The Women’s World Cup is right around the corner, and the United States Women’s National Team is ready to bring home their fifth title, and third trophy in a row.
Not that any World Cup victory is a walk in the park, but this summer’s tournament seems like it could be very difficult for the USWNT. Not only are they missing their captain, Becky Sauerbrunn, due to injury, but there are more rookies on the squad than ever before.
We all know vets like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara and Alyssa Naeher will be a steady presence, but what other players should you be looking out for when the tournament kicks off on July 20?
Here are 10 players, some rookies and some veterans, who will have a huge impact for the USWNT. You’ll want to keep an eye on them, as they will (hopefully) be scoring goals, and making huge plays.
1. Sophia Smith, forward
When it comes to rising stars on the Women’s National Team, no one shines brighter than Sophia Smith. She’s an absolute world class player, and has really developed her game in the last few years. Not only is she a goal scoring machine, but she can play in any position on the top line.
She’s currently the leading goal scorer for the Portland Thorns in the NWSL, so if she can translate her club play to the World Cup in a few weeks, she has the potential of scoring the most goals in the entire tournament. She’ll probably get rest during the pool play, but when the knock out rounds start, I would not be surprised if she plays a full 90 minutes every game.
2. Trinity Rodman, forward
With Mallory Swanson not available to play at the World Cup due to injury, newcomer Trinity Rodman will have to take charge on the wings. Playing in high situation games is in her blood (her father is Dennis Rodman, after all), so I expect her to be hungry to score as many goals as possible.
While she will want to score goals, Rodman will also be tasked with using her speed to get back and defend when needed. She’s one of the fastest players on the squad, so it won’t be surprising to see her used as a playmaker to set up some of her other teammates, like Smith and Alex Morgan.
3. Naomi Girma, defender
There was no doubt that Naomi Girma was going to be starting at center back during this tournament, but now that captain Becky Sauerbrunn can no longer make it to the World Cup due to injury, Girma will have to step up in a huge way.
Girma will be paired up with Alana Cook on the backline, and I expect both of them to play almost every minute of this World Cup. This will be both of their first World Cups, and their first major tournament with the national team. Girma is the kind of player who you can see being the captain of this team someday, so it won’t be surprising if we see her leadership skills blossom during this tournament.
4. Rose Lavelle, midfielder
Rose Lavelle undoubtedly became the rookie breakout star of the 2019 World Cup in France. Her creative play and insanely good dribbling on the ball makes her just so much fun to watch. She opens up channels in the offense that no one else sees, so she’s a valuable player that the team needs.
Lavelle has been nursing her way back from an injury since April, so it was a little shaky for a minute, but it seems that she is training with the team, so we’ll hopefully get to see her play as much as she can during the tournament. She can be such a game changer (remember when she scored the winning goal in the 2019 final?), so I am hoping Lavelle has the tournament of her life.
5. Lynn Williams, forward
Finally, we get to see Lynn Williams play in a World Cup! In 2019, Williams was one of the last players left off the squad, so it’s absolutely fantastic to see her get her shot. I fully believe Williams will be starting most games on the right flank. Her play for her club team, Gotham FC, has been absolutely incredible, and she’s reminding us why she’s one of the most prolific goal scorers in the NWSL.
Just like Rodman, Williams is incredible fast, so expect her to fall back a lot to help back on defense, as well as pressing the opposing team’s defense when trying to win the ball back. This may be her first World Cup, but she feels like a veteran presence on the forward line, which is very much needed.
6. Crystal Dunn, defender
While I still believe Crystal Dunn should be playing in the midfield, she still is one of the best defenders our country has, and she’s always willing to play in whatever position is needed of her. Andonovski brought a lot of full backs to this tournament, so there is a slight possibility that Dunn could be used in the midfield in a pinch.
Beyond that, Dunn will have to show a ton of leadership on the back line due to the absence of Sauerbrunn. Dunn is the only starter from 2019 who will be a starter on defense this summer, so these rookies defenders will be looking to her for guidance.
7. Julie Ertz, midfielder
It was honestly a mystery whether Julie Ertz was going to even continue to play soccer anymore (she had a baby last August), so it was a giant surprise and thrill to hear that she was ready to come back and play.
I think I can speak for a lot of USWNT fans when I say I feel so much more confident and assured when Ertz is on the field. Not only is she a leader on and off the ball, but she’s an absolute beast when she has the ball at her feet. She protects the back line of incoming attacks, and her passing is out of this world. She may not be fully fit, but I’ll take a 75% Ertz over no Ertz.
8. Lindsey Horan, midfielder
Lindsey Horan was just named co-captain alongside Morgan, so we can expect the midfielder to play in almost every single game. While I do think that someone like Dunn or Ertz should be the co-captain of the team, Horan has undoubtedly played a ton of minutes under Andonovski.
The best part is that Horan can play the position that she’s best at, now that Ertz can be the defensive midfielder. During the 2021 Olympics, Horan had to fill that defensive midfielder role becuase Ertz was injured, and it’s just not her best position. She’s a lot better when she can be creative and play freely. It will be interesting to see how she plays, as well as stepping up to captain the team.
9. Emily Fox, defender
Emily Fox is one of those players that started playing with the USWNT and fit right in. This is her first World Cup, but she has the talent and confidence of a veteran defender. She will most likely play on the right wing, but if Dunn gets moved up to the midfield, she can easily slot over to the left back position.
Fox is very fast, and it will be crucial that she can get forward as much as possible. My only worry is that she’ll get trapped out of position, but if things are going well, a left side of the field with Fox, Lavelle and Williams all working together sounds deathly.
10. Ashley Sanchez, midfielder
Ashley Sanchex has been lighting it up with the Washington Spirit in the NWSL all season, so it was great to see that she made the squad for this World Cup. She’s a great attacking midfielder, and her connection with fellow Spirit teammate Rodman could come in handy.
I don’t think Sanchez will start every game, but I think she will play since she’ll be a sub for Lavelle. The two have a similar playing styles, and love creating chances for forwards to finish in the back of the net. If Lavelle’s injury does get worse, we can expect Sanchez to being very important in the midfield.