U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday surprised some people by announcing her retirement from international soccer Tuesday. She’s just 27 and still in her prime, but she cites starting a family as a reason to step away.
There’s no telling if there are other American women who will make similar decisions after reaching the pinnacle of their sport. We know moving forward, the U.S. women’s national team will look different, but soccer fans won’t have to wait too long to see the turnover during the victory tour exhibitions and then the 2016 Olympics (when Coach Jill Ellis will have to pare the 23-woman World Cup roster down to 18).
Thankfully for the USWNT, there’s several fresh, young players ready to step up.
Christie Rampone (40) and Shannon Boxx (38) have more than likely finished their long international careers. Rampone, the last holdover from the 1999 team, has 308 caps in her career, and Boxx has 191. Neither played very much in this WWC, but both have meant a lot to the team over the years.
Abby Wambach is the bigger question for 2016. We know she’s played in her last World Cup, but does she still have enough in the tank for one more year?
“We’ve got the 10-game celebration tour that we’re gonna have a lot of fun with and we’ve got to qualify come January/February of next year for the Olympics,” Wambach told Fox Sports. “So, we’ll see how my body feels, we’ll see what’s going on with some of the other players on the team. It’s an 18-squad, so it’s a harder squad to make.”
It’ll be hard for Wambach to make the team, especially with the smaller roster. She’s 35 and lost a step, so my guess is that she’ll go out on top now.
Midfielder Heather O’Reilly also could be finished. Though O’Reilly started in the 2011 World Cup and is just 30, her role was very diminished this year as she played in just one game as a sub. She’ll always be remembered for this amazing goal.
There’s no telling if Hope Solo will continue to play or whether her legal troubles will cause any distractions, but I know one thing: She’s still a beast. Though she’s 33, Solo is still the best goalkeeper in the world and will have a spot on the team if she wants it.
Carli Lloyd clearly showed she’s the next leader of the USWNT once Wambach and Rampone move on. Lloyd carried the team offensively in the knockout stages and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. At 32, she might lose a step by the next World Cup, but she’s clearly the leader for now looking toward the Olympics.
Holiday may be gone from the midfield, but Megan Rapinoe should still be there. Rapinoe, 30, looked great scoring twice in the World Cup opener and is vitally important with her crosses and set piece kicking.
And of course, we can’t forget Alex Morgan. It might be easy to since Morgan made only a small dent in the World Cup, but we’ll give her a pass with her injury pre-tournament. She’s still a talented scorer and one of the best in the world.
Even with the departures of Wambach, Holiday, Rampone, Boxx and O’Reilly, we’re still talking mostly about role players. The starting lineup remains mostly intact.
Ready to shine
Julie Johnston is clearly one of the two young stars of this team. Absent that bad penalty she gave up to Germany and the own goal against Japan (which was mostly bad luck), Johnston played well on the biggest stage at age 23 in the most important field position. We didn’t see the near post run off corner kicks as much as Tony DiCicco kept wanting in the World Cup, but Johnston is going to be a force in the coming years. She’s a rock defensively and a threat on any set piece.
Morgan Brien, the youngest player on the team at 22, should also make big strides by the next World Cup. I wasn’t overly impressed with what I saw some Brien early in the tournament, but she improved throughout. She showed so much poise in winning and holding possession against Japan. Then she showed a great touch to Tobin Heath for the fifth American goal and nice bend on a left-footed strike that was saved. Holiday might be gone, but Brien is just beginning to show her potential.
Don’t forget about Sydney Leroux and Christen Press either. Both struggled a bit early on and eventually moved back to the bench, but they have potential to be good goal scorers. Keep an eye on these two in the next cycle to see if one emerges as a second forward next to Morgan or if they act more as super subs.
One To Watch
Crystal Dunn was probably the last player left off the 2015 World Cup team, and her omission was a bit surprising. Dunn is a 23-year-old defender with 13 caps already and currently leads the NWSL with seven goals.
Brien is lauded as a young, two-time Hermann Trophy winner as the best women’s collegiate player. Dunn won that award just before Brien in 2012 while leading North Carolina to an NCAA title. She was also a leader on the 2012 U-20 World Cup winning team, so Dunn clearly has the resume.
Dunn does a lot of things well, but her greatest strength is her speed. She’s so quick in tight spaces. Watch her goal in this video to see Dunn’s scoring ability. Again, keep in mind that she’s a defender.
Dunn could be a really interesting piece for the national team, though it seems like it’ll be hard for her to crack that starting lineup as a defender. She has a lot of similar qualities as fellow fullback Meghan Klingenberg: size, speed, ball skills. Perhaps she could play some midfield like DeAndre Yedlin is doing for the men, though Dunn may be a little small. Perhaps she’ll stay on defense and make her mark there. But it’s clear that at any position, Dunn’s star will shine and she’ll get her shot in future major tournaments. Be sure to keep an eye on this budding talent.
ANDREW TIE | @Andrew_Tie
Andrew Tie is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.