The Tokyo Olympics are almost here. Anyone counting down until the games begin? Now just less than a month away, the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympics are 25 days away! So let’s talk about some of the most famous women soccer players.
You know what that means. It’s United States Women’s Soccer (USWNT) time. The team has done well during the Olympic Games in women’s soccer (aka football around the world) and they will look to take home another gold this year. Of course, it will take a lot of work as there’s a lot of good teams around the world that will be vying for that gold, as well, including defending Olympic gold medalist Germany.
The USWNT finished fifth in the 2016 Rio Olympics, while Sweden got the silver, and Canada finished on the podium with the bronze.
The UWNT has four Olympic gold medals to its name, though, and that’s a record as they’ve “won more gold medals than any other participating country in the Olympics” per Goal.com. And that took a collective effort from players throughout the team’s history.
Another gold medal cause is off the pitch, with so many players on this list who have been pitching and advocating for equal pay. On the pitch, how about we take a look at the USWNT players who’ve helped contribute to the team’s success throughout the years.
Here we go!
25 of the Most Famous Women Soccer Players From USWNT
25 – Denise Bender
Bend it like…Bender. You can’t include a top 25 list without an OG! Denise Bender was reportedly the USWNT first official team captain.
“After playing at the University of Washington, where soccer was still only considered a club sport, Denise was one of approximately 70 players invited to the Olympic Festival in Baton Rouge, La., in 1985, where Mike Ryan picked her to join what would become the first physical assemblage of the U.S. Women’s National Team later that summer. Selected by Mike as the team’s first captain, she appeared in all four games as a defender…” per Raising Tomorrow’s Champions Soccer.
24 – April Heinrichs
April Heinrichs had quite the career in soccer. It was a career that, per US Soccer, was “as a player, coach and administrator (that) literally spanned the history of U.S. Women’s National Team programs”. She would also win “the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year Award twice, in 1986 and 1989, and as a pioneer in every sense of the word, she was also one of the first American women to play professionally overseas, playing in Italy with Juventus and Prato…https://twitter.com/soccerhof/status/1233059465164779526?s=20” via US Soccer.
“Heinrichs, who won three NCAA titles in the early years of the UNC dynasty, was a member of the Triple-Edged Sword, the devastating front line that also featured Michelle Akers and Carin Gabarra, which led the Anson Dorrance-coached U.S. team to victory at the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Heinrichs scored twice in the 5-2 victory against Germany in the semifinal. All three of those forwards would be elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame with Heinrichs, in 1998, becoming the first female player so honored.”US Soccer: ‘April Heinrich’s Third Act Comes to a close…’
23 – Carla Overbeck
You can’t overlook Overbeck as the Duke women’s assistant soccer coach played an integral role in the USWNT team.
According to Duke, “Overbeck’s playing accomplishments include competing for the United States National Team. Overbeck was an instrumental player for the U.S. in winning the 1991 Women’s World Cup in China. She captained the 1995 U.S. World Cup squad that advanced to the semifinals and also served as captain of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team that won the gold medal. In 1998, Overbeck competed on the gold-medal-winning Goodwill Games squad. She again captained Team USA to the 1999 World Cup Championship and to a silver medal in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.”
Duke also mentions that “(o)n May 6, 2006, Overbeck was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame and was a 2010 North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame inductee. Overbeck, who graduated from North Carolina with a degree in psychology in 1990, attended Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas. She and her husband, Greg, have one son, Jackson and a daughter, Carson Elizabeth.”
22 – Becky Sauerbrunn
From Bender to Becky, Becky Sauerbrunn is the USWNT’s newest captain heading into the Olympics.
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle United States reported in January that “women’s national team manager Vlatko Andonovski announced that defender Becky Sauerbrunn will be the team’s captain going forward…Sauerbrunn…has enjoyed a long tenure with the U.S., earning 178 caps and was also part of the World-Cup winning sides in 2015 and 2019. That experience has long made her one of the team’s leaders.”
21 – Joy Fawcett
If only there was a faucet filled with soccer goals to help the UWNT team out. Oh, well there’s Joy Fawcett! She cranked out a “game-winning goal for a 1-0 American victory over Canada in the 1993 CONCACAF Championship” per the Cal Bears.
The Cal Bears noted that Fawcett was a “starting defender on the U.S. National Team, she made 239 international appearances during her career, starting all but 5 games…Fawcett participated in 3 Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. National team, winning Gold in 1996 and 2004, and silver in 2000…also a member teams that won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999…married husband Walter Fawcett in 1991…served as the first ever head coach of Women’s Soccer at UCLA, from 1993-97, compiling a 65-24-7 record and winning the Pac-10 title in her final year.”
20 – Heather O’Reilly
When you’re talking some of the greatest WSMNT players, including those who were on those early winning teams, you have to include Heather O’Reilly in the mix.
“In 2002, at the young age of 17, Heather earned her first cap with the National Team. In 2004, her soccer dreams became a reality by being named the youngest member of the 2004 Olympic Team, which allowed O’Reilly to compete alongside household soccer names such as Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, and Kristine Lilly. O’Reilly proved that she not only could survive, but also thrive at that level. One of her greatest accomplishments is scoring the game winner in the semi-finals of the 2004 Olympics, sending the USWNT into the final, which they went on to win.”O’Reilly Soccer: ‘About Heather’
Her site went on to say that “(f)or nearly 15 years, O’Reilly was a consistent contributor to the U.S. Women’s National Team. From 2002-2016, she suited up for her country 231 times, scoring 47 goals with 55 assists.”
19 – Christen Press
Extra, extra, read all about it. Off the press, Christen Press has 147 caps, 61 goals, and 42 assists to her name.
According to Just Women’s Sports, “Press has played on the USWNT since 2013. She was a part of both the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Championship teams”.
18 – Nicole Barnhart
One theme you’ll notice about a lot of players on this list, you’ll see that after they play, they coach. When you have USWNT player alone on your resume, along with adding you’re a World Cup champion of Olympic gold medalist, yeah I’d say that helps in your coaching ability and being able to coach at some powerhouse NCAA schools. Barnhart is one of them.
Per Stanford Athletics, “Nicole Barnhart is an Olympic gold medalist, U.S. national team veteran and a current professional goalkeeper who serves as Stanford’s volunteer assistant coach…Barnhart is a regular in the U.S. national team lineup and has won two Olympic gold medals, in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. She also played for the 2011 U.S. World Cup team that reached the championship final.”
17 – Megan Rapinoe
If you’re a recent fan to USWNT, here’s a player who you may recognize. On the pitch, she’s got 177 caps to her name, 59 goals, and almost 70 assists with the USWNT.
As US Soccer states, “(s)he’s delivered for the United States in the biggest of moments—perhaps most memorably in overtime against Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup when she sent a fifty-yard wonder-cross to Abby Wambach in overtime and that ‘beast in the air just got a hold of it.’ Since then, she continued to turn out big-time goals and big-time assists in the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Cup.”
16 – Alyssa Naeher
With any good team, you need someone you can count on in net. Alyssa Naeher fills that as one of the best goalies to ever play in the National’s Women’s Soccer League.
Per US Soccer, “In 2014, Alyssa Naeher was awarded the 2014 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award, making a record 106 saves in 24 games. That performance helped earned her a spot on the USA’s 2015 World Cup team.”
15 – Christie Pearce Rampone
When you’ve got caps on caps on caps and captain titles to your name, you make this list as one of the best USWNT players in history. Not only does this soccer player have a lot of caps, it’s historic. And when your nickname’s Captain America, you start off this next section of the list of the top 15 best USWNT players.
Pearce Rampone is, per her site, “(a) mother of two girls, Pearce Rampone played in five FIFA World Cups and four different Olympic Games. The two-time FIFA World Cup champion and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist recorded 311 caps for the U.S. Women’s National Team, which is the second most of any single player in international soccer history (men or women). Affectionately known as Captain America, she also captained the U.S. Women’s National Team on a record 113 occasions.”
14 – Shannon MacMillan
When your coach speaks highly of you, it shows you really let your game speak.
“Shannon is one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Lauren Gregg, a USWNT’s ‘assistant coach who spoke about MacMillan’s worth prior to the Atlanta Summer Games’ according to US Soccer’s Michael Lewis, said. “What always stood out to me was just this incredible keen sense for the goal. There aren’t a lot of players that have this desire and this one-way mindset of going to goal. Mia Hamm had that unique ability. Carin Gabarra Jennings, April Heinrichs; I put Shannon MacMillan in that category.”
MacMillan, “(i)n the first Olympic women’s soccer tournament…not only emerged as the top goal-scorer for the USA, she tallied two of the most memorable goals in the team’s illustrious history” per US Soccer’s Lewis.
13 – Hope Solo
Hope Solo is one of the best goalkeepers to ever netmind on the USWNT. According to US Soccer, “(s)ince her debut in 2000, Solo accrued 202 caps, and is the only goalkeeper in U.S. and world history to reach 200 appearances for her country…153: Total number of U.S. wins with Solo in goal”.
Solo’s also got two gold medals and a World Cup championship to her name per Soccer Way.
12 – Julie Foudy
Julie Foudy is hands-down one of the greatest players to ever don the red, white, and blue.
Now a espnW Writer, Soccer Commentator, Features Reporter and Host, Foudy, per ESPN, “was a midfielder for the U.S. Women’s National Team from 1987 through 2004, serving as the team’s captain from 2000 through her retirement. In her 17-year national team tenure, the U.S. women won two FIFA Women’s World Cup titles (1991, 1999), captured two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004), and the silver medal in 2000 – en-route to becoming one of the most successful national soccer teams ever in the sport.”
ESPN also states Foudy was “former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation (2000-02)…(and) Foudy received the 1997 FIFA Fair Play Award for her trip earlier that year to Pakistan to examine the working conditions of factories of her then-sponsor, Reebok”.
11 – Cindy Parlow Cone
When you’re a president, you make this list. And when you become a president in historic glass-ceiling-breaking fashion, even more reason.
Parlow Cone, per US Soccer, is “U.S. Soccer’s first woman president” and “played for the U.S. Women’s National Team from 1996-2004…was a member of the historic 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team…(and) also won two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004) in a career that spanned 158 caps and saw her score 75 international goals, which is eighth all-time in U.S. history.”
US Soccer also states that Parlow Cone “was also the first head coach to win a National Women’s Soccer League championship, guiding Portland Thorns FC to the title in 2013 during the league’s inaugural season.”
10 – Carin Gabarra
Whenever you build a good team, you need great leadership to help contribute to the team’s success. Here is where Carin Gabarra comes in.
According to Navy Women’s Soccer, “(w)hile coaching at Harvard, Gabarra continued competing on the international level where she led the U.S. to its first-ever Women’s World Championship (later named Women’s World Cup) title in 1991 by scoring six goals and was the recipient of the ‘Golden Ball,’ presented to the outstanding player of the championship. She garnered United States Soccer’s Female Athlete-of-the-Year honors in 1992, after winning the award for the first time in 1987. She was also tagged the 1987 and ’92 United States Olympic Committee Player of the Year. Gabarra recorded 117 international caps from 1987-1996 and scored 53 goals.”
You may know her as Carin Jennings from her playing days as she also “later married former U.S. men’s national team player Jim Gabarra” per US Soccer History (hence the new last name).
Carin Gabarra is the head coach of Navy Women’s soccer. She was crucial to the USWNT success, playing for her country, and also to this soccer program, coaching an American prestigious military school. Talk about being patriotic and playing for America, coaching other future and current leaders within the Navy program!
“It is the gift of leadership, which has led her to become one of the household names within the collegiate coaching ranks..Since taking over the Navy program in 1993, she has taken the Midshipmen from a club-level organization to a team who has claimed at least a share of the Patriot League regular-season title 10 times, made four NCAA Tournament appearances, and produced 21 consecutive winning seasons from 1995 through 2015. In total she’s had 24 total winning seasons in her 27 years at the helm of the Midshipemen.”Navy Women’s Soccer: ‘Carin Gabarra’
9 – Briana Scurry
If you have one goalkeeper making the cut in the top 10 here, you got to have another one. And you have to include the netminder who was a part of that historic early USWNT era: Briana Scurry.
US Soccer noted that “Every sports fan of a certain age remembers Briana Scurry’s penalty kick save in the shootout that decided the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final…(and) Scurry (had an incredible) performance during the semifinal of that tournament, a 2-0 victory against Brazil on Independence Day in front of a roiling mass of 73,123 fans at the old Stanford Stadium.”
Per Penn State, she won 133 matches as the USWNT goalkeeper.
Scurry is “the first African-American woman to enter the (National Soccer) Hall of Fame” per US Soccer.
8 – Tiffeny Milbrett
Tiffeny Milbrett became “one of the greatest international soccer players…Milbrett (was) the first woman to score a goal in two Olympic gold medal matches and was a member of the legendary U.S. team that hoisted the 1999 Women’s World Cup” per US Soccer. And get this: “She finished her 16-year international career with 100 goals in 206 appearances, nearly a goal every other game” via US Soccer.
Per the Portland Pilots, “In 2001, Milbrett became a founding member of the New York Power in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) where she was the league’s MVP as well as Offensive Player of the Year…Milbrett has been involved in coaching since 2009”.
7 – Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan, now a mother, who recently played with Tottenham across the pond is going across the sea to a different country, Tokyo, this time with Team USA to compete in the Olympics to try and get another gold medal. Per US Soccer, “(a)t the 2011 World Cup, 22-year-old Alex Morgan—the youngest player on that U.S. World Cup roster—scored in the semi-final against France and scored again in the final against Japan. This was the spectacular introduction to one of the most prolific goal scorers in U.S. soccer history. On April 4, 2019, Morgan scored her 100th goal, and it was trademark Morgan: out-muscling a defender and crashing toward goal with incredible force and speed.”
6 – Brandi Chastain
Chastain, according to Santa Clara Athletics, helped the team get “Olympic gold as the U.S. Team claimed top honors in the first Olympic women’s soccer competition at the 1996 SummerGames in Atlanta. Chastain made Olympic history in pool play against Denmark, earning an assist in the first-ever women’s soccergoal. Additionally, she started and played every minute of the USA’s five matches…In the summer of 1999, Chastain helped lead the United States to its second Women’s World Cup title as she scored the decisive penalty kick against China in the championship match.”
5 – Carli Lloyd
Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve made it to the top 5. Congrats! And it’s Carli Lloyd who starts out this top five, someone you will be seeing a lot of at the Tokyo Olympics as one of the team’s best players. But, that’s nothing new. She’s been one of the team’s best players through multiple Olympics and World Cups.
“Carli Lloyd is the epitome of a player who thrives under pressure. The New Jersey girl lives for big moments and comes through when it matters the most—scoring game winners in college, in the SheBelieves Cup, in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics gold medal games, and most spectacularly, in the 2015 World Cup final. With 26.7 million watching, she scored three goals in the course of fifteen minutes, including a 50-yard wonder strike from half field.”US Soccer: ‘Carli Lloyd’
4 – Abby Wambach
Wambach won and scored a lot of goals. A lot. According to Team USA’s Brian Trusdell, she’s got “184…(c)areer goals…36 more than (the) next closest player, Mia Hamm” and “6…U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year awards, a record”.
Abby Wambach has the most goals in the history of USWNT. Tusdell said she “bec(ame) the most prolific scorer in international women’s soccer history”.
3- Kristine Lilly
The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) describes her career as she “made her national team debut as a 16-year-old high school student. She then went on to the University of North Carolina, where she was a four-time All-American and led the Tar Heels to four consecutive NCAA titles. Lilly played in three Olympic Games (winning two gold medals and one silver) and played in the Women’s World Cup five times (two gold medals, three bronze). In all, she played in a remarkable 354 games in a U.S. uniform, scoring 130 goals.”
You heard that right, 354 games. Per the USOPM, “(n)o soccer player in the world has appeared in uniform for their country more than Kristine Lilly”. There’s something to be said for that. Along with her 130 goals.
2 – Michelle Akers
Michelle Akers helped pave the way for women’s soccer in the US as she “joined the national team upon its inception in 1985”, according to Akers’ site, “and dominated the women’s game with her skill, size, strength, and savvy, scoring the first official USWNT goal, and was the first to sign a shoe-endorsement”.
“Michelle Akers is described by former USA coach Tony DiCicco as ‘the best woman that has ever played the game,’…The first women’s soccer player to gain global fame, she was named FIFA Player of the Century in 200…She finished her career with 105 goals in 153 games. Over the course of her career with the USWNT, Michelle accumulated over 30 orthopedic surgeries for various injuries and is still counting! She is noted as one of the toughest and best over all player in the history of sport.”MichelleAkers.org: ‘Soccer Career‘
1 – Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm and the USWNT go hand-in-hand. Hamm comes in as the top USWNT player in history, helping the team during those epic gold medal runs.
Olympedia.org describes Hamm as “possibly the best-known American football player, male or female. In her career, she played an amazing 275 matches for the US national team, scoring no less than 158 goals. She…played in three Olympic Games, winning the inaugural women’s football title in 1996, being runner-up in 2000, and winning again in her final tournament in Athens 2004. Hamm also played in four World Cups, winning the first Women’s Cup in 1991 as well as the 1999 edition, while finishing third in 1995 and 2003. She was named FIFA Female Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002”.
Hamm also ” was co-founder of Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), the first women’s pro league in the world” per Olympedia.org.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The the Top 25 USWNT players in history.
Of course, per usual, lists like this are up for a (healthy) debate as it’s always a subjective subject when you’re trying to see who the best to ever play the game in certain sports are. Let us know in the comments who your top 25 players would be.
And also, upon doing research for this article, tried to include the best goal scorers, passers, and goalies to have a well-rounded approach to this list. Shout out to Wikipedia actually, who had a most recent compilation of players with the most goals, assists, and shutouts, which was a helpful reference in the formulation of this list. The USWNT official team site didn’t list these numbers for whatever reason.
Four more weeks. That’s all there is until the Olympics. We’ll see if the USWNT can add another gold to their collection.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 25 of the Most Famous Women Soccer Players From USWNT
- 2 25 – Denise Bender
- 3 24 – April Heinrichs
- 4 23 – Carla Overbeck
- 5 22 – Becky Sauerbrunn
- 6 21 – Joy Fawcett
- 7 20 – Heather O’Reilly
- 8 19 – Christen Press
- 9 18 – Nicole Barnhart
- 10 17 – Megan Rapinoe
- 11 16 – Alyssa Naeher
- 12 15 – Christie Pearce Rampone
- 13 14 – Shannon MacMillan
- 14 13 – Hope Solo
- 15 12 – Julie Foudy
- 16 11 – Cindy Parlow Cone
- 17 10 – Carin Gabarra
- 18 9 – Briana Scurry
- 19 8 – Tiffeny Milbrett
- 20 7 – Alex Morgan
- 21 6 – Brandi Chastain
- 22 5 – Carli Lloyd
- 23 4 – Abby Wambach
- 24 3- Kristine Lilly
- 25 2 – Michelle Akers
- 26 1 – Mia Hamm
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