In her almost twenty years on the bench, Tracey Kevins has traveled and experienced many things, but she has never wavered from her principles: to train and develop tomorrow's generations. From England's U15 women's team to the USA U20s, through the U17s and U19s in both countries, and even with clubs like LA Strikers FC, LA Blues Soccer Club and Seattle Reign FC as technical director, Kevins has worn many hats. Her mission for the past two decades has been to pass on her passion and contribute to the development of women's football. With two months to go before the FIFA U20 World Cup, which she will be leading with the US U20 team, she says that the Sud Ladies Cup is of the utmost importance, as it is the last dress rehearsal before the big event. Interview.
Mrs Kevins, as a national team headcoach, what does it represent for you to take part in the Sud Ladies Cup ?
For us, at the moment, it's a really important time of the year. We are preparing for the World Cup in August in Costa Rica, so this tournament is really fundamental for two things. One, to pick the roster for that, and then secondly to test ourselves against some World Cup opponents and potential opponents, as Netherlands are in our group, but also the potential to maybe meet France or Mexico further in the stages. That’s why it is so important for us to be able to test that here.
USA are always expected to win, as a coach, how do you deal with all these expectations ?
I think that it’s a given, it’s something that the players are acutely aware of from the minute they put on the crest. But, within that, we also want to develop, it's really important that our women's team remain the number one team in the world. Yes, we have the expectation that we always want to do well, to compete, to win tournaments, but most importantly that we develop players for our future women's team, which is always the number one priority.
You have a lot of coaching experience with both England and USA youth teams with different age groups, what are the main evolutions you have noticed since many years in the women’s football ?
I mean, the game is just getting faster and faster. The youth now is surrounded by football all the time on TV, so it's really about making sure that they have a keen understanding and want to become a "student" of the game, I think that one has improved a lot. And then, I think for us it's about developing the players who are ready for the future game. It's going to be even faster, even more technical, even more athletic… So we have to know how we can prepare players for that level, it’s hugely important.
How do you prepare the players to step up at the next level ?
It’s tough. The U20’s category is one of the last big jumping-off points with under 23s, so we work very closely with the senior national team staff to make sure that we are really working towards, with a style of play and principles for all our women’s teams. We are in a position where the movement between teams is more seamless for players to move up and to be integrated into those teams. That vertical integration is key for the development of our players.
Tracey Kevins with her player Lauren Flynn
As a headcoach, you have been able to travel, to play against many foreign countries, how did you see the evolution of women’s football ? Do you feel that other countries are developing well ?
Yes, we know that the rest of the world is, one : investing more in women's football teams and two : the quality of players that's coming out of countries now is even better. So for us, in order to stay ahead, we need to make sure that we are continuing to develop as a nation as well and continuing to invest in our game. I think it's just a great thing for our game that we have such healthy competition around the world.
You are in a country where women’s football is at least as much attractive as men’s football, but for example it’s not yet the same thing in other countries. What can football representatives do to increase the attractiveness of women’s football in the world ?
I think it's always a difficult question because the men's game is still relatively new in the USA. The MLS was created in the 1970s and clubs founded in 80s and 90s… So there is still a work to do for breaking down barriers. We’ve seen good investment from clubs and representatives to make sure that the women’s game continues to thrive, even if it’s not seen as a competitor, it's a global game, it’s the game of football that we all love. It should really be accessible and available to all players, regardless of their gender, to be able to play into it but that requires money and investment. And then it's you guys, it's the media, the broadcasting… It's great that the Sud Ladies Cup is getting coverage from one of the local stations in France, maybe there will be some little girls watching games at home and thinking “I could someday represent my nation and be able to play for France”... This sort of things is fundamental.
The FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup starts in 2 months, can we say that the preparation starts now ?
It’s been a very difficult few months and it's quite fractured. We are all still coming out of COVID, we not really had the amount of camps that we would probably normally have in a cycle, that's the same for the rest of the nations as well. For us, it’s about continuing to develop our style of play, our principles, and trying to put those pieces into action. We work on how we can translate that into really meaningful games, the three opponents we will play here are top ones. For us, it’s a first test, we really want to try out some things in preparation for the World Cup, but fundamentally, here, it's competing. We always want our players to be in that position and beat the topsides.
The last time USA played the Sud Ladies Cup in 2018, they have won it. Is it something inspiring for you and for the players ?
Yes, when we think about the Sud Ladies Cup, we think about Sophia Smith or Naomi Girma, players like that who already are with the women’s senior team… So yes, it is just another great opportunity to get meaningful international games, but the important is the end, is what happens next. The trophy is important of course, no one's ever gonna say that they don't want to win, but it's always about the end destination for them as well.
By Amayes Brahmi and Mathieu Lauricella