As the International Champions Cup prepares to debut a four-team women's tournament this summer, the soccer spectacle's organizers are already planning to make it even bigger.
Charlie Stillitano, the veteran power broker who runs the ICC, told the Inquirer and Daily News that work is underway to expand next year's tournament to 16 teams. Eight would come from the National Women's Soccer League, and eight would come from clubs worldwide whose men's teams play in the ICC.
This year's inaugural edition will feature four teams: the NWSL's North Carolina Courage, France's Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, and England's Manchester City. There will be semifinal matches on July 27 and a final on July 29, all at Hard Rock Stadium outside Miami.
A potential Courage-Lyon clash would be quite exciting. North Carolina had the NWSL's best regular-season record last year, and leads the league again this year. Lyon just won its third straight UEFA Champions League title.
Unfortunately, scheduling constraints mean the ICC will be played while the U.S. national team is at the Tournament of Nations. That will likely deprive the Courage of stars Crystal Dunn and Samantha Mewis, among others.
But Lyon should have its big players on board, led by Norway's Ada Hegerberg, France's Amandine Henry and Germany's Dzenifer Maroszán. All are names to know for next year's World Cup.
"We thought this would be a great way to bring the women's game together here in the U.S. with the women's game in Europe and beyond," Stillitano said. "Our hope is that a few years from now we'll be looking at the women's tournament saying it's the most prestigious club team tournament in the world, and I think we have that opportunity."
The opportunity exists in part because FIFA doesn't yet have a Club World Cup for women's teams the way it does for men. Stillitano saw that hole, and moved to fill it.
"It's exciting our sponsors. It's exciting the TV people around it," Stillitano said, and with some emphasis.
As for what the other foreign clubs will be, expect England's Chelsea and Mexico's Club América to be among them. Stillitano knows their executives well, as their men's teams are ICC regulars.
In fact, Chelsea's women were to be in this year's event, but withdrew because manager Emma Hayes is expecting twins later this year. Hayes spent many years coaching in America before returning to her native England to lead the Blues, so there's no lack of interest. Lyon came in to replace them.
(Why not have Lyon in from the start? It's no coincidence that the original four teams all wear Nike apparel. Nike will host a week of pre-tournament training at the company's headquarters near Portland, Ore.)
Club América is the more interesting addition. Mexico's new professional women's league just wrapped up the first season, and drew big crowds for women's teams playing under the names of their famous men's clubs.
Stillitano said there could also be a team in the field from Australia's W-League, given the growth of that country's national team and domestic league in recent years.
The biggest hurdle Stillitano faces is scheduling. While it's easy to borrow one NWSL team for a short time in the summer, taking eight is a different story — especially during a World Cup year. The winter is busy for the rest of the world, especially Europe and Australia.
Stillitano said there have been preliminary conversations with the U.S. Soccer Federation and the NWSL about making room in the schedule. The NWSL declined comment for the time being.
"We're going to try to find the optimal time when it's less burdensome on the women, and we get all the big superstars here if we can," he said.
As for venues, the ICC aims to have four. Stillitano believes Hard Rock Stadium will continue to be one, in part because Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is a major investor in the event.
Stillitano wants the games to be on grass "after all the controversy here" about U.S. games on artificial turf. But he acknowledged having an eye on two turf venues in soccer hotbeds: Portland's Providence Park and Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.