark Baker/AP Jamaican goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer marshals her defense. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Jamaica’s Khadija “Bunny” Shaw is sent off for a second bookable offense against France. Mark Baker/AP France’s Estelle Cascarino, left, and Shaw battle for the ball. Mark Baker/AP Portugal’s Ines Pereira dives in vain as the Netherlands’ Stefanie van der Gragt, not pictured, scores the only goal in the match on July 23. Lars Baron/Getty Images Van der Gragt, left, and Portugal’s Jessica Silva battle for possession. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Silva signs autographs for fans after the match. Joe Allison/FIFA/Getty Images Sweden’s Amanda Ilestedt celebrates after scoring a late winner against South Africa on July 23. Sweden won 2-1. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images South Africa’s Hildah Magaia, who scored the opening goal, runs with the ball alongside Sweden’s Elin Rubensson. Amanda Perobelli/Reuters A South Africa fan shows support during the match. Katelyn Mulcahy/FIFA/Getty Images Danish players celebrate Amalie Vangsgaard’s late goal that gave them a 1-0 victory over China on July 22. Colin Murty/AFP/Getty Images China fans show their support prior to their team’s opening match against Denmark. Paul Kane/Getty Images China’s Zhang Linyan competes for the ball with Denmark’s Pernille Harder. Gary Day/AP China head coach Shui Qingxia gestures during the match. Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters England’s Alessia Russo and Haiti’s Tabita Joseph fight for the ball during the two sides’ opening game on July 22. England’s Lionesses, the reigning European champions, earned a scrappy 1-0 victory over the tournament debutants. Dan Peled/Reuters England’s Georgia Stanway converts the winner against Haiti from the penalty spot. Dan Peled/Reuters Nicolas Delépine, Haiti’s head coach, instructs his team during the match. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images Haiti goalkeeper Kerly Theus jumps to make one of many impressive saves against England. Zac Goodwin/PA Images/Getty Images Japan’s Jun Endo celebrates with her bench after scoring her team’s fourth goal in a 5-0 win against Zambia on July 22. John Cowpland/AP Japan’s Mina Tanaka battles with Zambia’s Agnes Musase. David Rowland/Reuters Aoba Fujino of Japan is brought down by Zambian goalkeeper Catherine Musonda, resulting in a penalty to Japan. It was later overturned due to offside. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Japan supporters react following their team’s emphatic victory over Zambia. John Cowpland/AP US forward Alex Morgan is surrounded by Vietnam defenders during their opening match on July 22. The United States, the two-time defending champs, won 3-0. Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images Lindsey Horan, left, celebrates with US teammate Megan Rapinoe after Horan scored the third goal against Vietnam. Fiona Goodall/FIFA via Getty Images Players collide in the box as Vietnam goalkeeper Trần Thị Kim Thanh looks to clear the ball away. Rafaela Pontes/AP US forward Sophia Smith dribbles the ball against Vietnam. She scored the first two goals of the match. Ane Frosaker/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images Fans cheer during the US-Vietnam match in Auckland, New Zealand. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images Spain’s Esther González wins a header against Costa Rica’s Mariana Benavides on July 21. Spain won 3-0. Amanda Perobelli/Reuters González scores her team’s third goal against Costa Rica. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images A Māori welcoming ceremony is held prior to the Spain-Costa Rica match. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Switzerland’s Seraina Piubel scores her team’s second goal during its 2-0 victory against the Philippines on July 21. Molly Darlington/Reuters The Philippines’ Katrina Guillou takes a shot against Switzerland’s Gaëlle Thalmann. The goal was disallowed. Molly Darlington/Reuters A Philippines fan enjoys the pre-match atmosphere. This was the country’s Women’s World Cup debut. Lars Baron/Getty Images Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan punches the ball clear during a 0-0 draw against Nigeria on July 21. William West/AFP/Getty Images Nigeria’s Uchenna Kanu takes a selfie with fans after the Canada match. Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie clears the ball after saving a penalty by Canada’s Christine Sinclair. William West/AFP/Getty Images Australia’s Steph Catley, third from left, celebrates scoring her team’s only goal against Ireland on June 20. Australia won 1-0 in Sydney. Carl Recine/Reuters Fans in Melbourne celebrate as they watch the match between Australia and Ireland. Alex Pantling/FIFA via Getty Images Ireland’s Heather Payne, left, tries to cross the ball past Australia’s Kyra Cooney-Cross. This was Ireland’s first-ever match in a Women’s World Cup. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images Supporters of both Australia and Ireland watch the match in Sydney. The second match of this year’s tournament set a new single-game attendance record for a women’s soccer match in Australia, with 75,784 fans watching. Jaimi Joy/Reuters Australian goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold makes a save. Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images New Zealand’s Ria Percival and Katie Bowen, in black, compete for the ball with Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen on July 20. New Zealand won the opening match 1-0. It was the country’s first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup. David Rowland/Reuters Norway star Ada Hegerberg reacts after a missed chance against New Zealand. Jan Kruger/FIFA via Getty Images New Zealand’s CJ Bott, left, and Norway’s Mathilde Harviken vie for the ball. Abbie Parr/AP New Zealand fans react during the match against Norway, which was played in Auckland, New Zealand. Andrew Cornaga/AP Norway players huddle before the match against New Zealand. Jan Kruger/FIFA/Getty Images Fireworks explode during the tournament’s opening ceremony, which was held before the New Zealand-Norway match. Buda Mendes/Getty Images The roughly 10-minute opening ceremony celebrated both New Zealand and Australia’s indigenous heritage and culture, with Māori and First Nations dancers and singers taking to the center of the field. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Dancers perform during the opening ceremony at Auckland’s Eden Park. Abbie Parr/AP Performers dance during the opening ceremony. Buda Mendes/Getty Images A performer is pictured during the opening ceremony. Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto/Getty Images Benee and Mallrat perform “Do It Again,” the official song of this year’s Women’s World Cup, during the opening ceremony. Benee is from New Zealand and Mallrat is from Australia. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Dancers take the field during the opening ceremony. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Children hold flags during the opening ceremony. David Rowland/Reuters
The best photos of the 2023 Women's World Cup
Migrating for opportunity
The dominance of the US women’s team and quality of the country’s female soccer development means there are more talented players than the national squad can take – and players who don’t make the cut may then look elsewhere.
“If you are born and raised in the US and you hold dual citizenship, for example Nigerian or Jamaican or Mexican, and you are an excellent football player but you won’t make it to the US national team … you have the option to represent … any other country,” said Oonk.
Even if they’re good enough to make the women’s side, they may not be selected for the 23-player World Cup roster, or may only play a bit-part from the substitutes’ bench. In that case, it may still be a better option for an American player to move to another national team where they can shine, he added.
Haji Wright of United States is challenged by Andries Noppert of Netherlands during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. Julian Finney/Getty Images
Schaerlaeckens added that the abundance of American women’s talent represented a “valuable commodity to be mined” – meaning “those leftover players tend to have no shortage of suitors among the nations they might be eligible for.”
The opposite is true of the men’s side.
“Absent enough talent of its own, the men’s national team has found opportunity in a changing environment that allows players to switch nations,” said Schaerlaeckens.
“At first, they went after the dual-national players who plainly had no chance of making another country’s national team. More recently, it has also pursued those also coveted by the nations of their birth, or where they were primarily developed.”
Some female players have alluded to these motivations, such as Sarina Bolden, a California-born player with the Philippines’ World Cup squad.
“Essentially it kind of boiled down to being able to make an impact,” she told CNN. “The US is highly, highly competitive, it’s a big country so there’s a lot of talent to pull from … When am I going to have the opportunity to even play in a World Cup?”
Going back to their roots
Many women players also cite their personal heritage as major factors in representing another country.
Under FIFA’s rules, players can only represent countries where they hold nationality, such as their countries of birth or those where their parents or grandparents are from. They can also represent nations with no link to ancestry if they have lived there for a certain number of years.
That means many US-born players overseas are representing their families’ homelands – which many cite as a powerful connection.
Sarina Bolden represents the Philippines at the FIFA Women’s World Cup on July 25, 2023. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Until Bolden joined the Philippines team, she’d never even visited the Southeast Asian country, she said, adding she had wanted to “explore more of the other side of me, my roots.”
Noa Ganthier, a 20-year-old from Florida, said the first time she attended a soccer camp in her father’s native Haiti, she felt something click in a way she’d never experienced at similar sessions in the US.
“I was singing and dancing the first time, we’re all laughing, having fun together. It was just a completely different vibe,” she said. “From that moment I knew for sure (I wanted to play for Haiti).”
She represented Haiti at the World Cup, where they made their debut this year before being knocked out in the qualifying rounds.
“There’s a different pride playing for Haiti,” she said. “I can’t describe the feeling but putting the jersey on, seeing your last name on a Haitian jersey, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
Danielle Etienne, a Virginia native also on the Haitian women’s team, said Haiti was the country that “saw me for me, and saw me as someone of value.” Her father, Derrick Etienne, played for Haiti’s men’s national team.
“Being American, that’s where I was born – but I’m Haitian through and through,” she said.
Haiti’s Noa Ganthier holds a phone for a selfie in Brisbane Stadium, Australia, at the Women’s World Cup on July 21, 2023. Dan Peled/Reuters
A globalized future
Though the proportion of foreign-born players on international soccer teams has remained fairly stable for decades – 10-12% on men’s teams, and 6-8% on women’s, according to Oonk’s research – it could grow rapidly in the years ahead, he said.
“There are more countries active now … in finding dual nationals abroad that may represent their countries,” he said, pointing to Mexico and Nigeria’s women’s teams.
Many African nations are also looking for potential athletes in the African diaspora, for both men’s and women’s soccer, he added. The same trend has been seen in Asia, with China and Vietnam among those recruiting athletes who were born or raised overseas – even if they don’t speak the language or have never stepped foot in their ancestral countries.
The practice has also courted controversy, specifically regarding athletes who play for countries they have no ancestral ties to.
Naturalized Chinese football player John Hou Sæter of China’s Beijing Sinobo Guoan take part in a training session before the group G match against Thailand’s Buriram United during the 2019 AFC Champions League in Beijing, China, 23 April 2019. (Imaginechina via AP Images) Li shanze/Imaginechina/AP
For example, Brazil-born player Elkeson was naturalized as a Chinese citizen in 2019 and selected for the men’s national squad ahead of its World Cup qualifiers, after fulfilling FIFA’s residency rules. It was the first time a player with no Chinese heritage had been selected for the national team in a country that historically has very little immigration.
Instances like these raise a moral quandary for the sporting world, with some questioning the value of international sports events when teams can shop for non-nationals, Oonk said.
Others point out that allowing players to choose whichever team offers the best opportunities or pay, regardless of nationality, lends an unfair advantage to wealthy nations hungry for global recognition – and could take opportunities away from athletes in those countries.
To this end, national sports federations have tried to impose certain regulations to make it more difficult for athletes to jump around. But, experts say, teams will inevitably become more diverse as multiple nationalities become more common.
“I think international soccer has, for some time, and both on the men’s and women’s side, been a kind of microcosm for globalization,” Schaerlaeckens said.
“A great many players are now eligible to represent two or three or more countries. This is the way of the world now, and soccer has reflected that.”
CNN’s Tara Subramaniam and Aimee Lewis contributed reporting.