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Michigan coach Jennifer Klein talks the Wolverines’ presence at the 2023 Women’s World Cup

While the USWNT has the support of the nation, Michigan fans might want to be singing O Canada as well this year.

Soccer: She Believes Cup Women’s Soccer-Canada at USA Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s apparent that the world at large will be watching the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Michigan fans will have reason to pay a little closer attention than others as the tournament kicks off later tonight.

Representing the Wolverines in this year’s tournament will be defenders Shelina Zadorsky and Jayde Riviere, both of whom will be playing for the Canada national team. Zadorsky donned the maize and blue shirt from 2010 to 2013, while Riviere called Ann Arbor home from 2019 to 2022, helping secure the Wolverines’ first Big Ten Tournament title of the 2000s in the fall of 2021.

To get the lowdown on Michigan’s stake in the World Cup and the tournament at large, Maize n Brew sat down with Michigan women’s soccer head coach Jennifer Klein.

Q: My first question is, should Michigan fans be singing O Canada this World Cup?

JK: [Laugh] I mean if they’re fans of Michigan, I think we’re all gonna root for Canada with Jayde and Shelina being a part of that team for sure. I think both of them will be really big contributors for the squad, and I’m excited to see what they’re able to do individually and then also as a country.

What does it mean for a college program to have alumni at the World Cup?

The World Cup is the pinnacle event of our sport, that’s the top of the top, and so when you have any alum that’s representing their country, no matter what the country is, at a World Cup, it’s unbelievable. There’s a ton of pride in that, and it gives you a sense of at some point you played a part in their journey to get there.

When it comes to playing a part like you mentioned, obviously she didn’t play at Michigan but how does it feel to see one of your former players in Savannah DeMelo play her way onto the USWNT this year?

The USWNT is such a great team, and it’s hard to break into, there’s just so many players in the U.S., so to see Savannah make that roster is unbelievable. I know it’s been something she’s been working towards for a long time, she was part of a U-20 team in college and part of that, by being with the U-20, she missed the year we won a National Championship, so her getting a chance to be with the full national team at a World Cup in some way makes that missing out on a National Championship with USC part of a bigger purpose.

I do have to give a shout for the Philippines also as a former player of mine Dom Randle is playing with them, also to Nigeria as another former player of mine Ashleigh Plumptree is playing for them too, so I’m rooting for teams for a bunch of different reasons.

There’s been discussion about how as the game has evolved, less players on the women’s side have been coming from the traditional college soccer background and instead been developed in a club’s academy similar to the men’s side. Do you think that’s fair, and do you think there’ll still be a place for both a college player and a club developed player in the future?

More players having an opportunity to get into a professional environment at an early age I think just shows the growth of our women’s pro game. I still think there’s room for more growth that the infrastructure of each club has to get to support more younger players going that pathway though, and I think college has the space to help some players.

Everyone’s pathway is gonna look slightly different, and I think college will still have a role to play in that pathway, but it’s great to see that our women’s pro game is continuing to grow and there’s more opportunity, and that the infrastructure is starting to get there, which I think is only a positive for our game on the women’s side.

I don’t want to box you into a prediction, but in terms of the depth and the skill this year, what do you think we’ll see from the World Cup?

I think it’s gonna be an amazing World Cup, I think over the course of the year there’s been a lot of injuries to big, dynamic players for a lot of different countries, and those injuries have changed the look of a lot of countries’ rosters, and because of that, I think it’ll be great to see some players that might not have been in a squad and getting different opportunities. With the field expanding to 32 teams, you’re gonna see some countries make their debut which I think is massive for the growth of our sport worldwide.

Initially, I think England looked really strong, but they’ve had some injuries. With our two alum at Canada though, we’ll definitely be rooting for them.

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off Thursday, July 20, with all games being aired on Fox or Fox Sports 1. Check local listings for times.