The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), which is training in New Zealand for the upcoming World Cup, features 14 rookies whose diversity—in background, in skills, in temperament—neatly reflects the country they represent. Three of the players suited up for Stanford. Another could have played for the Mexican national team, but instead chased her dream to play for the U.S. One has an intense game face and may square off against her girlfriend, a star for Australia, in the World Cup final.
As the U.S. preps to win a third consecutive World Cup title—no team, women’s or men’s, has ever done that—meet the first-timers who’ll have to help make it happen.
Alana Cook, 26, Defender
Cook, who along with fellow rookie Naomi Girma is expected to provide the bulk of the team’s defensive protection in the middle of the USWNT backline, scored her first and only international goal in April against Ireland. It was a 40-yard-strike, right before halftime, and gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead. (The U.S. won the game by the same score.) She also scored on her birthday, making Cook just the third American to net an international goal while also blowing out candles. Mia Hamm (1998) and Alex Morgan (2019) are the others, putting Cook in pretty heady company.
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I asked Cook at the USWNT media day in Los Angeles, in June, what people watching her for the first time should know about her. “What you see is what you get,” she said. “I pretty much am, on and off the field, the same person. I do tend to play pretty calm, pretty poised, and I think that’s exactly who I am off the field.” As for hobbies, Cook—a teammate of Megan Rapinoe on OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)—mentioned hanging out with and training her dog, Bo, whom she got last September. Bo’s not going to the World Cup, which Australia and New Zealand are hosting, and will be staying with a sitter instead. “When I dropped him off at the place he’s staying, he just ran inside the house and didn’t look back,” Cook says. “So I think he’s fine.”
Savannah DeMelo, 25, Midfielder
DeMelo became the first “uncapped” player—a player with no prior national-team experience—to make a World Cup roster since Shannon Boxx in 2003. In fact, she made her national-team debut in the July 9 World Cup send-off game—a 2-0 victory over Wales—when she came on as a second-half sub. “It’s such a surreal experience,” DeMelo, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and attended USC, said after the game. “I’m super grateful, and I’m ready for the World Cup.”
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski had invited her to previous national-team camps. But she never earned any game minutes. Andonovski said he was looking for more consistent play in her NWSL season. DeMelo, who plays for Racing Louisville FC, delivered. According to ESPN, she’s seventh this season among all regular NWSL starters in expected goals, plus expected assists, per 96 minutes. These stats quantify the likelihood that a shot or an assist will lead to a goal. In other words, DeMelo’s really good at finding scoring opportunities, for herself and her teammates. “Her performance in the league was one of the biggest reasons why she’s on the team,” Andonovski said at media day.
Emily Fox, 25, Defender
When Fox was in middle school in northern Virginia, she had to decide between pursuing gymnastics and soccer. She chose soccer because she enjoyed the team aspect of the sport, and that decision has paid off with her first World Cup trip. The first overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, out of the University of North Carolina, Fox watched Racing Louisville FC select her from a hotel ballroom during a national-team training camp. Fox’s U.S. teammates offered a sweet round of applause. Fox started the July 9 World Cup send-off game. The cheers may grow louder down under.
Naomi Girma, 23, Defender
With veteran leader Becky Sauerbrunn sidelined due to injury, Girma will likely anchor the defense. Girma majored in symbiotic systems at Stanford, which, according to a university website, is a “unique program for undergraduates and graduates that integrates knowledge from diverse fields of study including: computer science, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and statistics.” Girma also played on Stanford’s 2019 championship team with USWNT rookie teammate Sophia Smith.
Her parents, Girma Aweke and Seble Demissie, immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in their teens. Naomi Girma started playing soccer as a child with other members of the Bay Area’s Ethiopian American community, in a youth program her father helped start called Maleda Soccer. “We all played soccer together on Saturdays,” says Girma, who was selected No. 1 overall by San Diego Wave FC in the 2022 NWSL draft. “It was super informal. It was really fun.” Girma will be the first Ethiopian American to play at a World Cup. “It’s an honor to represent the Ethiopian community,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here without their support.”
Sofia Huerta, 30, Defender
Huerta grew up in Boise, Idaho; her father, Mauricio, is an electrical engineer who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Andonovski calls Huerta’s decision to forgo a more surefire spot on the Mexican national team earlier in her career in order to pursue her USWNT dreams a “brave” move. Huerta happens to agree with him. “At 19 I made that decision, although I wasn’t getting any communication from the U.S. team,” she says. “It was a huge risk.” Her father encouraged her to bet on herself; they agreed that even if she had enjoyed success on the Mexican team, she might have deep regrets. “Although I’m 30 getting my first World Cup roster, I’m really thankful for my journey,” says Huerta, an OL Reign defender. “It was pretty brave, right?”
Aubrey Kingsbury, 31, Goalkeeper
One of two Cincinnati natives on the team—midfielder Rose Lavelle is the other—Kingsbury has made just one other national-team appearance. In an April 2022 friendly against Uzbekistan, which the U.S. won 9-0, Kingsbury became the oldest U.S. keeper to earn her first international appearance, or “cap.” (She didn’t face a shot on goal.) While Alyssa Naeher is expected to be the primary net minder in Australia and New Zealand, Kingsbury, the 2019 and 2021 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year who also won a championship with the Washington Spirit two seasons ago, possesses impressive credentials.
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Kristie Mewis, 32, Midfielder
Mewis’ younger sister, Sam, won a World Cup in 2019, but a lingering knee injury will keep her out of this year’s competition. So it’ll be up to Kristie to deliver a repeat win for the Mewis clan. Kristie, who like her sister played high school soccer in Whitman, Mass., may have the most intense game face on the team. She’s developed that scowl since childhood. Her parents called her “GameFace9” in their instant-messaging group when she was a kid. “I know my game face is so crazy,” says Mewis, who plays for NJ/NY Gotham FC. “But I think it just shows how passionate I am, how focused I am, and what it means to me.” She also admits it’s “super funny.” Mewis is dating Australia’s Sam Kerr, one of the world’s best players. The couple could potentially meet up, on opposing sides, at the August 20 final in Sydney.
Casey Murphy, 27, Goalkeeper
Over the past two years, Andonovski has essentially rotated Murphy and Naeher as starting keeper. Naeher started the send-off game, so it appears she’s locked up the No. 1 keeper position. But Naeher suffered a right knee injury at the Tokyo Olympics, shining light on the importance of a strong No. 2. Murphy, an Academic All-Big Ten honoree at Rutgers University—she hails from Bridgewater, N.J.— has started three games for the U.S. in 2023 and hasn’t allowed a goal. In 14 appearances during her national-team career Murphy, the North Carolina Courage keeper, has recorded 10 shutouts.
Trinity Rodman, 21, Forward
Rodman helped fans avoid a minor freak-out during Team USA’s World Cup send-off game. It was deadlocked 0-0 before Rodman, who plays for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL, scored a 76th minute goal off a nifty cross from Smith. Then, in the 87th minute, she fired an unsavable shot from the top of the 18-yard box, to give the Americans some breathing room against Wales, the 30th-ranked team on the globe.
Rodman, the daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman—she says the two don’t talk all that much—came in as a halftime sub. She certainly made her case for a starting spot in the USWNT’s World Cup opener, on June 21 in Auckland, New Zealand, against Vietnam. “Ever since she came into the [NWSL], we could see the energy and the creativity and the intensity that she brings,” says Andonovski. “Every time when she gets the ball, it’s almost like there is a little expectation that something will transpire off of it. She’s an exciting player, she’s a creative player, and we’re excited to see her on the world stage.”
Ashley Sanchez, 24, Midfielder
Sanchez, a true southern Californian who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and starred at UCLA, is a longtime member of U.S. Soccer’s youth national teams, having competed for the under-14, under-15, under-17, under-20, and under-23 squads. In 2016, she became the first U.S. athlete to compete at two youth World Cups—the under-17 and the under-20 events—in the same year. Sanchez, who plays for the Washington Spirit, provides an attacking option in the midfield. “Her feet are magic,” says USWNT teammate Kelly O’Hara. “When everybody thinks of Ashley Sanchez, that’s what they think of.”
Sophia Smith, 22, Forward
Smith, the reigning NWSL MVP, is laser-focused when the ball is on her foot. She’ll stop at nothing until it touches the net. To wit: here’s Smith knocking through four defenders on her way to scoring for Portland Thorns. She says she never notices the opposition around her when plowing around a defense. “I mean, I feel hands grabbing,” Smith says, “but … goal.”
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She knows goals. Smith leads the NWSL with 10 of them. Her ability reminds many soccer pundits of a young Alex Morgan, who was also 21 when she made her World Cup debut, in 2011. She takes such comparisons in stride. “I’m not trying to be the next anyone,” says Smith, who won a national championship at Stanford before leaving to turn pro after her sophomore year. “I’m the first and only Sophia Smith.”
Andi Sullivan, 27, Midfielder
Born in Honolulu and raised in Northern Virginia, Sullivan is nicknamed “Sunny”—which she attributes to her upbeat disposition, and the bright yellow cleats she once wore at a national-team camp. The Stanford grad was selected first overall in the 2018 NWSL draft by her hometown Washington Spirit, the team she still plays for today. Sullivan has started the last four national-team games at midfield, and figures to play an important role in her rookie World Cup. Sullivan and her husband, professional soccer player Drew Skundrich, first met at Stanford. They have four national titles between them (one for Sullivan, in 2017, and three for Skundrich, in 2015, 2016, and 2017).
In a video posted by U.S. Soccer last week, Sullivan named three talents she wished she had: the ability to whistle loudly, speak another language, and parallel park.
Alyssa Thompson, 18, Forward
The youngest woman to make the U.S. World Cup team in 28 years, Thompson missed her high school graduation: she had a game for Angel City FC, her NWSL team. (She also missed middle school graduation, as she was at a U.S. Soccer youth camp in the Netherlands.) After Mallory Swanson, the team’s leading goal scorer this year, tore her left patella tendon in a game against Ireland in April, Thompson was whisked in for reinforcement. Swanson is out for the summer; Thompson will play in a World Cup ahead of schedule.
“She’s unpredictable,” says Andonovski. “You never know what she’s going to do. Is it going to be a one-on-one or one-on-two or give-and-go or a shot, right foot, left foot? She’s very, very hard to track or prepare for. Her creativity is very good and is something that will fit well with the group of forwards that she’s going to have around her.”
Lynn Williams, 30, Forward
After being one of the last players cut from the 2019 World Cup team, Williams forced herself to watch every game, back home, as the U.S. won it all in France. She calls it a low moment. “I was watching my friends live out their dream,” says Williams. “I was so happy for them but then devastated for myself.” But watching others have that experience was a necessary exercise. “As terrible as it felt for me, it was motivation,” she says. “That’s where you want to be.”
Williams spoke to TIME by phone en route to Yankee Stadium a few days after the World Cup roster announcement in June. She was throwing out the first pitch before the New York Yankees-Baltimore Orioles game on a Friday night. Williams leads her NWSL team, NJ/NY Gotham FC, in goals this season, with seven, fourth highest in the league. She bounced the pitch to the third-base side of home plate. She’ll save the strikes for this summer.
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