Soccer is returning to Chelsea after a 16-year absence, and it’s expected to be at its best. Chelsea does not have a World Cup but it has sent a large contingent of players from the English Premier League to participate in this year’s tournament in Russia. (For those of you who couldn’t watch the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho suggested his side boycott the tournament altogether and told his stars to stay in bed with the television turned to Spain’s match against Germany). Brazil and Germany, meanwhile, are undefeated at the tournament after cruising to victories in the opening game of their round-of-16 matches and should have far too much firepower for the latter group stage Sunday in Kaliningrad.
We spoke with two of the stars of the club—Chelsea-born Jess Carter and Danish-born Magdalena Eriksson—to discuss the team’s chances in Russia, the history of the World Cup, and the themes of this year’s tournament.
Magdalena Eriksson: I know very little about English football. I’m a woman who grew up watching the right wing and defender position, but I don’t really know the game. I am not a soccer expert. I only play tennis, but I also play ice hockey.
Jess Carter: My family and I have watched Chelsea play all the time. We follow their matches on television and I go to games sometimes when we can. But outside of England, I don’t follow the sport.
JM: I think that a lot of the women’s game is changing. I mean, the margins are always small, but things are happening. But it will always be a spectator sport—it’s not going to be a spectator sport that is actually played. There is still that majority of the population that have never picked up a soccer ball or seen that sort of spectacle of a game.
JC: The biggest thing is they’re trying to use female players as a marketing tool. I’m sure they’re trying to make it more exciting, to get in more females. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be a spectator sport.
JM: I think most of the players [in Russia] are here to have fun and to enjoy the World Cup and do their best for their clubs and I believe they all will be doing that. As a media outlet and as an industry, we’ve become more aware of how important women’s soccer is and how much it means to the fans and the public. And I think it’s a wonderful time for women’s soccer.
JC: I think it is. With the balls that they’re putting on the pitch—they’re amazingly good. I think it’s important to look at what they’re doing with the ball itself.
JM: But when we look at the ball they’re doing, the quality is such that it doesn’t really need to improve and make it that much better. We’re looking at the game completely differently—we’re not looking at how the ball can increase the pace, it’s looking at the quality of the shot.
JC: I know the women’s game was always one that needed to improve and to pick up the level. But now I’m seeing so many women’s games happening that I can almost see how we’re all making progress. That’s one of the amazing things about women’s soccer, how far we’ve come.
JM: I don’t think it needs to be big, big; you just need to be consistent and keep trying and working hard.
JC: You might be able to see us for a game or two at some point in Russia. It’s amazing how quickly the landscape changes. But yes, we will see you on the pitch, there’s no doubt about that.