The 2019 Women’s World Cup might prove to be the most thrilling tournament in women’s soccer history. With a field growing in competition — where there’s no longer a few dominant, unbeatable squads — there are dozens of countries that could make it to the final in Lyon.
But due to the lack of global exposure in women’s football, it’s possible you might know little about some of the best or most intriguing players heading into this tournament. Sure, you know Marta and Alex Morgan. You might have heard the name Sam Kerr or Christine Sinclair get tossed around. Those are superstars who deserve the spotlight, but today we’re focused on the rising talent that could make a big splash this summer.
Here are 7 players you should keep an eye on when the World Cup kicks off in a week.
Erin Cuthbert, Scotland
Look, I could make this column all about Kim Little. She’s one of the best midfielders in women’s soccer, performing almost every small task with perfect execution. Little deserves her chance to shine on the largest stage. However, since Reign FC fans witnessed her brilliance — in person! — for three years, let me direct your attention to her Scotland teammate Erin Cuthbert instead.
The 20-year-old had a banner year leading up to Scotland’s World Cup appearance. She helped Chelsea advance to the Champions League semifinal, where they got closer than anyone to besting Lyon — thanks to a crucial Cuthbert away goal.
Cuthbert plays with this raw emotion that is evident in every action she takes on the pitch. She’s constantly moving to disrupt her opponent or get involved in the attack. And she looks as though she’s fearless, despite her young age. She can always whip in a belter, like this goal she scored just this week against Jamaica. I mean, come on!
She represents this tenacious, gritty, underdog mentality that we might all come to associate with this Scotland squad. They are talented across the board and could surprise many by advancing out of their group, which would be impressive for a country that’s never made the World Cup until this year.
In the 1990s, China was the country to beat. You might recall the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China, which went to penalty kicks to decide the winner. China has struggled to remain competitive in the last decade, but one rising player is hoping to rejuvenate women’s soccer for her country.
Wang Shuang is sometimes referred to as “Lady Messi” in China, although she’s making a name for herself in her own right. The forward just completed her first season with Paris Saint-Germain, where she notched seven goals and eight assists in just 18 appearances. She also scored a Champions League goal, becoming the first Chinese to score in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. And at 24, she still has plenty of unfinished business.
The ball sticks to Wang’s feet on the dribble, helping her slice and dice through players. She’s also got a powerful strike from distance or into the box. She’s struggled with some injuries over the years, but could thoroughly impress if she remains in form.
Cameroon’s Gabrielle Onguéné was player of the tournament at the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations. The 30-year-old striker plays professionally for CSKA Moscow, where she’s scored 27 goals in 57 matches, according to Soccerway. She scored in each of Cameroon’s wins at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, helping the country unexpectedly advance out of the group stage over Switzerland.
While Gaëlle Enganamouit might be the bigger name for Cameroon’s attack — and is a joy to watch — she’s struggled in recent years to find her form on the right club team. The African nation is going to have a difficult time getting past Canada, Netherlands, and New Zealand, but with a nickname like “The Indomitable Lionesses,” it’s hard to count Onguene and Cameroon out.
Last year, at the age of 18, Ellie Carpenter became the youngest goal-scorer in NWSL history. The forward-turned-right back hybrid went on to establish herself as the clear starting outside back for a talented Portland Thorns squad — and she retained that spot until she had to report for World Cup duty with Australia.
Carpenter has small moments where it is still clear she’s growing as a professional, but she’s loaded with speed and talent. Her runs up the flank are well timed and she has an engine that goes for days.
Australia has struggled on the defensive end, so both Carpenter and Reign FC’s Steph Catley on the left will be asked to not only contribute higher up the field — but help significantly on the defensive end. Is she up for the task? We’ll see.
Khadija “Bunny” Shaw
This is Jamaica’s first World Cup appearance, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the superb play from forward Khadija “Bunny” Shaw. At the time of qualifiers, Shaw was still attending college at Tennessee, trying to propel them to the NCAA tournament.
In qualifiers, she scored more goals (19) than any other player from the 144 participating countries vying for a World Cup spot. Shaw is a strong hold-up player and skilled dribbler, and she has a lethal shot with either foot.
Shaw recently earned a brace in a 3-2 loss to Scotland, but unfortunately had to leave the match early with a sprained ankle. Hopefully, it wasn’t a serious sprain and Shaw can bounce back for Jamaica’s group stage matches. If not, it is almost certain to be an early exit for the Reggae Girlz.
Asisat Oshoala was a bright spark for Nigeria in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, but they had a difficult path to advance in a group with Australia, Sweden and the United States. After the World Cup, Oshoala couldn’t break through in the way she wanted in England’s FA WSL — playing for Liverpool and Arsenal.
Asisat Oshoala is ready!! #FCBFemeniPosted by FC Barcelona Femení on Saturday, February 9, 2019
But a move to China and then Spain has put her stock on the rise once more. Oshoala became the first African player to score in a UEFA Champions League final, tallying Barcelona’s lone goal in their 4-1 loss to Lyon. At just 24 years old, she already has a number of trophies and accolades, including the 2015 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year and the 2014 U-20 World Cup Golden Boot. After getting loaned from Chinese club Dalian Quanjian, Oshoala scored eight goals in eight appearances for Barcelona — and just signed a permanent deal with the decorated Spanish club.
England has talent in every position, and a year ago Beth Mead was on the outside looking in. A World Cup spot felt possible, but still far away. The 24-year-old made her debut for the Lionesses during World Cup qualifiers in April 2018. As England coach Phil Neville said, it wasn’t until Mead showed more of her angry side that she became a truly elite player.
After playing as a No. 9 for most of her career, Mead made the switch to the wing for club and country. It’s been a revelation for her. She has five goals in her 13 caps already for England, including this screamer against Brazil that put England up 2-1 in the 2019 SheBelieves Cup tournament, which England won this year.
Mead has become a regular for a talented Arsenal squad as well, where she plays alongside Kim Little and Netherlands’ striker Vivianne Miedema. She has nine goals in 19 matches for Arsenal this year and truly started to shine as the season wrapped up. That provides some hope to England as they look to advance in France.
Those are seven players who could dominate on the global stage this summer, but there are plenty of other names we’ll be chanting as matches kick off. Which players are you excited to watch?