FourFourTwo's USWNT Top 50: 50-41
In the staid world of the United States women's national team, the idea of diving deep into the player pool can seem like a frivolous task.
That has changed significantly over the past few months, in the wake of the U.S.' surprising quarterfinal exit at the Rio 2016 Olympics. U.S. coach Jill Ellis used October and November to take a look at younger players and those who hadn't yet gotten a crack at the national team. Quality of opponents notwithstanding, several players showed that their successes for club (or college) can translate over for country. More players will likely get their opportunities in January.
Now more than any moment in recent history is the perfect time to look at the United States women's national team's depth chart in every position. Even a year ago, looking 50 players deep would have been fruitless as Ellis looked at a list about half that size to choose her 18-player Olympic roster.
But all 50 players on our USWNT Top 50 are capable of performing for the U.S. now or in the future. Some have made their names in the NWSL, some more on the international level.
Just as we did with our USMNT Top 50 for the men's pool, we wanted to determine who is the best player right now in the U.S. women's player pool. That means, in large part: Who had the best 2016 across all competitions? But it also factors in what we know about that player and what she showed us could lie ahead. The big question: Who do you want on the field right now to win you a game?
With that, we -- Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf), Richard Farley (@richardfarley), Jen Cooper (@KeeperNotes) and Dan Lauletta (@TheDanLauletta) -- voted on the player pool. Who did we decide is the best U.S.-eligible women's player right now? You'll have to follow along to find out. First up is the start of our list, Nos. 50-41:
50. Gina Lewandowski
Few U.S. players are as decorated at the club level as Gina Lewandowski. That those accomplishments stand in such contrast to her national team opportunities makes the former Lehigh standout one of the more compelling stories in the player pool.
Now a defender at Bayern Munich, Lewandowski was a two-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year as a midfielder coming out of college. After a year bouncing around the pre-WPS landscape, Lewandowski chose to relocate to Germany, moving with Ali Krieger to Frankfurt in the Frauen Bundesliga.
There, Lewandowski converted to defense, where she was part of teams that won league, cup (twice) and European honors. During her last year with the club (2012), Lewandowski got her first national team call-up, though she would have to wait three more years until earning her first cap.
Since moving to Bayern, Lewandowski has added two more league titles. Add the WPS championship she earned in 2011, during a brief stint with Western New York, and Lewandowski has seven major team honors. It’s quite the contrast to an international career that’s never been allowed to take off.
-- Richard Farley
49. Kendall Fletcher
Kendall Fletcher might be too solid for her own good. If she made more mistakes, more people might really break down her game, notice the quality she instills on an attack-to-attack basis, and shine a light on all she does for the Seattle Reign FC. Instead, whether in the middle or at right back, Fletcher continues to fly under the radar. For some, she’ll be a surprise entrant on this list.
It fits into the old axiom, about if you don’t notice defenders, they’re probably doing a pretty good job. Usually alongside fellow center back Lauren Barnes, Fletcher has been a crucial piece to some of the NWSL’s least susceptible defenses over the last three seasons. Two years ago, when Seattle brought in Scottish international Rachel Corsie, Fletcher proved just as solid at right back, continuing to go relatively unnoticed despite being an indispensible part of a Shield-winner’s defense.
Now 32, and having spent time at 10 different professional clubs, Fletcher continues to be underappreciated. Although she’s unlikely to add to the single cap she earned in 2009, there are few defenders in American soccer that Reign coach Laura Harvey is likely to choose over her right-sided stalwart.
-- Richard Farley
48. Ashley Sanchez
You might assume Ashley Sanchez earned the 2016 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year award because Mallory Pugh was ineligible, but the “other” American teenager who burst onto the international stage this year is a dynamic talent, with plenty of stats to back it up.
Sanchez became the first American to score in both youth Women’s World Cups in the same year. She captained the U-17s in Jordan, playing every minute and notching three goals. And as the only U-17 to make the U-20 World Cup team, she started all six games, earning a goal and two assists.
A fixture on youth national teams since 2013, Sanchez has already learned that natural talent alone won’t suffice on the international level. Responding to feedback from a U-14 camp that she wasn’t training hard enough, she upped her commitment to the game to become a team leader and one of its hardest workers. Add those qualities to her vision on the ball and 1-v-1 ability, and there’s little doubt why Sanchez wore No. 10 for the U- 17s. She could be the one to inherit that jersey for the senior team.
-- Jen Cooper