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Jess Fishlock and Wales have a shot at the World Cup

The midfielder is one of eight OL Reign players on international duty right now.

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Wales v Kazakhstan - FIFA Women’s 2023 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

On the heels of earning the club’s third NWSL Shield, eight OL Reign players are traveling around the globe to represent their countries during this FIFA international break. For one of those players, Jess Fishlock, this next week is arguably one of the most important points in her storied soccer career.

Fishlock and Wales are playing in the UEFA Women’s World Cup qualifying playoff, where they hope to qualify for a major tournament for the first time ever. Nine teams advanced to this playoff round after UEFA’s group stage of qualifying concluded. The second-best team from each group made it into the playoff. The teams with the six lowest group-stage points play one another in the first round. Winners will advance to the final round, facing the three teams with the most points from the group stage of qualifying.

At the end of the two matches, the two winning teams with the highest combined points — between the final match of the playoff and the group stage — will automatically qualify for the World Cup. A win is worth three points, while a win via a penalty shootout is only worth one. The team with the third most points will advance to the inter-confederation playoffs in February 2023 — where 10 teams will compete for three final spots.

Wales will first take on Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday, October 6. They’ll be hosting that match in Cardiff in front of 15,000 fans, a new record for the Wales women’s national team. If they win, they’ll face Switzerland on October 11 in the final playoff round.

Wales has a tougher route to the automatic bid than they do to the inter-confederation playoff next year, as they enter the playoffs with 14 points. All but one team have more points than them, with Switzerland coming in with 19 points, Iceland 18, and Ireland 17.

Fishlock, Wales’ most-capped footballer with 134 appearances, pulled her hamstring and had to miss the final two group-stage games against Greece and Slovenia. They missed her creativity against Slovenia, when Wales had to settle for a 0-0 draw. She also missed a couple of matches with OL Reign, but has featured in the last three games and appears to be back to full health.

Fishlock is the reigning NWSL MVP and one of just a handful of players with UEFA Women’s Champions League winner’s medals from separate clubs. She’s also won three NWSL Shields, but one accomplishment would mean even more to the midfielder: playing in a major tournament with Wales.

“I’m very grateful for the career I’ve had,” Fishlock told, “but it would live with me forever if I wasn’t able to go to a major tournament with my country. I’ve given so much, all the girls in this team have, and we’ve all been chasing it for so long.”

Wales has a population of just over 3 million, which is fewer people than live in the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma metropolitan region. But as OL Reign fans know, the small nation has a lot of heart. Seeing Fishlock on the biggest stage in women’s soccer would mean the world to her OL Reign teammates and coaches.

“I think Jess is someone that doesn’t get the credit she deserves sometimes,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said ahead of the international break. “She obviously got MVP last year, which I think was fully deserved. But I just think on the global stage, if you look at Jess’s career domestically — at the club level — what she’s achieved is absolutely phenomenal. The amount of countries she’s played in — and not just played in, but won in — and then on top of that, for the last 10 years to have been able to compete in the hardest league in the world and to be able to perform at the level she does — week in, week out — is unbelievable. So to be able to show that on the world stage, in a World Cup, in the biggest moment, I would be absolutely over the moon for her.”

Fishlock is the only OL Reign player with matches during this international break that mean something, but seven other Reign players will feature in friendlies.

The U.S. Women’s National Team, which includes OL Reign’s Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Rose Lavelle, and Megan Rapinoe, will play two friendly matches over the break. The first match is to be played at a sold-out Wembley Stadium against England on Friday, October 7 and the second friendly match will be against Spain on Tuesday, October 11.

There was some speculation that the match with Spain may not proceed, as the vast majority of senior national team players refused to play for head coach Jorge Vilda. Those players wrote a letter to the federation complaining about the effect of Vilda’s management and coaching style on “their emotional state and their health.” Megan Rapinoe seemed to indicate in a press conference on Thursday that the U.S. players would show solidarity with the players but were prepared to move forward with the match.

Jimena López and the Mexico Women’s National Team will play one friendly match over the break, against Chile on Monday, October 10.

Jordyn Huitema and Quinn will join the Canadian National Team and will play two matches as part of the International Football Festival in Cádiz, Spain. They first face Argentina on Thursday, October 6, and then Morocco on Monday, October 10.

All players should be back in Seattle by the middle of next week, where they will join the team in preparation for their semifinal match at Lumen Field. OL Reign plays the winner of Kansas City Current versus the Houston Dash. Their home semifinal will kick off Sunday, October 23, at 4:30 PM PT — and tickets are still available.

How to Watch

Canada v. Argentina
October 6, 2022
10 AM PT
Streaming: TBD

Wales v. Bosnia and Herzegovina
October 6, 2022
11:15 AM PT
Streaming: BBC Wales / BBC iPlayer

USA v. England
October 7, 2022
12 PM PT
TV: Fox
Streaming: FoxSports

Canada v. Morocco
October 10, 2022
7:30 AM PT
Streaming: TBD

Mexico v. Chile
October 10, 2022
Streaming: TBD

USA v. Spain
October 11, 2022
11:30 AM PT
Streaming: WatchESPN

Wales (if they win) v. Switzerland
October 11, 2022
11 AM PT
Streaming: BBC Wales / BBC iPlayer

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