Men’s soccer typically receives the lion’s share of attention from football fans and the international media, but things are beginning to change. The National Women’s Soccer League has created an entertaining product with some of the world’s most popular players and is seeing popularity increases that allow for league expansion. Their success could be driven to an even higher level, with the biggest women’s tournament in the world coming to Canada this summer. This Women’s World Cup comes at the perfect time for organizations like the NWSL, which will benefit from the world’s attention being turned to women’s soccer in North America.
The 2015 Women’s World Cup has received negative attention for the use of synthetic playing surfaces, which pose an increased injury risk for players. In spite of this, the world’s best teams will be sending their best players, who will be eager to lift the trophy at the tournament’s end. The World Cup has traditionally been the biggest stage for women’s soccer and has seen some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport. It is a stage where elite players can assert themselves as some of the greatest of all time.
With the tournament around the corner, it is a good time to evaluate the greatest players in the history of women’s football. Some of these women will have a chance to add to their already enormous legacies, while others will serve as managers or commentators. These players have had a lasting influence on the game and set a precedent for future generations of young players to follow. They have all earned the right to be considered among the greatest to ever play the sport.
20. Shannon Boxx
Shannon Boxx was a soccer prodigy out of Torrance, California and earned All-American honors before attending Notre Dame. Boxx then played the most games in the program’s history and helped the Fighting Irish capture a National Championship before bouncing between several professional teams. After struggling in her early professional career, she considered retirement. But after spending time with the USA’s U-21 team, she was planning to attend the 2003 World Cup as a spectator.
Boxx then found herself called into the squad, and after a good run of form was starting in the defensive midfield role in the opening match of the World Cup. Her international career took off from that point, and she has been a regular member of the squad ever since, scoring 27 goals in her 189 caps for the USWNT. Boxx was able to find success in professional soccer and now serves as a veteran leader on the Chicago Red Stars.
19. Louisa Necib
As far as superstars of the current generation go, Louisa Necib is certainly among the best. Often referred to as the Female Zidane, the French-Algerian Necib began playing with the boys in her neighborhood. Once she found her way into the local club setup, she quickly became a target for the youth national team and was signed by Clairefontaine. After helping the club earn promotion to Division 2, she joined Montpellier, but it was only a short stay because Lyon came calling in 2007.
Since joining Lyon, Louisa Necib has blossomed into one of the best players in the world. With virtually unparalleled technical ability, Necib has an aptitude to play almost any pass. She has helped Lyon capture 7 Division 1 titles and 2 UEFA Women’s Champions League crowns, while earning a Puskas Award nomination in the process. She was also named in the 2011 World Cup’s All-Star Team after helping France to a 4th place finish.
18. Brandi Chastain
Few moments in sports history have been as iconic as Brandi Chastain’s celebration following her World Cup winning penalty in 1999. The image of Chastain clad in a black sports bra, sinking to her knees in triumph has circulated the globe and inspired a generation of women. Chastain is one of the greatest players in American history and has played a role in the rise of soccer in America. After a Freshman Player of the Year campaign with Cal, knee injuries forced her to miss two seasons. At that point, Chastain transferred to Santa Clara and helped them to two Final Four appearances in the College Cup.
After being called into the United States Women’s National Team set up in 1988, she regularly featured for them for the next 16 years. She played every minute of their 1996 World Cup Gold medal campaign despite suffering another serious knee injury during the semifinal. Chastain’s 30 lifetime goals in 192 appearances are impressive, especially considering Chastain played defender in almost half of her matches. She finished her career with two Gold medals, one Silver medal, and of course the glory of her 1999 World Cup clinching kick. Chastain will likely feature in the broadcast team for this summer’s World Cup.
17. Hanna Ljungberg
Hanna Ljungberg made her debut for the Swedish National Team at the age of 17 in 1996 and is one of the greatest players in her country’s history. Ljungberg would become the most prolific scorer in her country’s history over the next 12 years, scoring 72 goals in her 130 appearances. Ljungberg also excelled at the professional level, with record setting performances in the Damallsvenskan. She set the record for goals scored in a single season with 39, while leading Umea IK to 7 Damallsvenskan titles and two UEFA Women’s Cups. Ljungberg’s Swedish scoring record was only recently broken by Lotta Schelin.
16. Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith began her football career by getting kicked out of the Watford Boys Club, but quickly caught on with Wembley and Arsenal Ladies. Once she was identified as the top scoring prospect in England, she was fast tracked into the English National Team at the age of 17. She stunned in her debut, but could not attend the 1995 World Cup due to it conflicting with her GSCE exams. Smith would shine with England and for several American professional teams between stints with Arsenal Ladies. She has earned plaudits throughout her career and finished 3rd in Ballon D’Or voting in 2009. Smith remains the top goal scorer in England’s history with 46 goals.