All aboard the World Cup hype train! We are leaving the station and barreling excitedly towards June 7th.
In sort of an inverse of our look at the USWNT's top snubs who we were looking forward to seeing in domestic league play during the tournament, we wanted to celebrate 10 of the dozens of NWSL players who will be lighting up the World Cup. And since this is, after all, an international tournament, we wanted to show some love to players wearing shirts beyond the United States and Canada.
We know there are many more that could have made this list, and we encourage you to watch for your favorites at the tournament and share them with us at @thevictorypress.
10. Abby Erceg, North Carolina Courage / New Zealand
Abby Erceg joins the Football Ferns' World Cup roster for the fourth time after coming out of international retirement. She's coming off her best season ever with the NWSL and even with the Courage in flux right now, has shown no signs of stopping. She's played a full 90 for every single Courage match so far, nailing 24 clearances and even one cheeky goal.
She's a tough, persistent center back who has some big challenges ahead as the Kiwis face Canada, Cameroon and the Netherlands in the group stage, but if anyone can take 'em, it's Abby.
9. Estelle Johnson, Sky Blue FC / Cameroon
First of all, if there is a better team name than The Indomitable Lionesses, we have yet to find it. Johnson, a veteran defender who joined Sky Blue this season after several years with the Washington Spirit, is still very new to Cameroon's squad. She'll bring experience and backline depth (and killer slide tackles) to a squad that is a perennial contender in the African Women's Cup of Nations, and play alongside another Sky Blue alumna, Paris FC forward Michaela Abam. Cameroon had a thrilling run in the 2015 tournament, advancing past the group stage, and we can’t wait to see how Johnson will contribute to their efforts this year.
8. Andressinha, Portland Thorns / Brazil
Brazil has a handful of wonderful players in the NWSL, but we're particularly excited about the possibilities of what Andressinha will bring to As Canarinhas in this campaign. In a Thorns shirt, Andressinha has demonstrated an impressive ability to connect with her teammates, including on often tricky long balls and won favor for her creative abilities as a playmaker. Plus, she sometimes does things like this.
7. Rumi Utsugi, Reign FC / Japan
The Nadeshiko squads of the last two World Cups, where they were the winners and runners-up, respectively, were defined by longtime veterans of that generation – Homare Sawa, Yuki Nagasato, Aya Miyama. The squad entering this year's tournament features a host of relatively newer faces to the national team. As part of a defense alongside veteran Aya Sameshima, expect Utsugi to provide consistent experience and guidance as this new crew continues to assert its identity and prowess on the pitch.
6. Rachel Daly, Houston Dash / England
Like Crystal Dunn on the USWNT, Rachel Daly is another example of The Curious Case of Coaches Playing a Natural Attacker as a Fullback. Tough and precise in front of the goal, she contributed to the Three Lionesses' victory in the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year. It would be great to see Phil Neville playing her in her natural position, but we're excited to see her anyway.
5. Hayley Raso, Portland Thorns / Australia
The NWSL is full of fan favorite Matildas, and we could dedicate even more prose to A+ teammate Elise Kellond-Knight or Steph Catley, to name two more. But Hayley Raso went from being unsure she would ever walk again following a broken back last summer to scoring for her side in the Cup of Nations earlier this year to preparing for the World Cup. We haven't seen much of her for the Thorns so far this season and given that recovery is always daunting but especially from such a serious injury, who knows how much we'll really get to see of her in the tournament. But her setting foot on the pitch at all, making such an incredible leap from one of the most devastating situations for a professional athlete, will be a feat, and we're not crying, you’re crying.
4. Cheyna Matthews, Washington Spirit / Jamaica
The Reggae Girlz make their Women's World Cup debut this summer (here's some good background), have steadily improved in CONCACAF competition and currently hold their highest ever FIFA ranking. After taking a year off from the game due to pregnancy, Matthews is back and contributing to a resurgent Washington Spirit, netting some fancy-footwork goals like this one. Matthews in an attack formation with the likes of Jody Brown and Khadija "Bunny" Shaw is a possibility that makes us go all dreamy-eyed. If Bunny successfully recovers from her injury during Tuesday's friendly against Scotland (prayer circle, everyone!), Jamaica's attack will have other teams in night sweats.
3. Rachel Corsie, Utah Royals / Scotland
Scotland is yet another exciting side to debut in the 2019 World Cup, and all eyes will be on their skipper, Utah Royals defender Rachel Corsie. Corsie has had a strong start to her NWSL season for the first-place Royals alongside Becky Sauerbrunn, and with a pairing like that, it makes sense why Utah's only conceded three goals so far and kept three clean sheets. But Corsie's role extends beyond stoppages and tackles on the pitch – as Scotland's captain and best-known player, she's an ambassador for the women's game in her country, and has contributed to its growth. Getting to lead her team to the World Cup is a wonderful step in that trajectory.
2. Marta, Orlando Pride / Brazil
One name to rule them all. Imagining the women's game without Marta is like imagining The Great British Bake-Off without irrepressible charm. It just doesn't make sense. The six-time (!) FIFA Women's Player of the Year has had a rough start to the season at a winless, languishing Orlando Pride, but wearing the yellow and green is when she shines brightest. She holds the record for most goals scored at the World Cup, and unless Christine Sinclair goes on an absolute tear, there's no one that can catch her.
1. Sam Kerr, Chicago Red Stars / Australia
You were expecting someone else? 55 goals in the NWSL, 64 goals in the Australian W-League, backflips for days. Kerr is a dream of a player, a consummate entertainer, always an absolute blast to watch, the platonic ideal of an antidote to every goober in your mentions who talks about how "sOcCeR iS bOrInG" but will willingly watch golf. Beyond being a natural striker, Kerr has demonstrated leadership on and off the pitch, including taking part in the Matildas' 2015 boycott demanding better play and conditions for players.
(Photo: Jamie Smed/Flickr)