Feature Stories

US Youth Soccer’s Influence on the World Cup

The World Cup champion team had a heavy influence from US Youth Soccer.

The United States Women’s National Team won its second straight World Cup title July 7 with a victory over Netherlands in the championship game in Lyon, France. It cemented the USWNT’s status as the gold standard in women’s soccer, even as Europe — led by teams like the Netherlands — challenges the U.S. team’s dominance.

The World Cup champion team had a heavy influence from US Youth Soccer.

All 23 players on the US Women’s National Team are US Youth Soccer alumni. In addition, 21 of the 23 played US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP). Four players are US Youth Soccer National League alumni:

  • Rose Lavelle – Cincinnati United Premier (Ohio South Youth Soccer Association)
  • Samantha Mewis – Scorpions Elite (Massachussets Youth Soccer Association)
  • Morgan Brian – Ponte Vedra Storm (Florida Youth Soccer Association)
  • Emily Sonnett – NASA Elite (Georgia Youth Soccer Association)

In addition, as youth players, four players won US Youth Soccer National Championships or played on teams that were finalists.

  • Emily Sonnett won a 19U National Championship in 2013.
  • Christen Press won two National Championships (2003, 2005) with Slammers FC (Cal South Youth Soccer Association).
  • Tobin Heath won a National Championship in 2003 with PDA (New Jersey Youth Soccer Association)
  • Megan Rapinoe’s team was a National Championship finalist in 2003.

Rose Lavelle, Midfield

Cincinnati United Premier (Ohio South Youth Soccer Association)

Lavelle sprinted straight toward goal between two defenders and unleashed a scorching low, lefty kick past Dutch goaltender Sari van Veenendaal to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead in the World Cup final against the Netherlands.

That goal, her third of the tournament, was how Lavelle capped off a tremendous World Cup performance. The midfielder was a consistent, driving force and played a huge part in the U.S. maintaining a majority of the possession in each contest. She was clearly one of the best players on the pitch every time she stepped on the pitch. Lavelle was questionable for the final after exiting the semifinals against England with a hamstring injury, but there was no way she wasn’t going to play in the biggest game of her young career.

Only 24, she has the talent and desire to be one of the best players in the world for years to come and proved that in France.

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. She was the first pick in the 2017 NWSL Draft.

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.

Samantha Mewis, Midfield

Scorpions Elite (Mass. Youth Soccer Association)

Mewis started in the midfield for the United States in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final against the Netherlands. Mewis played the entire game for the U.S. and earned an assist on Rose Lavelle’s goal in the 69th minute.

Mewis also nearly scored a goal in the first half and was solid throughout the final. It was a great finish for a great player with a great future.

Playing in her first World Cup, the Hanson, Mass., native finished the tournament with two goals and three assists. She scored two goals four minutes apart in the opener against Thailand and played in six of the seven World Cup games.

Her experience in big games throughout her career prepared her well for the biggest games of her life and she performed at a high level throughout the tournament.

Mewis is one of those talented players who knows all about winning – a common characteristic of this 2019 squad. She helped bring home the 2013 National Championship her junior year at UCLA and also was a member of the U.S. under-17, under-20 and under-23 national teams, and was part of the team that won the under-20 World Cup in 2012.

She has been an impact player in the center of the U.S. midfield and that isn’t going to change. Still only 26 years old, the 6-foot-tall Mewis is a ball-winning machine who is opportunistic on the attack.

Mewis was anything but a lock to make the 2019 World Cup team and coach Jill Ellis spent some time looking at other players for the center mid spot. But Ellis clearly made the right choice.

Morgan Brian, Midfield

Ponte Vedra Storm (Florida Youth Soccer Association)

U.S. veteran Ali Kreiger twice declared that the Americans “are the first- and second-best teams in the world.” While some took it as American arrogance, it was intended as a compliment to team’s remarkable depth.

And Morgan Brian was part of that remarkable depth in France.

The talented midfielder was one of three Virginia soccer alums – along with Becky Sauerbrunn and Emily Sonnett – to make the 2019 World Cup squad.

Brian started the USA’s second game in pool play against Chile but did not play in any of the team’s later matches against France, England and the Netherlands.

At age 22, Brian was the youngest member of the USA’s 2015 Women’s World Cup team and always provides a spark on the midfield whenever she is on the pitch.

The St. Simons Island, Ga., native who plays for the Chicago Red Stars came into the World Cup with six goals and 11 assists in 83 CAPS. She played a key role in the 2015 campaign but faded from the international scene in the past two years in part because of injuries.

Still only 26, Brian could very well be in the mix in four years – the next World Cup roster could look very different for the U.S. side. In her collegiate career on the University of Virginia Cavaliers from 2011 to 2014, Brian was the second-leading scorer for the team in her first year. She was named Soccer America Player of the Year in her junior year, and won the Hermann Trophy twice in 2013 and 2014.

Emily Sonnett, Fullback

NASA Elite (Georgia Youth Soccer Association)

Playing in her first World Cup, Sonnett saw limited action but gained an incredible amount of not only experience but confidence just being part of what some consider the best women’s soccer team of all-time. She saw action in the USA’s second game in pool play against Chile, coming in as a sub in the 82nd minute.

Sonnett has played centerback for the last several years in Portland and was seen as a solid backup for Kelley O’Hara, who struggled with an injured ankle prior to the World Cup.

The talented fullback has improved a great deal since leaving the University of Virginia and it’s her work ethic and commitment to getting better that will keep her in the mix on the national stage for years to come. She’s also a very versatile player who can play anywhere in the back.

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.

Tobin Heath, Forward

PDA Wildcats (New Jersey Youth Soccer Association)

Tobin Heath was one of several Americans to make a big impact both on and off the pitch in France. The talented forward started six of her country’s seven games, including the final 2-0 win over the Netherlands. She claimed her second World Cup title and is excited about what comes next.

Heath also believes the United States Women’s World Cup win can be a springboard for their equal pay fight.

“We’ve been fighting for this for a long time as a team and to be on this platform on the world stage and to hear the stadium chanting for it, it was a really, really powerful moment,” the winger said. “I hope that causes change. It’s really cool to be not just winning and fighting for things on the field, but fighting for things off the field and doing so in a way through sport I think is really powerful. I think it’s just the start of something massive and culture-changing.”

One of the USA’s most skillful players and dynamic dribblers, Heath, 31, has been a member of the last five championship squads and should be in the starting lineup on a national stage for years to come. A staple on the right wing, Heath is a game-changer for the USWNT.

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.

Megan Rapinoe, Forward

Elk Grove Pride (California North Youth Soccer Association)

Rapinoe, the face of the United States World Cup team in France, didn’t shy away from controversy off the pitch and dominated play on the pitch. In the championship game against the Netherlands, Rapinoe scored her sixth goal of the tournament on a penalty shot in the 61st minute to help lead her side to a 2-0 win.

Rapinoe was recognized as the tournament’s best player, winning both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for her efforts on the pitch. In five games played, she finished with six goals and two assists. She capitalized on all three penalty shots she took, approaching each one with the same intensity and poise one would expect from a team leader and soccer legend.

Rapinoe was the rock of the USA team who didn’t back down when asked the hard questions or when raising important subjects such as equal pay for women.

She proved on the field that at 34 years of age she is still one of the best and fit soccer players on the planet. She became the first woman to start three consecutive World Cup finals and would anyone be surprised to see her on the roster at age 40?

But that’s a long way away.

The 2020 Olympics are right around the corner and the U.S. has some unfinished business in that event. Don’t be surprised if Rapinoe is the face of that redemption process as this group of players tries to add a little gold to their back-to-back World Cups.

Christen Press, Forward

Slammers FC (California South Youth Soccer Association)

With Megan Rapinoe out of the semifinal match with England, Press stepped up in a huge way by delivering an early goal to set the tone for the match. Her sweet header to the near post put the U.S. ahead 1-0. It was her first goal of this World Cup and 49th of her brilliant career.

Press also helped set up the American’s second goal in the game with England.

The left winger started all seven games for the U.S. and finished with one goal and one assist but it was her performance against England that will be on her highlight reel forever.

A center striker throughout her career, Press was moved to the wing on the U.S. team. Her versatility, experience and success as a super sub earned her a spot on this very competitive roster and she excelled in a starting role.

She was Stanford’s all-time leading scorer with 71 goals during her four-year career and her U-14 club team, Slammers FC, never lost a game and she earned MVP honors in every tournament they played.

Now 30 years old, Press is in her prime and should be around for both the Olympics in 2020 and even the next World Cup if she stays fit and interested in still competing at such a high level.