A look at some of the rising stars who will be playing at the Women’s World Cup:
SOPHIA SMITH (United States)
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski has focused on developing young talent in preparation for the Women’s World Cup. The best among them is Smith, a 22-year-old forward who was named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year after scoring 11 goals and starting 17 matches — both team highs — in 2022. She was the youngest player to win the award since Mia Hamm, also at 22, did in 1994, which says plenty about Smith’s quality. “She is a special player with special qualities,” Andonovski said of Smith, “but the best thing is that she has the humbleness, work ethic and drive to keep developing all aspects of her game.” The first player born in the 2000s to play for the senior national team, Smith is also the reigning MVP in the National Women’s Soccer League, where she plays for the Portland Thorns.
ALYSSA THOMPSON (United States)
Thompson has been described as a “generational player” by her club, made her senior debut for the United States at Wembley Stadium, and has a deal with Nike. And she’s only 18. Thompson appears destined for the top of the women’s game, having this year become the first high school player to be drafted to the National Women’s Soccer League in its history. Incidentally, she was the top pick. She currently plays as a forward for Angel City — she scored, of course, in her regular-season debut — after coming out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles. Her debut for the USWNT came at the age of 17 against England, the European champion, at a sold-out Wembley in September, giving her a taste of the big time. Along with her younger sister Giselle, they have a name, image and likeness deal with Nike since last year.
JUN ENDO (Japan)
In her second year in the NWSL with Angel City, the 22-year-old Endo is starting to show her personality — with and without the ball. How could you not notice her bright pink hair at the start of this season? Or that she was warming up for a match in her socks? Endo is a left-footed, left-sided forward who is slowly becoming a more prominent part of Japan’s national team because of her pace and movement. Playing in the American league appears to have given her more confidence she belongs at the highest stage. This World Cup could see her make a breakthrough.
LAUREN JAMES (England)
She is no longer simply regarded as the sister of one of the Premier League’s best fullbacks — Chelsea’s Reece James — but a genuine top-class talent in her own right. At 21, Lauren James has already played for two of England’s biggest teams — Manchester United and now Chelsea — and helped her team win the league-and-cup double this season. She is a powerful right-sided forward who has shown mental resilience to get through a run of serious injuries early in her career and become a key player for the best club in England and also the national squad for the past year. Beth Mead’s injury has opened up a spot in England’s forward line at the Women’s World Cup and James might take it.
LINDA CAICEDO (Colombia)
Can a teenager ever be regarded as a veteran? At 18, Caicedo might be the closest thing to it, having started playing in the Colombian league at the age of 14. The striker has already been a Colombian champion twice — with América de Cali and Deportivo Cali — and was voted player of the tournament at the Copa America in 2022, the same year she also was tied as the top scorer at the Under-17 World Cup in India as Colombia reached the final. Caicedo joined Real Madrid this year, too, so she has packed plenty into the first four years of his career — not to mention discovering in 2020 that she had ovarian cancer. The tumor was discovered early and removed.
JODY BROWN (Jamaica)
It’s been quite the journey for the Jamaica striker since she plucked up the courage to play with her brother and his friends around the age of 12. Now she is a star in college for the Florida State Seminoles and is preparing to appear in her second Women’s World Cup, after featuring in the 2019 tournament for the “Reggae Girlz” at the age of 17. Now 21, she comes off playing a key role in the Seminoles’ title win at last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference women’s soccer tournament and, in time, will surely go professional after completing her college education. There’s unlikely to be a shortage of offers.
MELCHIE DUMORNAY (Haiti)
Dumornay is the 19-year-old heartbeat of a national team playing at its first Women’s World Cup and a player of growing renown in France, where she will play next season with record eight-time European champion Lyon. She is a central midfielder who played at the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in 2018, at the age of 15, and had a key part in sealing Haiti’s place in the upcoming Women’s World Cup with two goals against Chile in the inter-confederation playoff final. She has outgrown her French club of the past two years, Reims — expect her in the coming weeks to validate Lyon’s decision to sign her until 2026.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP coverage of the Women’s World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports