Under Pressure: The U.S. Women's World Cup Team (2023)

Review: ‘Under Pressure: The U.S. Women’s World Cup Team’ (2023)

Under Pressure: The U.S. Women’s World Cup Team is a 4 episode series produced by Netflix. It follows several players as they agonize about making the USWNT roster for WWC 2023. Only 23 women can be selected. And after they’ve made the team, as any USSoccer fan now knows, that team turns in the worst performance in USWNT history.

USWNT life and the bubble

Starting 4 months before the WWC, we see some of Alex Morgan’s life, performing her duties as the face of the USWNT. There is interview footage of Megan Rapinoe, who won the golden boot at WWC 2019, but now she’s 38 years old and maybe only good for 20 minutes in a game.

But otherwise, the cameras do not follow the top 18 players who make up the core team. Instead, as the World Cup approaches, we learn about the lives of some of the bubble players. Being on the bubble, but not in the bubble, these women are on the edge of making the roster but are more likely to get cut: Kristie Mewis, Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson.

Lynn Williams is a forward who didn’t make the WWC 2019 roster and who is often overlooked between the late great stars like Alex Morgan and the upcoming stars like Mallory Pugh (now Swanson). Alyssa Thompson is a rising 18 year old forward who gets plenty of media attention because of her age. Kristie Mewis has 2 things going for her. One is her 2-year long-distance relationship with Australian WNT star Sam Kerr. Secondly, Kristie is following in the footsteps of her big sister and WWC 2019 champion, Sam Mewis.

The first episode spends some time with players talking about Coach Vlatko Andonovski. The poor guy has to follow the winningest coach in WWC history. He’s such a fun, goofy guy, a nice guy. Everyone loves him. He’s a player’s coach. Nobody says anything bad about him.

Although Alex admits Vlatko is “tactically heavy”. Jill Ellis had pretty simple tactics, but Vlatko has several defensive strategies and a different offensive strategy for every opponent. It’s sort of a hint of the opinions to come in the last episode.

There is an awful lot of film time (an awful lot!) watching Coach Vlatko facetime players to tell them the good news that they are going to the WC. Most of the women cry. We don’t see any of the players who got bad news. It’s okay, we didn’t need to see that.

Episodes 2 and 3

Towards the end of Episode 2, the women play their first WC game against Vietnam. It is a disappointing 3-0 win over a minnow. Pundits are not pleased. Julie Foudy points out there are 9 returning players and 14 who are at their first WC. One player, Savannah Demelo, had never played for the USWNT before but was called in to the WC because Vlatko needed another midfielder. In Episode 1, Lynn had complained that Julie Ertz was called in to the final camp even though she hadn’t played for the WNT for 2 years.

In their 2nd group game, USWNT ties the Netherlands 1-1. Vlatko uses no subs because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the team rhythm.

In the 3rd group game, a sure goal by debutante Portugal hits the post, preserving a 0-0 tie. Carli Loyd, star of WWC 2015, makes the comment we will never forget: “the player of that match was the post”.

Episode 4

In the last episode, we have to watch the USWNT exit in the first knockout round, succumbing to Sweden in a shootout. I had forgotten how badly that game ended. Vlatko subbed in Mewis and Kelly O’Hara just for the shootout; it was Mewis’ only appearance at the WC. Rapinoe and O’Hara miss their PKs. Alyssa Naeher almost saves the winning PK but is “a millimeter short”.

But it’s not really a loss by millimeters.

The plain truth, as Julie Fowdy explains, is that coaches have to be brave and willing to make the big decisions. And Vlatko couldn’t do that.

The series ends with the players exiting with no big goodbyes and no closure. Vlatko is forced to resign, Rapinoe has a farewell game, and now it’s time to look forward to the Olympics.


This was one of those series where I had to really force myself to finish watching. The problem is, it’s about several players I really couldn’t care about. Much of it is the Kristie Mewis show, some of which is good because it shows LGBT+ role models. But because Mewis plays such a minor part on the pitch, she’s modeling her sexuality way more than her soccer. Alyssa Thompson is a model for youth, and that’s about it. Lynn Williams is a model for filling in when the better player gets hurt. But none of these women carry the team to victory, so there is no inspiration.

It’s very sad that the USWNT is so bad at making documentaries about its modern self right now. LFG was a very poor film, and Under Pressure is even worse. It’s hard to understand how these shows fail to compare with or bring any joy like the many documentaries about the 99ers.

Maybe it’s because the 99ers were about womens rights and boot-strapping and showing the patriarchy that womens soccer was a good opportunity. But underneath all of that was the joy of soccer and the joy of being teammates. Current USWNT documentaries seem to have lost both of those joys, leaving only individuals and their anxieties or failures. The results are kind of lonely.

5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5