By Terry Jacoby, FUEL Soccer Contributor
The eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in France next summer, as the world’s best teams come together in month-long celebration of the beautiful game. The USA currently holds the crown after its 2015 campaign, and it’ll take an almighty effort to stop the favorites from successfully defending their trophy.
As with every major international tournament, there’s always a number of players who stand apart from their fellow stars – making headlines across the world with their moments of show-stopping brilliance.
Midfield (Medford Strikers)
The next time the World Cup rolls around Carli Lloyd will be 40 years old and soccer, as Lloyd knows all too well, is a game best served and played by youth. The U.S. is bringing a team mixed with fresh, young (and highly skilled) talent along with experienced (and highly skilled) veterans to France. Lloyd is one of those veterans who U.S. head coach Jill Ellis will lean on as much for her leadership as she does her skills. In their final friendly leading up to France, Lloyd scored twice in the 6-0 win over Belgium. If this is it for Lloyd, it’s been an amazing ride whatever happens for the New Jersey native who first joined the U.S. senior national team in 2005. The talented midfielder delivered the winning goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics to win gold for the Americans. Lloyd (Sky Blue FC) isn’t going to France to just lead, she is going to play and contribute. “I know that I still have a lot left to give to this team,” Lloyd said in March. “I know physically I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in. It’s important to be ready, and I know I’ll be ready, and I want to do anything I can to help the team win.” Lloyd played for the Medford Strikers (NJ) club team, winning the 1997 and 1998 State Cups. She helped also helped lead PDA Galaxy to the 2001 U-23 national title and earned MVP honors.
Goalkeeper (Yankee United/South Central)
While at Penn State, Alyssa Naeher studied kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements. Naeher (Chicago Red Stars) must have been an excellent student because she has become quite proficient with body movements – she can stretch out, jump, grab, kick and move with the best of them. She will need all those traits and more this summer when she stands in goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team in France. Naeher, a veteran of the USA’s youth national teams, was the starting goalkeeper for the team that won the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and is expected to be the starting keeper in France. This is what Coach Jill Ellis said of Naeher last summer: “She’s a keeper that we’ve really invested [in], in terms of getting experience. I think her distribution with her hands is phenomenal. I think her feet have gotten much, much better. Her choices, her selection, her confidence on the ball – I think all those things have improved.” Naeher played youth club soccer with Yankee United (Conn.) from U-12 through U-15, then switched to South Central for U-16 to U-19 where she won a state title. Was a Parade All-American and two-time NSCAA Youth All-American. She was a three-time NSCAA All-American at Penn State.
Forward (Slammers FC-Newport Beach, Ca.)
A center striker throughout her career, Press has moved to the wing on the U.S. team. But Coach Ellis can use her – most likely off the bench – at wing or striker. Her versatility, experience and success as a super sub earned her a spot on this very competitive roster. She had three assists in the U.S. win over Belgium in April. A versatile and dynamic attacker, Press (Utah Royals FC) has worked her way into an import role for the WNT based on her excellent scoring rate and ability to be effective both at forward or midfielder. Press had an amazing pre-professional career. Her U-14 club team, Slammers FC, never lost a game and she earned MVP honors in every tournament they played. She was Stanford’s all-time leading scorer with 71 goals during her four-year career.
Forward (PDA Wildcats)
One of the USA’s most skillful players and dynamic dribblers, Heath has been a member of the last five championship squads and will be in the starting lineup when the U.S. hits the pitch in France. A staple on the right wing, Heath is a game-changer for the USWNT who has 25 goals in 142 CAPS. She had a goal in the 5-3 U.S. win over Australia in the April friendly in Colorado. In 2016, Heath (Portland Thorns) was named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. She earned NWSL Player of the Week honors after an amazing goal in week one of the 2019 season. The Basking Ridge, N.J. native helped the PDA Wildcats win one club national championship, in 2003 at U-14s, and in two other club national championship tournaments. She also helped the PDA Wildcats to the U-17 club National Championship game in 2005.
Midfield (Cincinnati United Premier)
If Lavelle is healthy, she will be in the starting lineup in the midfield for the U.S. soccer team in France. Her great vision and ability to move the ball gives the midfield the playmaker coach Ellis is looking for from the position – think Manchester City’s Keven De Bruyne. Lavelle (Washington Spirit) will still contribute even if she isn’t 100 percent. One of the USA’s top players in the 2014 U-20 WNT cycle, she made her full National Team debut three years later after a successful college career at Wisconsin. The first pick in the 2017 NWSL Draft by the Boston Breakers, after the Breakers ceased operations, she was taken as the first pick in the Dispersal Draft on Jan. 30, 2018 by the Washington Spirit. Lavelle was a standout player for five years with the Cincinnati United Premier Soccer Club, a program she joined in eighth grade and stayed with through high school. She credits club soccer for setting the groundwork for all the success that followed.
Goalkeeper (Palm Bay Rangers, South Brevard United)
Alyssa Naeher is the starter but it’s nice to have a reliable backup waiting in the wings. Naeher was first Hope Solo’s backup and now stands behind Harris. A very creative and artistic person, Harris can draw clean sheets with the best keepers in the world. Harris (Orlando Pride) has 19 CAPS which is a great amount of experience to have in a backup role. She was one of the best young goalkeepers in the world while playing every minute for the USA at the 2002 and 2004 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cups. She has overcome several major injuries during her college career and didn’t get her first call-up to the WNT until her final season at North Carolina in 2009. She played club soccer with boys until the age of 14. First teams were the Palm Bay Rangers and South Brevard United.
Centerback (J.B. Marine)
Becky Sauerbrunn was one of the keys to the Americans’ impressive defensive performance in the 2015 World Cup and four years later will be looked again to anchor a very strong U.S. backline. At age 34, this could be her final World Cup but don’t ever count her out of anything – even playing at a high level at 38 if she so chooses. Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals) was called into the U.S. team for the first time in January 2008 and then earned a place on the roster for the Four Nations Tournament in China. After the 2010 WPS season, she worked her way into the mix, becoming an important player and consistent presence in the back for the National Team. The St. Louis native has 149 CAPS. She played youth club for J.B. Marine and helped lead her teams to four state cup titles and a 2000 regional championship.
Midfielder (Scorpions SC)
Samantha Mewis quickly and successfully moved up the U.S. ladder until she reached the top rung on March 7, 2014 in her first CAP against Sweden. A long-time contributor to the U.S. Youth National Teams, she played in one Under-17 and two Under-20 Women’s World Cups for the USA, including the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan which the USA won. Mewis was anything but a lock to make the 2019 World Cup team and Coach Ellis spent some time looking at other players for the center mid spot. Mewis (North Carolina Courage) started against both Brazil and Belgium but more than likely will be more of a sub in France. Either way, she’s a solid contributor with 48 CAPS. She had her best year in 2017 for the WNT, emerging as a key factor in the midfield and was one of just two players to start all 16 matches. She played 1,242 minutes, which was second-most on the team. The native of Hanson, Mass., Mewis played from U-7 through U-19 with the Scorpions SC. Won State Cup in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012, and earned regional titles in 2006, 2008 and 2012.
Fullback (Albertson Fury/ RVC Tornadoes/ RVC Power)
Crystal Dunn can play almost any position on the pitch which gives Coach Ellis some options but the “best dancer on the team” will be dancing mostly at left back in France. Dunn (North Carolina Courage) started her WNT career as a defender and reached the full international level after featuring prominently for the WNT programs at the U-17 and U-20 levels. Since her emergence at the end of 2015 after a stellar NWSL season, Dunn moved up the pitch to winger/striker. More recently, she has been playing as a defender for the U.S. WNT once again. As a senior at UNC in 2013, she led the Tar Heels in scoring with 34 points (14 goals and six assists). The Rockville Center, N.Y., native played with the Albertson Fury from U-15 until she left for college. She played U-13 through U-15 with the RVC Tornadoes and played U-10 though U-13 with the RVC Power where she won a state title.
Emily Sonnett, Fullback (NASA 12 Elite II)
Emily Sonnett has played centerback for the last several years in Portland but the talented fullback will more than likely play right back in France. She has been starting as Kelley O’Hara has been out with an injured ankle. Even if O’Hara can play – even if not at 100 percent – Ellis will need a reliable replacement as Plan B. Sonnett is a great Plan B or Plan A if that’s how things turn out. Sonnett started all three games at the 2018 Tournament of Nations vs. Japan, Australia and Brazil at right back. She played excellent games at right back against England on March 7 and Mexico on April 5 (going 90 minutes in each) and again on April 8 vs. Mexico. Throughout her career on the Cavalier back line, Virginia posted shutout wins 64 percent of the time. In 2015, Sonnett was named espnW’s National Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. She helped her club team, NASA 12 Elite II, win the U-19 national title in 2012.