World Cup Countdown: The Rookies of USWNT

As we approach kickoff for the USWNT’s World Cup berth, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the lesser known players. Everyone already knows the veterans on the team, so let’s get familiar with the rookies. There are four rookies on the 2015 National Team who we need to keep an eye on; Sydney Leroux, Christen Press, Julie Johnston, and Morgan Brian. All have proven over the past three or so years that they belong on this star-studded roster, and that they deserve ample playing time. It’s up to Coach Jill Ellis whether that playing time happens, but all four players bring to the table youthful experiences that some of the veterans might lack.

Leroux is a power forward that the USWNT has had to rely on for the past several months with the absence of Alex Morgan. Leroux has taken it all in stride, and she’s proved to everyone that she deserves a starting spot at the Word Cup. Born in Canada, she doesn’t know whether to expect boos or applause as she heads onto the pitch in Winnipeg for June 8th’s opener on her home country soil. “I feel like the worst you can do is boo me and try to make me feel bad. Because that just makes me hungrier.”

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Christen Press (Forward, Chicago Red Stars)

Christen Press was a standout at Stanford where she broke records for goals scored (71), assists (41), and game-winning goals (10). She double-majored in communication and psychology, and was named to the ESPN Academic All-America first team during her senior year at Stanford. In 2011, Press was drafted fourth overall pick in the 2011 WPS Draft to magicJACK, formally The Washington Freedom. When the WPS folded in 2012, Press found herself traveling across the pond to play professional soccer for the top Women’s league in Sweden, Göteborg FC. She had to essentially learn a new and more methodical style of soccer that focused on form over goal-scoring. A magical thing happened: “I fell back in love with soccer in Sweden.” She found success playing at Göteborg FC and later at Tyresö FF, where she played alongside Brazilian legend Marta, and became the first American to be the top scorer for the league. After three seasons in Sweden, Press finally returned the U.S. in 2014 to play for the Chicago Stars.

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Julie Johnston (Defender, Chicago Red Stars)Morgan Brian (Midfielder, Houston Dash)

Julie Johnston - Photo USA Today Sports
Julie Johnston – Photo USA Today Sports

Julie Johnston and Morgan Brian are two of the rookies you may not recognize because they’ve been buried under the hype of the other Rookies, since the World Cup squad was announced. This isn’t to say that they aren’t as good or as strong as the others, it’s just that they lack the “star power” that Leroux and Press have. Although they are rookies to the Senior team, they’re not new to international soccer tournaments. Brian and Johnston both have the same “call sheet” when it comes to the USWNT. Both played on the U-20 WNT that won the U-20 World Cup in 2012, and they both played all six matches.

Johnston was the captain, and she also played in the U-23 Four Nations tournament in 2013. They both earned their first senior caps in 2013, and both made an impact on the game in some small way. As a defender, Johnston, has the strength to knock her opponents down to win the ball. Back in October, Julie didn’t get selected for the qualifying squad during the CONCACAF tournament, so she spent the next 6 months working her best to make her game better. Then she got the call up in April:

“I flashed back through the whole six month process. The hard times and the good times and just took a breath of air and was like, Wow, it’s really cool to see it pay off. A different kind of hard work.”

Morgan Brian. Photo Noah Salzman, Creative Commons
Morgan Brian. Photo Noah Salzman, Creative Commons

On the other hand, Morgan Brian has the midfielder mentality locked down. Brian is one of seven players to appear in all 10 matches this year and started in eight of those. She helped lift University of Virginia to the NCAA College Cup semifinals for the second year in a row. She plays well off the ball, and her passing game is on point.

For me, just being in this environment, this is very magnetic. You want more, and it pushes you to your limits every single day. I think for me, as an athlete, that’s exactly what I want.” – on being selected for the USWNT. 

And being the youngest player on the roster has to be a good feeling… or it might be intimidating.

All of these rookies bring something to the table that other players don’t. They can be used as subs to Coach Ellis’ multilayered roster, or if they’re like Leroux they can strive to make the starting lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see all four players get several minutes at some point during the World Cup. They have all the tools they need to play to the best of their ability and prove that they aren’t just a bunch of rookies.

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