The Best Soccer Players in United States Women’s National Team History

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David Kenyon Featured Columnist

    In three short decades, the United States women’s national team has established itself as the biggest force in the sport. Several of the world’s greatest players-from Michelle Akers to Mia Hamm to Abby Wambach-have adorned the red, white and blue.

    Most importantly, though, that individual talent has consistently come together for team success on the international stage.

    The USWNT boasts three World Cup titles in seven attempts and four gold medals in six Olympic tournaments, and the U.S. has regularly won CONCACAF championships since its inception.

    Still, elite players spearheaded the memorable runs. A player’s production, impact on team accomplishments and number of international appearances (caps) factored into the ranking.

    Brandi Chastain: The versatile Chastain provided the most iconic moment in USWNT history, ripping off her jersey after clinching the 1999 World Cup. She notched 30 goals and 26 assists in 192 caps, contributing both as a midfielder and defender.

    Carin Jennings-Gabarra: While she scored 56 goals in 119 appearances, Carin Jennings-Gabarra achieved her brightest moments in the 1991 World Cup. The forward won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, netting a hat trick in the semifinal. She later won a gold medal with the 1996 squad.

    Alex Morgan: One of seven USWNT players to reach 100 international goals, Morgan has found the back of the net at two World Cups and two Olympics. At the 2012 Games―from which the national team brought home a gold medal―she netted a winner in the 123rd minute of the semifinal against Canada.

    Carla Overbeck: After an unbeaten career at North Carolina (89-0-6), Overbeck made 170 appearances for the USA. The central defender was a key member of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup-winning teams―notably opening the 1999 shootout with a goal.

    Megan Rapinoe: Rapinoe enters the 2019 World Cup with more than 100 combined goals and assists, and the winger has made an indelible mark with her outstanding service. Her most memorable pass found Abby Wambach in the 2011 World Cup. That 122nd-minute stunner leveled the score, and the U.S. won on penalties.

    Briana Scurry: The U.S. celebrated championships in the 1996 Olympics, 1999 World Cup and 2004 Olympics with Scurry in net. She surrendered a combined 10 goals in the three tournaments. Scurry finished her career with 175 caps.

    Over a 10-year span, you could hardly watch the U.S. women take the field without seeing Joy Fawcett in the lineup.

    The center back played every minute of the 1995, 1999 and 2003 World Cups and 1996 and 2000 Olympics. She scored the game-winning goal in the 1999 World Cup quarterfinals against Germany and knocked home a penalty kick in the famous World Cup final shootout against China.

    Interestingly, Fawcett served as the head coach for UCLA soccer while playing for the national team. She compiled a 65-24-7 record and guided the Bruins to two NCAA tournament appearances.

    Her 241 caps ranks seventh for the USWNT, and she netted 27 goals while preventing many, many others along the way.

    Carli Lloyd was already building a sensational resume leading up to the 2015 World Cup, but her three-goal performance in the final cemented her place as a USWNT legend.

    She needed only 16 minutes to complete a hat trick, memorably launching her third goal from midfield. She won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player, ending the World Cup with six goals.

    Perhaps Lloyd’s most clutch moment came in 2008 Olympic gold-medal match. She broke the 0-0 deadlock with a goal in the 96th minute to beat Brazil.

    Also a recipient of a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics-scoring two goals in that final as well-the midfielder reached the 100-goal mark in 2018.

    Lloyd, who has also collected more than 50 assists, will retire as one of the most prolific attackers in United States soccer history.

    Kristine Lilly is the USWNT’s record holder with 354 caps. She had 130 goals and 106 assists, both of which are top-three totals. She wore the captain’s armband late in her career.

    But her brightest moment was a save.

    During sudden-death extra time of the 1999 World Cup final, she headed off the line to keep the U.S. alive. The team eventually won in penalty kicks―and, yes, Lilly hammered home one of those.

    A 2014 Hall of Fame inductee, she played in five World Cups and three Olympic tournaments, winning two championships in each.

    Use your head, coaches often say. Abby Wambach took it literally.

    Of the 184 goals she scored―the most for any international player―Wambach used her head 77 times. Unforgettably, she saved the U.S. from its earliest World Cup exit with a 122nd-minute equalizer against Brazil in the 2011 tournament’s quarterfinals.

    And it sparked a dramatic surge in the sport’s following.

    “That’s kind of the pivotal turning point,” Wambach said, per Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated. “Not to take anything away from our Olympic gold medal in 2012, but we really felt there was a huge shift in the popularity of women’s soccer in 2011.”

    Wambach participated in four World Cups and two Olympics, scoring 23 times in 35 appearances. She won 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year and is a member of the 2019 Hall of Fame class.

    The first star in USWNT history, Michelle Akers set a still-standing record with 10 goals in 1991 at the inaugural World Cup. During the final, she scored both goals in a 2-1 triumph over Norway.

    She appeared in 155 games for her country, totaling 107 goals and 36 assists while playing as a forward and midfielder.

    In 1994, Akers was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Per USA Today, she changed her diet and hydrated more, which allowed her to be a key contributor to the Americans’ 1996 Olympic goal medal and 1999 World Cup victory.

    She retired in 2000 and is remembered for her production, passion and diverse skill set.

    “Akers was this iconic warrior,” former USWNT head coach Anson Dorrance said in 2013, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Carlisle. “I would still say, to this day, she is the most complete player of all time.”

    Akers, Lilly, Foudy and the rest of “The ’99ers” helped inspire a generation, but no player had a greater impact than Mia Hamm.

    For several years, she was the face of soccer in the United States.

    The two-time FIFA Player of the Year―and two-time runner-up, for that matter―netted a then-record 158 international goals during her illustrious career. She also owns the USWNT standard with 145 assists and is one of six players with at least 274 caps.

    Hamm celebrated victories at the 1991 and 1999 World Cups and 1996 and 2004 Olympics en route to the Hall of Fame in 2007.

    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.