FourFourTwo's top 25 players in U.S. women's national team history: 25-21
25. Aly Wagner
Among the most skilled players to wear a U.S. uniform, she might have been the Yanks' purest No. 10, but frailty and compatibility issues deprived Wagner of the international career her talents seemed to deserve. What they didn't do was stop her.
Wagner's aim, since she was wee, was to be the world's finest player, and her youth exploits -- three national titles with San Jose's Central Valley Mercury, both big-name national prep player-of-the-year honors -- brought her fame before most of us had a chance to see her game. She made the national team as a college freshman, was in residency ahead of the 1999 Women's World Cup and 2000 Olympics without making the rosters, led Santa Clara to the NCAA title, won the MAC Hermann Trophy as college soccer's top player, then started making an imprint with the U.S.
Wagner, who spent one season in the WUSA (San Diego took her with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft) and one in WPS, possessed uncommon vision and could place the ball on a dime, sending the speedy American forwards behind backlines with chips over the top or well-weighted through balls, and she was among the globe's finest over a three-year span that included the 2003 World Cup and 2004 Olympics. In that time, she made 65 appearances, scored 13 and assisted 25 goals, and played a prominent role, especially, in the Athens 2004 gold-medal run. But she never fully fit into the Yanks' preferred method of play -- the U.S. has rarely required a genuine No. 10 -- and injuries took a toll. She continued on with the Nats through the 2008 Olympic gold-medal celebration tour, finishing with two gold medals, two World Cup treks, 131 caps, 21 goals and -- good for ninth on the all-time U.S. list -- 42 assists.
-- Scott French (@ScottJFrench)
24. Lauren Holiday
If this list was about national team contribution alone, Lauren Holiday – a player who almost never played in her national position for the U.S. – wouldn’t be on this list. That fact, though, could ultimately play into her legend. Despite almost never starting as an attacking midfielder, Holiday still accumulated 133 caps, 24 goals, 37 assists, two gold medals and one World Cup winners medal. She never played her natural position, but she was still indispensable.
Cheney is one of the very best. The way that she took everything in stride and was still in the top couple of players on our team in every position that she ever played, and the way that she was able to dominate, is just a testament to how good she really was.”
That she was as a left winger, striker, central midfielder and, eventually, a No. 6 made her a type of utility player. At club level, though, Holiday evolved into a pure No. 10 – arguably the world’s best, too. In 2013, the first year of the National Women’s Soccer League, Holiday was the league’s best player, winning Most Valuable Player honors. The next two years, she eschewed individual honors for team ones, leading FC Kansas City to two straight league titles.
When she retired at the end of 2015, she did so as the best player in NWSL history, a status sure to be overshadowed as the league goes on. During her reign, though, Holiday had no equal, leaving her national team legacy as laden with questions as accomplishments. What if, in that time before Carli Lloyd’s ascendance, the U.S. coaching staff had the same foresight as Vlatko Andonovski did with Kansas City? What if, during her nine years with the national team, her intelligence and versatility were leveraged as more than a gap-filler? What if, instead of keeping her in the list at 24, Holiday’s club performance was part of a bigger, more legendary picture, one that left her ranked higher up? How high would that ranking have been for one of the most underappreciated stars in U.S. history?
-- Richard Farley (@richardfarley)
23. Megan Rapinoe
One of the most colorful, creative players in U.S. women’s national team history, Rapinoe has endeared herself to fans with a personality that matches her playing style.
The winger’s dazzling play on the flanks has been a crucial component for the U.S. team both in its World Cup-winning squad in 2015 and its gold-medal finish in the 2012 Olympic Games. Rapinoe introduced herself to the world during the 2011 World Cup, however, both in her creative celebrations and most notably by serving the cross that found the head of Abby Wambach for a game-tying 122nd-minute goal in the quarterfinals against Brazil.
What's really cool about Pinoe is that she's able to speed the game up or slow the game down as she feels is needed. It's not just about going 100 percent or just being really slow on the ball. She senses what the game needs."
Her journey to that point had been a long one.
The Redding, Calif.-native was a standout in college, helping the University of Portland to an undefeated season and national championship as a true freshman in 2005 and earning All-American honors. Rapinoe’s time at Portland was marred by two ACL injuries in 2006 and 2007, injuries that delayed her national team career and caused her to miss out on the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Once she worked her way into the U.S. squad, Rapinoe’s impact was undeniable. Whether as a super sub or as a starter, Rapinoe has proved to be one of the national team’s most dangerous players in the final third. She has 31 goals and 40 assists in 113 caps and her 101 total points, good for 10th-best in U.S. history.
Her value to the team is such that Rapinoe was named to the Olympic roster this summer after recovering from yet another ACL tear despite not making any appearances in 2016.
-- Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio)
22. Cindy Parlow
When Cindy Parlow subbed on for Michelle Akers during the first Olympic match the United States ever played she was just 18 years and 2 months old. Twenty years and five Olympics later, Parlow remains the youngest ever to appear for the U.S. in the Games (Mallory Pugh will be 18 years and 3 months when this year’s event kicks off.) Parlow made one other appearance in the group stage and earned a gold medal for her efforts.
Before concussions derailed her career at 26, Parlow was on a fast track to being one of the most decorated players in the history of the program. At North Carolina she won three national championships and two MAC Hermann Trophies (the second woman to do so after Mia Hamm). On the national team, she was part of the iconic 1999 world championship squad and she added a second gold medal in 2004. At the club level she spent three seasons with the Atlanta Beat, helping them to become the only franchise to reach the playoffs in all three seasons of WUSA. Her golden goal sent the Beat to the final in 2001. The standout number, though, is 75. That’s now many international goals Parlow scored in 158 appearances for a staggering ratio of nearly .50 goals per game.
By 2013 she was married to John Cone and was going by Cindy Parlow Cone when she coached Portland Thorns FC to the inaugural NWSL Championship. Later that year she resigned to return to return to the East Coast with her husband.
-- Dan Lauletta (@TheDanLauletta)
21. Shannon Boxx
Shannon Boxx’s rise to national team stardom will hopefully never be replicated, though it will always serve as a testament to the midfielder’s perseverance.
Though part of U.S. youth-level camps at times in college, Boxx left Notre Dame in 1998 as a national champion with no obvious international future. She was a third-round draft pick in the old Women’s United Soccer Association but wouldn’t get her first national team cap until the summer of 2003, when she was already 26 years old. She was the first player without a cap to be named to a World Cup squad when she was selected in 2003. In hindsight, it’s unfathomable that somebody with the quality to accumulate 195 international caps had to wait so long.
I don't think she really got the credit she deserved for the amount of legwork and the amount of influence she had on the game for this team. She just bossed it every time she was on the field."
Of course, hindsight gives us the virtue of knowing about those caps, as well as the 27 goals, 25 assists, and three gold medals she’d collect during her international career. We know about her at times dominant performances in the first year of Women’s Professional Soccer’s Los Angeles Sol, as well as her role for a title-winner with FC Gold Pride a year later. We know she was the cog that helped bridge the gap from Julie Foudy to the current generation of U.S midfielders, and we know that the emergence of that generation will leave her overshadowed.
Perhaps, for a player that earned her first cap six or eight years too late, that’s apropos, but there needs to be a place where we recognize Boxx was one of the best all-around midfielders the U.S. has ever seen. There needs to be a place where her perseverance and longevity are celebrated. There needs to be a place where her contributions aren’t defined by what-ifs and caveats.
That place is here. This is the bottom line. As if her skills, medals, and numbers didn’t already say it, know Shannon Boxx was one of the best players the U.S. ever saw; certainly among its top 25.