FourFourTwo's top 25 players in U.S. women's national team history: 20-16
20. April Heinrichs
So many of the qualities that have guided the U.S. women from success to success these past 25 years -- the intensity of commitment, the take-no-prisoners attitude, the one-for-all culture at the center of it all -- are testament to Heinrichs' imposing presence during the program's early years. The Colorado-born attacker was one of the true pioneers in the women's game, leading the Yanks to the 1991 Women's World Championship title and, as the most influential of U.S. captain, constructing foundations for a band of young, talented teens to become legends.
"She's an incredible leader. Even when she was looking very, very average because of her bad knee, we knew we had to start her, even if she was 60 percent, because her leadership impact is unbelievable."
The three-time University of North Carolina All-American played only five and a half years with the national team -- she scored 35 goals in 46 appearances, the U.S.'s best goal-per-game rate -- before retiring following the 1991 triumph because of articular knee damage. She was the first female player inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, in 1998, and two years later became Yanks' first female head coach.
The solidly built, 5-foot-4 forward might be the most intense player in U.S. history. She was a battler up front, a perfect complement for the explosive Michelle Akers and technically advanced Carin Jennings as the Yanks' “Triple-Edged Sword” attack sliced up opposing defenses for 25 goals in six games to win the 1991 title. Heinrichs had two braces in the campaign, netting the first two goals in a 5-0 group-stage romp over Brazil and adding a pair to Jennings' hat trick in the 5-2 semifinal win against Germany.
She went into coaching, at first in college soccer, then served as Tony DiCicco's assistant at the 1995 World Cup and in the 1996 Olympic gold-medal run, and as head coach guided the U.S. to silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a third-place finish at the 2003 Women's World Cup, and gold in Athens in 2004. She has served as technical director for the U.S. women's national teams since 2011.
-- Scott French (@ScottJFrench)
19. Shannon MacMillan
Shannon MacMillan’s United States national team career was impressive, as were those of everyone on this countdown, but MacMillan did so quietly. She saw her first action with the national team as a sophomore at the University of Portland in 1993, but her impact on the team began three years later. A lifelong striker, she became a midfielder for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. MacMillan scored eight times in 21 games in ‘96. Two of those goals, however, were among the most important in the program’s history.
In the Olympic semifinal game against Norway, MacMillan came off the bench in overtime and scored the golden goal to send the United States into the gold-medal match. Three days later, as a starter against China in the final, she gave the U.S. a 1-0 first-half lead in the eventual 2-1 win.
She continued the role of supersub in 1999 during the U.S.’ run to the World Cup title, contributing eight goals and 12 assists. She scored a then-high 12 goals in 2000, helping the U.S. to an Olympic Silver. Her most productive season came in 2002 when she scored 17 goals, handed out 11 assists and was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year.
She made 176 appearances over 12 years, scored 60 goals and added 50 assists. She retired in 2005, but still ranks ninth all-time in goals, seventh in assists and eighth in points. She works today as a youth soccer coach in San Diego.
-- Tim Nash (@TimNash07)
18. Kate Markgraf
The first defender to make our Top 25 is one of the great American center backs. Kate Markgraf appeared for the United States 201 times, winning the 1999 World Cup as well as Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008. She also appeared in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups (third both times) and 2000 Olympics (silver medal).
Markgraf – “Sobs” for short of her maiden name, Sobrero – was a gritty, tough, athletic defender who had the personality to sport bright red hair in the 1999 World Cup and the leadership to co-anchor the U.S. back line into the new millennium. In a word, she was reliable. In two? Rock-solid. Markgraf’s 201 caps rank 10th all-time for the United States.
I feel like I was lucky to even pick up one-tenth of what she has taught. Kate's really good at articulating what she expects, and I learned how to do that and how to be an effective communicator."
While the U.S. has produced several great defenders – more of whom are to come on this list – it’s hard to imagine how things would look from 1998-2008 without Markgraf. And yet there was a long stretch, before many knew just how good she would become, in which Markgraf wasn’t a part of the U.S. picture. She had gone into camp with the U.S. in 1995 but illness and a lack of fitness caused her to pass out during conditioning. She did not accept U.S. coach Tony DiCicco’s call-ups in the ensuing years, vowing not to be better prepared for next opportunity to impress. Markgraf made her international debut in 1998 and quickly became a fixture in the team.
Like so many players of her generation, Markgraf was a winner – at all levels. The professional club level is the only place where Markgraf didn’t claim a championship, having won the World Cup and Olympics with the U.S., an NCAA title at Notre Dame in addition to youth triumphs.
At the club level, Markgraf thrived in WUSA with the Boston Breakers from 2001-2003 and she played almost every minute for the Chicago Red Stars in 2010 in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) one year after giving birth to twins. That would be Markgraf’s final season before retiring and moving to the TV booth, where she covers both women’s and men’s soccer. Even then, in 2010, her strong league form earned her three more caps for the United States.
-- Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf)
17. Heather O'Reilly
No U.S. player has been better at beating a left back and putting in a cross – the elite parts of a skillset that’s made Heather O’Reilly one-of-a-kind in the U.S. player pool.
It’s a skillset which has also produced to 230 caps, 47 goals and 54 assists in a 15-year international career. Along the way, she picked up three gold medals, a World Cup title, two professional-league titles and two NCAA championships. Only five players have assisted on more U.S. national team goals than O’Reilly, and only six have made more appearances.
Breaking into the national team as a high schooler helps those numbers, and in that way, O’Reilly was the Mallory Pugh before there was one – a small, menacing maelstrom that would dismantle opposing fullbacks with as much chaos as zeal. Come 2008, that package had evolved into one of the team’s most important players, with O’Reilly scoring 10 goals and posting 10 assists on a gold-medal winning team that would finish the year 33-1-2. Come 2012, she was the perfect complement to another Olympic champion, tallying a career-high 13 assists for the U.S.’ forward-heavy squad.
Though O’Reilly has rarely one of the top two or three players on a U.S. squad, she has almost always been an essential one, part of the reason why 84.6 percent of O’Reilly’s 156 appearances from 2006 to 2013 were starts. Even now, as the U.S. moves to younger options, there is no like-for-like for “HAO.”
-- Richard Farley (@richardfarley)
16. Becky Sauerbrunn
Out of all of the smoke and rubble left behind by WPS, perhaps the league’s most important legacy is that of Becky Sauerbrunn. She was already well thought of after a stellar career at Virginia, and her first cap with the national team came in 2008. But it was her two seasons with the Washington Freedom, during which she played every minute of every match, that gave her the foundation and experience to evolve into one of the best defenders ever to pass through the program.
The first glimpse of Sauerbrunn’s greatness came in the 2011 World Cup semifinal when she stepped in for the suspended Rachel Buehler and helped contain a dangerous French side. She was a reserve defender again at the 2012 Olympics where she won a gold medal. In 2013 Sauerbrunn became a regular starter, a role she has not relinquished since including all seven matches of the 2015 World Cup where she never came off the field.
Sauerbrunn resumed her club career with FC Kansas City in 2013 and has been voted NWSL Defender of the Year all three seasons. The Blues have reached the playoffs in all of them and are NWSL Champions two years running. Sauerbrunn currently serves as FC Kansas City captain and as co-captain of the national team with Carli Lloyd.
-- Dan Lauletta (@TheDanLauletta)