FourFourTwo's USWNT Top 50: 40-31
40. Meghan Klingenberg
Meghan Klingenberg has been a constant in the U.S. lineup under Jill Ellis, and her attack-minded play fits the mold Ellis is looking for (Klingenberg tallied four assists in 20 international games in 2016).
For Portland, Klingenberg has played an even more advanced role. She has the pace to get forward. The next step for the 28-year-old – especially as Ellis continues to bring in fullbacks and create competition – is to improve her 1-v-1 defending. Klingenberg was an equal part of the stellar U.S. back four (five with Hope Solo) at the 2015 World Cup, and her goal-saving clearance against Sweden altered the trajectory of the Americans’ tournament, but she also must continue to evolve as the U.S. staff focuses on development at fullback in particular. The new competition in camp is likely to create a rising tide that lifts all boats.
-- Jeff Kassouf
39. Joanna Lohman
There are not too many players quite like Joanna Lohman in women’s soccer. A one-time national team player who came tantalizingly close to the 2007 World Cup roster, Lohman had what may have been her best season yet in 2016. What makes her unique is not how well she is playing but that she continues to play at age 34, a time when most female players without a national team job have moved onto more lucrative careers.
Lohman got the 2016 season off with a bang by scoring the first goal of the season on a bicycle kick, She went on to appear in every Spirit match all season until the NWSL Championship, when an early injury to Caprice Dydasco cost Jim Gabarra the sub he needed to put her in. When she did play, Lohman was as solid as they come in midfield, thwarting rival attacks by winning balls and expertly distributing them with as few touches as possible.
-- Dan Lauletta
38. Whitney Engen
It’s easy to label Whitney Engen as a soccer “journeywoman,” since she’s played for six professional clubs in three countries in just seven years. And given the pre-2016 stagnation of the U.S. player pool, Engen has often been the odd player out on the international stage. But the label belies the talent and leadership this center back brings to every team for which she suits up.
Since being a first-round pick in the 2010 WPS draft, Engen has won four league titles with three teams (WNY Flash 2011, Tyreso 2011 & 2012, Liverpool 2013). Her tenacious 1-v-1 defending and dominant aerial presence have made her a valuable player to trade within the NWSL — this year, she joined her third (struggling) club in as many seasons, serving as captain and scoring the Boston Breakers’ first goal of a frustrating 2016 campaign.
An injury to Julie Johnston gave Engen crucial playing time in two matches in the Olympics, but with her dismissal from the U.S. player pool this fall, it remains to be seen if Engen will stay stateside. Wherever she ends up, Engen will surely be a key part of a stingy, aggressive defensive line.
-- Jen Cooper
37. Emily Sonnett
One year removed from being the top pick in the NWSL College Draft, Sonnett remains a rising star on the U.S. soccer landscape. She earned a trip to Brazil this summer as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team, and she was a major part of Portland’s Shield-winning team that produced the best defense in the NWSL.
Over the last 12 months, though, we’ve also been reminded that Sonnett is still a work in progress. Just out of the University of Virginia, the midfielder-cum-defender provided a steadying presence in the middle of Mark Parsons’ rebuilt backline. By the end of the year, though, opposing teams discovered she could be hurried into mistakes while on the ball, and a Rookie of the Year honor that was there for the taking ended up with Sky Blue's Raquel Rodriguez.
That’s life as a young central defender. Going forward, though, there’s little doubt about not only Sonnett’s physical tools but her mentality. Already a leader among the Thorns defensive corps, expect the 23-year-old to learn from her few year one stumbles.
-- Richard Farley