While many people used to question whether women belong in the sport of football, several girl soccer players have helped rewrite that narrative through the years. They’ve not only proven women can play, but that they can be just as influential and talented as their male counterparts.
The sport continues to grow among the female population and, though not as popular as men’s soccer, has built a loyal following that consists of both men and women. Girl soccer players are more respected in the game now than ever before, but it’s clear they still have a long way to go.
That’s why it’s important young women around the world draw inspiration from those that came before them. All the girl soccer players you see today were once inspired by someone special, but now it’s their turn to inspire someone and spark a new generation of girl soccer players.
The Most Influential Girl Soccer Players of All-Time
When you think of the most influential girl soccer players of all-time, there are several names that jump into your mind right away. Then there are those that you might not think of right away, but that doesn’t make them any less important to the emergence of women in football (soccer).
Whether you recognize the name or not, the most influential girl soccer players are all unique in their own way and each contributed to the game in different ways. Some of them did it with their talent or skill, some of them did it with their voice, and some of them did it by breaking barriers.
Either way, it’s clear that women’s soccer wouldn’t be where it is today without these girl soccer players we’re about to share with you. They’ve played an enormous role in helping the game evolve and were instrumental to putting women ‘on the map’ in the popular football community.
20. Nadine Angerer
After a 20-year career that spanned from 1995 to 2015, Nadine Angerer retired as one of the greatest female goalkeepers of all-time. She played in 146 caps for Team Germany, won two FIFA World Cups, five UEFA European Football Championships, and three Olympic medals.
She was also named 2013 FIFA World Player of the Year and the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Goalkeeper. Since retiring, she has inspired a new generation of goalkeepers as the goalkeeping coach for the Portland Thorns (NWSL), where she spent two seasons as a player.
19. Christine Sinclair
Christine Sinclair is one of the best girl soccer players in the world today. She’s the current captain of the Portland Thorns (NWSL) and Team Canada. She has also played for the Western New York Flash, FC Gold Pride, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and the Vancouver Breakers.
Sinclair currently holds the record for most international goals with 188 in 308 appearances with Canada – that’s the most goals among both men and women. She has also appeared in five World Cups and is a three-time Olympic medalist – including an impressive gold medal in 2020.
18. Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith is one of the greatest English female soccer players of all-time. Despite suffering several injuries in her career, she finished with the second-most goals scored in Team England history – 46 goals in 117 caps. She also represented Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics.
Between 2005 and 2009, Smith scored 73 goals in 66 appearances for the Arsenal Ladies. She returned to the team from 2012-2017. Smith also spent a lot of her career playing in the United States, including stints with the Philadelphia Charge, New Jersey Wildcats, Boston Breakers.
17. Homare Sawa
Homare Sawa is one of the most recognizable, gifted, and decorated Asian soccer players of all-time. Her club career spanned 24 years between 1991 and 2015, and her national career with Japan spanned 22 years between 1993 and 2015. She was a pleasure to watch over the years.
Sawa is currently the all-time leader in both caps (205) and goals (83) for Japan. She helped lead the team to a FIFA World Cup win in 2011 and a silver medal finish at the 2012 Summer Olympics. She spent most of her club career with NTV Beleza and INAC Kobe Leonessa.
16. Sun Wen
Speaking of all-time Asian greats, Sun Wen is one of the best Chinese football players ever. She played most of her career for Shanghai in the Chinese women’s league, scoring 164 goals in 659 appearances between 1989and 2000. She also played for the Atlanta Beat for two years.
She represented Team China internationally, scoring 106 goals in 163 appearances between 1990 and 2006. She was named FIFA Female Player of the Century in 2000, won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 1999 FIFA World Cup, and a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics.
15. Birgit Prinz
Birgit Prinz is one of the most gifted German female soccer players of all-time. She started her senior career in 1993 and announced her retirement in 2011, including successful stints with FSV Frankfurt, 1. FFC Frankfurt (Frauen-Bundesliga), and the Carolina Courage (WUSA).
In domestic league matches, she scored 282 goals in 282 club caps. She also scored 128 goals in 214 national caps for Team Germany. She’s a two-time FIFA World Cup winner, three-time FIFA World Player of the Year, and has the second-most Women’s World Cup goals with 14.
14. Julie Foudy
Julie Foudy attended Stanford University and was a member of their soccer team, where she scored 52 goals in 78 matches. She also scored 45 goals in 274 matches with Team USA, where she served as co-captain between 1991 and 2000, and captain between 2000 and 2004.
Foudy is a two-time World Cup Champion and three-time Olympic medalist (two gold medals). She’s the co-founder of the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which helps develop leadership skills in teenage girls. She’s also a reporter, analyst, and commentator for ESPN.
13. Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan is one of the most recognizable and popular girl soccer players today. She currently plays for the San Diego Wave FC of the NWSL, but has also played for the Orlando Pride, Lyon, Portland Thorns FC, and Western New York Flash between 2011 and 2022.
Morgan is an all-star and had herself quite the 2012 calendar year, scoring 28 goals and dishing 21 assists. She became the youngest US player to score 20 goals in a season and just the second American player to go 20 and 20 in a calendar year – joining the likes of Mia Hamm.
12. Ada Hegerberg
Ada Hegerberg is one of the most talented Norwegian female soccer players of all-time. She currently plays for Olympique Lyonnais in Division 1 Féminine, a team she has represented since 2014. In 125 domestic appearances with the team, she has scored 152 career goals.
Hegerberg holds the record for most goals in a single UEFA Women’s Champions League season with 15 goals, as well as the most goals in UEFA Women’s Champions League all-time with 56 goals. She made history in 2018 when she won the first ever Ballon d’Or Féminin.
11. Kim Crabbe
Kim Crabbe is a pioneer among girl soccer players, becoming the first African American called up to a USWNT camp. She caught the attention of head coach Anson Dorrance after her team defeated his team in the 1985 NCAA national championship. She played for George Mason.
Being called up to the USWNT camp just months after that game was overwhelming for Crabbe. While she never earned a cap for the team, she paved the way for African American females and her impact on the sport inspired a generation of girl soccer players that continues today.
10. Sandi Gordon
Where Crabbe was the first African American to join a USWNT camp, Sandi Gordon became the first African American to earn a cap with the USWNT – proving the impact Crabbe had on the game. Though she never scored a goal for the team, she did make seven appearances.
Much like Crabbe, Gordon grabbed the attention of coach Anson Dorrance in the mid-1980s. She also participated in the 1987 US Olympic Festival and played for the Tacoma Cozars of the USASA National Women’s Amateur. She made her international debut on July 9, 1987.
9. Trinity Rodman
The efforts of Crabbe and Gordon in the mid-1980s came to fruition in 2022 when Trinity Rodman, the daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman, signed the largest contract in NWSL history. Trinity Rodman is an African American soccer player for the Washington Spirit.
At just 19 years old, Rodman is an inspiration to many girl soccer players looking to make it at an early age. She became the youngest player ever drafted into the NWSL in 2021 when the Spirit drafted her second overall. She recently made her international debut with Team USA.
8. Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is one of the most influential and inspirational girl soccer players of all-time. She has been one of the sport’s biggest voices both on and off the field – especially among the LGBTQ+ community. She announced her engagement to WNBA legend Sue Bird in 2020.
On the field, Rapinoe has helped the UWSNT win two World Cups and two Olympic medals – a gold medal in 2012 and a bronze medal in 2021. She has 62 goals and 71 assists in 187 appearances for Team USA. She was named the recipient of the Ballon d’Or Féminin in 2019.
7. Michelle Akers
Michelle Akers is widely regarded as one of the greatest girl soccer players of all-time. She represented the USWNT between 1985 and 2000, recording 105 goals and 37 assists in 153 national appearances. She helped the team win two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal.
Akers was inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004 and has received numerous awards throughout her career – including being named FIFA Female Player of the Century in 2000, an award she shared with Sun Wen. Akers will always be a legend in the sport.
6. April Heinrichs
April Heinrichs has done it all in the soccer world. She became one of the first players to ever join the USWNT, which she captained in 1991 when the team won the inaugural Women’s World Cup. Between 1986 and 1991, she scored 35 goals in 46 appearances with Team USA.
After retiring as a player, Heinrichs spent four years as head coach of Team USA, helping lead the team to a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, and a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. She’s currently the Technical Director for women’s soccer by the United States Soccer Federation.
5. Nettie Honeyball
When you think about the pioneers in women’s soccer, Nettie Honeyball is one of the earliest and most influential. In 1894, she gathered 30 young girl soccer players and created the British Ladies Football Club – which became the first known women’s association football club.
The club was originally coached by J.W. Julian, a player for Tottenham Hotspur at the time, and Honeyball was one of the players (until 1895). “I founded the association late last year, with the fixed resolve of proving to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental and useless’ creatures men have pictured,” she said in an 1895 interview.
4. Lily Parr
Lily Parr is another pioneer for women in soccer and perhaps no one will ever have a career like hers. She played nearly 100 matches with her local St. Helens Ladies team in 1919, but she’s most known for her time with Dick, Kerr Ladies, a team founded in 1917 in Preston, Lancashire.
She would appear in 700 matches with the Dick, Kerr Ladies and scored 900 goals for the team in a career that spanned from 1920 to 1951. While playing, she worked at the Whittingham Mental Hospital as a nurse and was also a member of and icon in the LGBTQ+ community.
3. Abby Wambach
Not many girl soccer players had the type of impact on the game that Abby Wambach did between 1998 and 2015. She was a staple on the USWNT, earning 255 caps and scoring 184 goals between 2001 and 2015. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time World Cup winner.
Wambach has earned a lot of accolades in her career, including six U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year awards and the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year. She currently has the most goals in USWNT history and the second most international goals among both men and women.
2. Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm is considered one of the most dominant and influential girl soccer players of all-time. She played for the USWNT between 1987 and 2004, scoring 158 goals in 276 appearances. During that time, she helped the team win two gold medals and one silver at the Olympics.
She was a five-time U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year (consecutive), a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year, and currently has the third-most international goals among men and women. She was the face of the WUSA between 2001 and 2003 with the Washington Freedom.
Marta is widely regarded as the greatest female soccer player of all-time and has a resume that very few girl soccer players can match. She began her senior career in 2000 and continues to play to this day, proving age is just a number. She plays for the Orlando Pride in the NWSL.
She has competed in five straight Olympic games and five straight World Cups, scoring at least once in each tournament. She has scored 114 goals for Brazil in 170 appearances since 2002 and currently serves as a Sustainable Development Goals advocate for making the world a better place.
Other Girl Soccer Players Worth Mentioning
Of all the women that have made a name for themselves in soccer, it was hard to pick just 20 to include in the list above. We didn’t even get to mention Miraildes Formiga, Cristiane, Ariane Hingst, Formiga, Kerstin Garefrekes, Kristine Lilly, Carli Loyd, and Hanna Ljungberg.
And that’s not even touching base on some of the female coaches, managers, executives, media personalities in soccer that you don’t see on the field – including Lydia Nsekera, Karren Brady, Kathy Carter, Karen Espelund, Pia Sundhage, Hope Powell, and Steffi Jones.
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It doesn’t matter who you draw inspiration from, so long as you draw inspiration from someone. Girl soccer players have so much potential in the world of football and it’s important that we continue to see that development, evolution, growth, and emergence in the coming years.
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