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FourFourTwo's USWNT Top 50: 40-31

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33. Emily Menges

We thought we knew Emily Menges. After two years in the NWSL, she seemed to have settled into being a reliable, versatile defender - somebody who could play in the middle or on the flank, but somebody who would likely be a good team’s fourth or fifth defender.

And we turned out to be wrong. As much as any player in the NWSL last season, Menges broke out.

A surprise starter in central defense for Mark Parsons, the former Georgetown defender went on to play every minute for the Thorns, earning Best XI honors as Portland put up the league’s stingiest defense. At 24, Menges also earned her first call-up with the senior national team, something few would have predicted as a best-case scenario 10 months before.

Where exactly Menges fits into Jill Ellis’ picture is unclear. Her 2016 rise was so sudden, it’s still difficult to say where she deserves to rank among her more-established competition. After last season, though, it’s clear she deserves to be in the conversation. And who knows how much she might improve over the next 12 months.

-- Richard Farley

32. Ashlyn Harris

Both the men’s and the women’s U.S. national teams find themselves on unfamiliar ground (at least, of late), asking, ‘Who’s next in net?’ Ashlyn Harris has long been the answer to that question for the U.S. women, but neither she nor anyone else has seen enough time in actual competition to know the answer. Harris has trained with the U.S. senior team since 2010, but she has only 11 caps.

Now with Hope Solo out of the picture, is it Harris’ time? She’s 31, and Alyssa Naeher, who is 28, has in the eyes of Ellis taken hold of the higher position on the depth chart (the No. 1 spot, as it stands, with Solo out of the picture … for now).  Harris will need to put up a strong fight in 2017 with the entirety of the goalkeeping depth chart still ostensibly up for grabs.

In 2016, playing for the expansion side and hometown Orlando Pride, Harris won Goalkeeper of the Year honors while making 62 saves and giving up 20 goals in 15 games. She’ll be hoping for an improved back line in Orlando in 2017, too.

-- Jeff Kassouf

31. Rose Lavelle

Whenever a college player gets invited to senior national team camp, as Lavelle was in late 2015, a hype-versus-reality dynamic starts to dominate perception. Is this the next Next Big Thing™, or was this player just getting a look? Because given the level of competition in the NCAA, it’s almost impossible to tell.

What we know about Lavelle is this: She’s a highly-skilled central midfielder that could fit as a true playmaker or more of a central ball-mover in a three-woman midfield. Dynamic, especially once she starts moving vertically, Lavelle has the potential to be an above-average NWSL contributor as both a goal-scorer and playmaker. If she drops below the second pick in next month’s College Draft, it will be a mild shock.

What does that mean for her national team future? Again, it’s too early to tell. Conceivably, she could end up competing with Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, and Samantha Mewis for time between attacking and defensive midfield. Until she gets more minutes against higher-level competition, though, the hype-versus-reality debate continues.

-- Richard Farley

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