The U.S. women’s national team has a title to defend.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off June 7, and the USA enters the competition favored to win its fourth title after besting the field of 24 in Canada four years ago. While some of the faces have either changed or matured, there’s a strong championship core about this team. Of the squad manager Jill Ellis has selected, 12 players heading to France were part of the team that enjoyed the spoils of victory the last time around. Throughout this World Cup cycle, Ellis has tinkered, experimented and moved players around, ultimately settling on a group she feels is capable of putting another star on the U.S. jersey.
Meet the 23 players trying to win it all again.
Individual write-ups by Laken Litman, Kellen Becoats and Alex Campbell.
For the first time in over a decade, there’s some uncertainty regarding the U.S. goalkeeping situation in a major tournament, but three past NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year winners are ready to step into the void.
Since serving as the third-string goalkeeper in the 2015 Women's World Cup, Naeher has vaulted to the top of the depth chart and steps into a pressure-packed position. She has gained plenty of experience over the last two years, and was on the 2015 Women's World Cup and 2016 Olympics rosters, but this will be her first major tournament as a starter.
Naeher, 31, takes over for Hope Solo, arguably the best goalkeeper in women’s soccer history. Comparisons between the players end at their position, though. While Solo, who was suspended after the 2016 Rio Olympics, attracted drama and attention, Naeher is composed and soft-spoken. For example, she enjoys the low-key hobby of doing crossword puzzles before games. Naeher may not enjoy the same type of gamesmanship that Solo did in goal, but she has the confidence to lead the USA's rearguard this summer in France.
Harris is likely to be the No. 2 goalkeeper at the Women’s World Cup, meaning she’s unlikely to play in France unless something happens to Naeher, either via injury, suspension or a calamity in goal.
Harris, 33, has been one of the best goalkeepers in the NWSL for a while, winning the 2016 Goalkeeper of the Year Award while playing for the Orlando Pride. Her background—in which she overcame addiction and a rough childhood—is certainly inspiring, and that she’s engaged to Orlando and U.S. teammate Ali Krieger is another intriguing layer to her story.
The 28-year-old Franch is the two-time reigning NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, starring as a member of the Portland Thorns. She won a championship with Portland in 2017, a year in which she set an NWSL record with 11 clean sheets.
However, all this club success hasn’t been enough to get her more than a single game for the national team: a 2-2 draw with England in this year’s SheBelieves Cup. As the third goalkeeper, she’s unlikely to have much of an active gameday role in France.
The U.S. only conceded three goals in the entire 2015 Women’s World Cup en route to the title and will be looking for a similar shut-down effort this time around.
Ellis wants her fullbacks to bomb forward and contribute to the attack, while not leaving the team exposed at the back, and O’Hara fits the bill.
The 30-year-old Georgia native is well versed in that balance and, if she can stay healthy, she figures to start every game for the U.S. at right back. That’s a big “if,” as she’s dealt with successive injuries over the past year. A hamstring injury sidelined her for the majority of 2018, and she had ankle surgery in October.
O’Hara came off the bench in the Utah Royals’ first two NWSL matches of the season before departing for pre-World Cup training camp. If she stays fit, she’ll bring plenty of World Cup experience and hope to play a crucial role in another title-winning run after doing so in 2015.
Quickly after making her national team debut in 2016, Dahlkemper faced one of the scariest moments in her life. A toe injury suffered during a training session turned into a serious sepsis infection, which traveled up her leg. After undergoing surgery to clean out the infection—and avoid life-threatening consequences—Dahlkemper was bed-ridden for a month and a half and her leg was in pain and atrophied.
Dahlkemper persevered and worked her way back to the NWSL less than a year later. It didn’t take long for another national team call-up either, as she rejoined the squad in June 2017. The 26-year-old is a skilled and powerful central defender who can distribute over long distances and has impressively established herself as a likely starter heading into her first World Cup.
She is also one of four U.S. players, along with Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Megan Rapinoe, to be featured in the 2019 edition of SI Swimsuit.
Sauerbrunn is a fixture in central defense, a calming presence who led the USA’s stingy defense at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The U.S. only gave up three goals—two of which came in the final—en route to the title in Canada. At 33, the Utah Royals anchor still has plenty in the tank, and the leadership she brings to this team–nearly 160 caps–will be pivotal to the USWNT.
A vocal leader on the field whose positioning and distribution make her one of the world’s best, Sauerbrunn is entering her third Women’s World Cup. About the only thing she won’t be counted on for is scoring: she’s never tallied a goal in her international career.
From roster snub to roster lock, Dunn will be one of Ellis’s most valuable players this summer. The surging fullback is expected to start at left back, but don’t be surprised if you see her playing in the midfield or up top depending on the situation. Dunn is skilled and versatile enough to play anywhere.
Dunn, the only USWNT player to start every game in 2019 so far, was the last player cut before the 2015 World Cup, and she could have let that experience crush her. Instead, she used it as momentum and over the past four years, she’s won NWSL MVP, made her first Olympic team, played for Chelsea FC in England and led the North Carolina Courage to a league title.
Krieger’s name being included on the USWNT’s squad took plenty by surprise, despite her experience in winning the Women’s World Cup four years ago. Krieger, now 34, had been excluded from the national team for two years until an April call-up gave her a lifeline.
O’Hara is likely to be the Americans’ starter at right back, but she is a converted winger who loves to get involved in the attack, meaning Krieger, who still stars with the Orlando Pride, can serve as a more conservative, defensive option in the back line, should Ellis choose to tinker with her formation.
Davidson, 20, is the youngest member of the USWNT, and she will add much-needed depth and versatility along the back line. Davidson proved herself during the SheBelieves Cup when she was called on to start for an injured Sauerbrunn in two matches.
Davidson, who left Stanford one year early, was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NWSL draft by the Chicago Red Stars. While in college, she helped lead the Cardinal to the 2017 NCAA national championship and was later named College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player as well as Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Like many players on this roster, Sonnet serves different tactical roles for club and country. The 25-year-old defender has been one of the best center backs in the NWSL since entering the league a few years ago, culminating in her inclusion in 2018’s NWSL Best XI. Her opportunities with the national team, though, have been largely at right back, a product of Ellis’s depth chart and needs.
While she can add versatility and allow Ellis to mix and match her tactical options, she’s also a valuable member off the field, with an infectious personality and a “glue player” type feel about her.
The U.S. is blessed with a blend of technical skill, pace and power in its midfield, though it’s also an area with multiple World Cup first-timers.
Ertz is an incredibly versatile player that will be vital to the USWNT’s hopes of repeating as Women’s World Cup champions. In 2015, Ertz was half of the center-back partnership that was so influential throughout the tournament.
Four years later, she’s one of the most dominant central midfielders in women’s soccer. Whether she’s dropping back to provide cover for her center backs or bombing forward to join the attack, Ertz is a problem for opposing teams to deal with for both her club, the Chicago Red Stars, and country. She was named 2017 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year for a reason.
Ertz, who was formerly Julie Johnston until marrying Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, is is also a huge threat on set pieces, often finding herself on the receiving end of service and converting from close range.
Horan’s star is continuously on the rise. She won the 2018 NWSL MVP award after helping lead the Portland Thorns to the NWSL championship game last season and, at 24, is one of the most well-rounded, versatile players in the league.
In 2012, Horan became the first U.S. women’s player to bypass college for a pro career in Europe, getting her start at Paris Saint-Germain, and there would be plenty of personal symmetry if she were able to lift the Women’s World Cup trophy in the country where it all started for her.
Lavelle has battled hamstring injuries over the last two years, but she’s a preferred starter for Ellis when healthy. When the 24-year-old Cincinnati native is on the field, she is one of the most exciting players to watch on the USWNT, with her ability to dribble through traffic at full speed while displaying technical skill and trickery to boot.
Lavelle has the potential to be one of this team’s best players in the future, something that’s been repeatedly recognized: in addition to being the first overall pick in the 2017 NWSL Draft, she was the first player selected when the Boston Breakers were disbanded and their players were distributed across the NWSL.
Lavelle is also the proud owner of the closest thing the USWNT has to a mascot, her beloved bulldog Wilma.
Brian, 26, was one of the more surprising inclusions to Ellis’s final roster. As the youngest member of the 2015 World Cup squad, Brian played a key role in central midfield. But this past year, she only made one appearance with the national team while dealing with injuries. She did not play in the SheBelieves Cup or other spring friendlies.
By adding Brian, it’s clear that Ellis was looking for experience. Even if she’s not in 2015 form, Brian has played in over 80 international games for the Americans and will provide necessary depth in the midfield.
Mewis may be on her way to her first World Cup, but she’s no stranger to the national team. Mewis made her debut five years ago, and over the past two years has become a consistent fixture in the squad.
She started every game the USWNT played in 2017 and is one of the most complete midfielders on the team, making a box-to-box impact. Affectionately referred to as “six feet of fun” in reference to her height, Mewis plays with the agility of a much smaller player with the added bonus of being a constant threat on set pieces and shots from long range.
Mewis is one of the few players aside from Ertz who can play the all-important defensive midfield spot in Ellis’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. She may not start many games, but look for Mewis to play a key role as a frequent sub or a more defensive-minded option if the U.S. is looking to close a game out.
The oldest of the World Cup newcomers, the 31-year-old Long is in this team due to her vast experience and qualities as a true defensive midfielder. She’s unlikely to start, but Long is another option for Ellis if and when the U.S. is looking to shut down a game.
Long is an experienced pro, having made the NWSL’s Best XI twice and been a starter on the 2016 Olympic team. Her soccer talents also extend beyond the USWNT and NWSL, as she’s a fixture in the competitive men’s futsal scene in New York City and also a technical advisor for FC Barcelona’s New York-based academy.
The deepest attacking unit in the world features dynamic superstars who can score in every which way.
Heath is a veteran of two World Cups and has developed into one of the best players in the world, dazzling opponents and fans alike with her skill, pace and ability to finish. Affectionately referred to as “Tobinha,” Heath’s Brazilian-like flair and affable personality make her a clear fan favorite.
Fully recovered from ankle injuries that derailed her for 2017, Heath is a sure starter on the wing. She is arguably one of the most important players to the U.S., period, and is key to setting up others–when she’s not scoring goals herself.
Not only is Morgan playing the best soccer of her career right now, but on April 4, she became just the seventh U.S. player to score 100 goals. She joined the elite company of Abby Wambach (184), Mia Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Carli Lloyd (110), Michelle Akers (107) and Tiffeny Milbrett (100).
Thankfully for the U.S., the 29-year-old heads into her third World Cup with a clean bill of health. Four years ago, she was coming off an injury heading into the tournament and came off the bench in the first two games. She still made a difference, drawing a key penalty in the semifinal against Germany that helped send the Americans to the final, but she will be hoping for a more prolific showing in France than the one goal she tallied in Canada.
Equally important is the work Morgan does off the field. The two-time Olympian is one of the players leading the charge for more equitable pay and support from U.S. Soccer. She was also named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People for 2019, and landed on the cover of SI Swimsuit.
Rapinoe may be 33 and a few years removed from a torn ACL, but it’s clear that she has plenty left in the tank. Rapinoe has been playing some of the best soccer of her career over the past couple of seasons and remains one of the USWNT’s most dangerous players.
She takes the majority of the Americans’ set pieces and is a threat from virtually anywhere in the attacking third to unleash a wicked shot or whip in a dangerous cross for one of the USWNT’s many attacking options. Her vocal leadership is also one of her trademark qualities, as she’s been at the forefront of the equal pay movement and was unabashed in supporting Colin Kaepernick in kneeling for the national anthem.
This will be Rapinoe’s third World Cup—with her most iconic moment coming in the 2011 edition when she sent in a long cross that led to Abby Wambach’s “header heard round the world” and forced a penalty shootout against Brazil—and she’ll be hoping to make more memories in France.
To use the term “super sub” is a disservice to Press’s abilities, but the fact remains that the USWNT’s stable of starting forwards is among the hardest to break into in the world. Whether she plays on the wing or as a center forward, Press is a constant danger to break down the opposition and sneak behind the back line with her pace.
The 30-year-old has shown with the Utah Royals, the Chicago Red Stars and during a couple of stints in Sweden that she’s willing to adapt her role, to be more of a facilitator than a goal-scorer if needed.
Her value on this team is likely to come in the form of a second-half game-changer. When opposing defenses have been dealing with Morgan, Rapinoe and Heath for the majority of a game, the last thing they’ll want to see is a full-strength Press coming on for the remaining minutes.
Lloyd was the hero and centerpiece of the USA’s 2015 championship team. Now 36—the oldest and most experienced player on the roster heading and into her fourth World Cup—she’s been asked to take on a different role this time. Similar to what Abby Wambach did four years ago, Lloyd will most likely come off the bench in France.
The two-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year still has an unparalleled work ethic, and she enjoyed a successful, albeit brief stint with Man City’s women’s team before returning to NWSL with Sky Blue FC in 2018. She still has the ability score goals under pressure—lest anyone forget her hat trick in the 2015 final against Japan.
By the time she was 18, Pugh had already played in three world championship events (two U-20 World Cups and the 2016 Olympics) and was named 2015 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. She was also the consensus top recruit in her class and went to UCLA—but only for one quarter before deciding to turn pro (she never played in one college game) and playing for Real Colorado and later the Washington Spirit. Now 21, Pugh is heading to her first World Cup and is poised to be a breakout star on the front line.
Making the World Cup team is quite an achievement for McDonald, the 31-year-old Phoenix native who is the only mother on the team. She is a fantastic striker who was shuttled around the NWSL and even had a stint in Australia before hitting her stride with the North Carolina Courage. McDonald said she contemplated retirement at one point but has found a home with the Courage, helping lead the club to the NWSL championship last season with two goals and a performance that earned her NWSL title game MVP honors.
McDonald isn’t the biggest name in the forward pool, but her energy and ability to give the U.S. a direct option if in need of a goal could result in her get some run in France.