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The USWNT Best XI of the decade

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

We’re wrapping up what has been the most successful decade in United States women’s national team history. In three successive World Cup finals with two championships, along with an Olympic gold medal (let’s not discuss 2016), the U.S. is as dominant as it has ever been.

A new era lies ahead: a new coach, and what feels like the cusp of a generational shift among the players. Before we look ahead to the Tokyo Olympic Games, let’s take a look back at the players who were the backbone of that success, the USWNT Best XI of the last decade (2010-2019), based on international play and accomplishments.

Goalkeeper – Hope Solo

Hope Solo (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

No choice was easier than this. Hope Solo may have ended her soccer career ignominiously, but there’s no doubt that she has been the best goalkeeper the women’s game has ever seen. Shot-stopping, command of her box, organizing her defense – Solo had it all.

We may have complained about the lack of playing time for her backups (and rightfully so), but when the game really mattered, everyone wanted Solo in between the pipes. She wasn’t at her best in 2016 and needed surgery on both her shoulders, but I have suspicion she may have still been intimidating opponents with her jaw clench in 2019 had the Olympics gone otherwise.

Right Back – Ali Krieger

Ali Krieger (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Ali Krieger was the best right back in the world for the first half of the decade. She shot to recognition with her converted penalty kick in 2011, but it was her consistently strong defense in 2011 and 2015 that really should be lauded. She may not get on the score sheet often or light up highlight reels, but she is an outstanding ball-winner with the speed and stamina to shut down a forward one minute and launch a cross into their box the next.

In fact, it was Krieger who won possession of the ball from Brazil in the 2011 quarterfinal that led to Abby Wambach’s equalizer. Krieger’s coolness under pressure served her well when, after her international career looked to be over, she was a last-minute inclusion to the 2019 roster and ended up playing the entire second half of the final.

Center back – Becky Sauerbrunn

Becky Sauerbrunn (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

“Broon” to both fans and teammates, Becky Sauerbrunn has not only been one of the best center backs of the past decade, she’s been one of the best defenders. At times, even the best defender in the world. With nearly flawless positioning and an uncanny ability to predict what an opposing player will do before they do it, no one reads the game better than her. And just when you think you have her pegged, she does the damn thing herself and goes on an offensive run that covers two-thirds of the field. The only thing missing from her game is an international goal, but hey, there’s always 2020.

Center back – Julie Ertz

Julie Ertz, center (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Julie Ertz’s inclusion on this list was a no-brainer. It was where to put her that proved troublesome. Ertz is probably more important to the U.S. at defensive midfielder going forward, but she played in two major tournaments as a defender, and deputized there during the 2019 World Cup.

Wherever she plays, Ertz is a force to be reckoned with. Less of a wrecking ball than simply a brick wall, not many get past her, and she’s a model of consistency. In more recent years, she found her footing as a goal-scorer, helping bring the threat back to U.S. set pieces after a rough dry spell. Ertz is a two-time U.S. Soccer Player of the Year, and ended the decade by getting snubbed for the best player at the World Cup.

Left Back – Kelley O’Hara

Kelley O’Hara (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

I admit this was the most troublesome spot for me, if for no other reason than the U.S. has had a revolving door at left back. However, if I look at outside backs in general, Kelley O’Hara has to be included. Her conversion to fullback was sped up by Krieger’s ACL injury that ruled her out of the 2012 Olympics, and O’Hara ended up playing every minute at left back.

She’s had her own injury troubles between major tournaments, but she manages to get back on the field when it counts, winding up at right back in 2016 and 2019, and shedding some of her more reckless tendencies as she’s matured. Her best international moment is easily her first international goal against Germany in the 2015 semifinal (in which she played as a wide midfielder), but she’s made her name and her game at outside back, no matter which flank.

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Midfielder – Lauren Holiday

Lauren Holiday (Photo Copyright Nell Enriquez for The Equalizer)

No offense to Sam Mewis or Rose Lavelle, but I often wonder what the 2019 World Cup midfield would have looked like if Lauren Holiday were still playing. A 2014 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year, Holiday retired at the height of her career with plenty left to give. But what she gave us during the first half of the decade was easily more than enough to put her on this list.

A hard worker who played whatever role she was given in the midfield without complaint, be it holding, box-to-box, or attacking, she really shone when she was able to unleash her creative abilities. And she never forgot her roots as a forward, unleashing wonder strikes whenever she got the opportunity, from her game-winner in the final sendoff match prior to the 2011 World Cup, to her tally in the 2015 World Cup final.

Midfielder – Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Carli Lloyd has transitioned to a forward in recent years, but she had plenty of starring moments when she played deeper. She has proven herself as a big-game player time and again, with her brace in the 2012 Olympic final and her unforgettable hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final, the latter winning her just about every domestic and international accolade out there.

The turning point in the 2015 campaign came when Lloyd was given freedom to roam and move higher up the pitch. Known for her goals from distance and her stone-cold penalty kicks (see the 2015 semifinal), she’s also an underrated passer, able to thread the needle from the midfield circle. Whatever role she plays, the U.S. would have been a very different team without her.

Midfielder – Heather O’Reilly

Heather O’Reilly (Photo Copyright Steve Bruno for The Equalizer)

Admittedly, Heather O’Reilly wasn’t suited for the midfield in the 4-3-3 formation I’ve gone with here, but as the team played a 4-4-2 during most of her tenure, she deserves inclusion. “HAO” was the epitome of a tireless worker, whose seemingly indefatigable legs served her well for countless miles up and down right flanks all over the world.

She finished her career tied for fifth in U.S. history for assists and is the eighth most capped player in the history of the team. Her most notable assist came in the 2012 semifinal when she sent in a cross to Alex Morgan deep in stoppage time, handing the U.S. a late win. Never one to be flashy, O’Reilly was instead one of the most reliable players the U.S. had in this decade, and she was woefully unused in 2015 and 2016.

Forward –  Megan Rapinoe

The Best

Megan Rapinoe (Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer)

On and off the pitch, Megan Rapinoe had herself a year in 2019, but that simply tops off a heck of a decade. Ever-present no matter the coach or occasion, she’s overcome numerous injuries to be named to every single major tournament of the decade and played a role in each. Her dead-ball delivery is second to none, be it at the corner flag or the site of a foul, and she can score just as well as play provider.

Rapinoe landed herself squarely in the record books in 2012 by becoming the first player of any gender to score an Olimpico at the Olympics, but she really shot to fame a year prior, sending in a physics-defying cross to Abby Wambach for a last-gasp equalizer in the 2011 quarterfinal. She ended the decade with her star shining possibly even more brightly by winning both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 2019 World Cup.

Forward – Tobin Heath

Tobin Heath

Tobin Heath (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The resident ninja of the U.S., by 2015 Tobin Heath found consistency that she lacked earlier in her career, and in 2016, when she won U.S. Soccer Player of the Year, she was all but unplayable. You could call her a wizard, or a magician, but whatever title you choose, just know that she not only attempts things with a ball that no one else would even think of, she pulls it off.

Heath could and should hold a clinic on getting a fullback to commit with a feint before slipping away and firing a ball into the box. Throughout the decade, she’s combined a creativity with a skill on the ball that no one else was able to come near to replicating until Rose Lavelle came along. Every team needs a technician, and for the last decade, Heath was that for the United States.

Forward – Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

By now, you may have realized I left Abby Wambach off this list, which was a difficult decision, but the majority of her best moments really came in the previous decade. However, she was here long enough to provide us with one of the best partnerships the U.S. has ever seen. Alex Morgan came up under Wambach’s tutelage, and although her career has been punctuated by nagging injuries, she continues to prove herself.

Morgan gave us a glimpse of what was to come early in her career, scoring the lone goal against Italy in the first leg of the playoff to send the U.S. to the 2011 World Cup, and she made good on the promise in the 2012 Olympics, scoring another late goal to send the U.S. to the gold-medal match. That year, she joined Mia Hamm as the only players in U.S. history to score at least 20 goals and provide at least 20 assists in one year, the type of season that comes around once in a generation for the type of player that comes around once in a generation.

Morgan earned the first of her two (to date) U.S. Soccer Player of the Year awards for her feats, also named as such in 2018. In 2019, she may not have scored 20 goals, but she did tie the record for the most goals scored in a single World Cup match. No matter the tournament or opponent, the U.S. was always more dangerous with Morgan on the pitch.

Three Women’s World Cups, three defining moments this decade

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