The youth soccer stories of the USA's Women's World Cup players: 1 through 23

The USA's 2023 Women's World Cup squad of 23 — from 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson to 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe — hail from nine states. Here's a look at the paths they've taken to soccer's highest level.

1. Alyssa Naeher  (age 35)
The goalkeeper who played soccer in her Connecticut backyard with her twin sister — Amanda, who went on to score more than 100 goals at Messiah College — initially dreamed of being a pro basketball player while on hoops teams her father, John, coached. She starred in both sports at Christian Heritage School before attending Penn State. Naeher, whose youth clubs included South Central Premier SC, first entered the national team program at a 2002 U.S. U-14 ID camp. She started for the Tony DiCicco-coached USA’s 2008 U-20 World Cup-winning team, earning the Golden Glove Award.

2. Ashley Sanchez   (age 24)
The Southern Californian midifielder's youth clubs included Santa Anita SC, Legends FC and So Cal Blues. She attended a national ODP camp in January 2013 and entered the national team program with a U-14 camp run by Coach April Kater. In 2016, Sanchez became the first American to play in both the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups in the same cycle. She played three seasons at UCLA before going pro with the Washington Spirit via the 2020 NWSL Draft.

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Home states
8 California.
2 Colorado, Georgia, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia.
1 Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts.

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3. Sofia Huerta   (age 30)
The first Idaho player to earn a USWNT cap and the first to earn a U.S. World Cup roster spot, Huerta played club soccer with Les Bois and FC Nova and was a three-sport star at Centennial High School in Boise: soccer (two-time Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year), basketball (2011 All-Idaho first-team selection) and track & field (2011 Idaho state champion in the 100 meters hurdles). Born to a Mexican father, Mauricio, and American mother, Jody, who met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Huerta, played for Mexico at the 2012 U-20 World Cup and in one senior friendly in 2013 while at Santa Clara University. But she held out hope of playing for the USA and did not accept any more Mexico call-ups after 2014. The forward transformed into an outside back and earned her first U.S. cap in September 2017.

SA Reading: Sofia Huerta wins bet on herself

4. Naomi Girma  (age 23)
The daughter of Ethiopian immigrants Girma Aweke and Seble Demissie, Girma at age 4 with her older brother Nathaniel started attending "Maleda Soccer,” the Northern California Ethiopian community’s Saturday pickup games her father helped organize. Girma played club ball for Central Valley Crossfire and DeAnza Force/California Thorns, which she joined at age 16. She also captained her Pioneer High School team. Before helping Stanford win the 2019 NCAA national title, Girma played for the USA at the 2016 U-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup.

SA Reading: Naomi Girma quickly becomes a starter on USWNT

5. Kelley O’Hara (age 34)
The Georgia native, daughter of Navy fighter pilot Dan O'Hara, played club ball for the Peachtree City Lazers, AFC Lightning SC and Concorde Fire South '88 Elite, and at Starr’s Mill High School before starring at Stanford. The 2009 Hermann Trophy winner played on the USA's fourth-place team at the 2006 U-20 Women’s World Cup under Coach Tim Schulz.

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16 ...
... U.S. 2023 World Cup players represented the USA at U-20 World Cups:
Megan Rapinoe (2004), Kelley O’Hara (2006), Alyssa Naeher (2008), Alex Morgan (2008), Kristie Mewis (2010), Crystal Dunn (2010, 2012), Julie Ertz (2012), Lindsey Horan (2014), Andi Sullivan (2014), Casey Murphy (2016), Ashley Sanchez (2016), Sophia Smith (2018), Emily Fox (2016, 2018), Naomi Girma (2018), Savannah DeMelo (2016, 2018), Alyssa Thompson (2022).
NOTE: Sofia Huerta played for Mexico at the 2012 U-20 World Cup.

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6. Lynn Williams (age 30)
The forward starred at Bullard High School in her hometown of Fresno, California, but unlike most of her international teammates wasn't involved with the U.S. youth national team program. Her parents, David and Christine, both did track & field at Fresno State. Williams played college ball at Pepperdine and went pro via the 2015 NWSL College Draft.

7. Alyssa Thompson  (age 18)
The youngest player on the roster and first teenager to make a U.S. World Cup roster since 1995, Thompson at age 9 joined her younger sister Gisele in playing on boys teams at Total Futbol Academy (TFA). At ECNL club Real So Cal, where she played until the COVID-19 pandemic, she often competed with girls four years older. In 2020, she returned to TFA, playing for its boys U-19 team in MLS Next. As a sophomore at Harvard-Westlake High School, Thompson was named the Gatorde National Player of the Year after scoring 48 goals in 17 games. She spearheaded the attack for the U.S. team that won the 2022 Concacaf U-20 Championship, played in the 2022 U-20 Women’s World Cup, and earned her first full national team cap on Oct. 7, 2022, against England at Wembley. She became the first high school-age player and youngest draft pick in NWSL history when she went No. 1 overall in the 2023 NWSL Draft to Angel City FC at the age of 18.

8. Julie Ertz  (age 31)
The 2015 and 2019 World Cup winner began with AYSO in Mesa, Arizona. After club ball with Arizona Arsenal SC she switched to Serrano SC in Phoenix, with which she played from U-13 to U-19, winning nine state titles. Ertz, who starred at Santa Clara University, captained the USA to the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup title under Coach Steve Swanson.

SA ReadingJulie Ertz on 'Chase Your Dreams,' her youth coaches, defending the [2015] World Cup title, and the NWSL 

9. Savannah DeMelo  (age 25)
Growing up in the Southern California city of Bellflower, DeMelo played for Beach FC (Long Beach), where she was coached by Rich Perez, Jeff Joyner and her father, Robert DeMelo, an immigrant from Portugal. Her 2015 Beach FC team was U.S. Youth Soccer U-17 National Championship runner-up. She also celebrated a ODP national championship in the 2014-15 season. DeMelo, who played four years of varsity ball at Saint Joseph High School before starring at USC in 2017-2021, represented the USA at the 2016 and 2018 U-20 World Cups, scoring a hat trick against Paraguay at the latter tournament.

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10. Lindsey Horan  (age 29)
Horan started playing at age 5 in Golden, Colorado and joined Colorado Rush at age 11. While not playing high school ball, she played for the USA at the 2010 Concacaf U-17 Championship and made American soccer history when she declined a UNC scholarship to go straight into the pros with Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 after graduating from high school. She played for the USA at the 2014 Under-20 Women’s World Cup.

11. Sophia Smith  (age 22)
Smith, who grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, played for Real Colorado, whose alum include Mallory (née Pugh) Swanson, an absentee from this World Cup because of injury. Smith played high school soccer her freshman year and then only played for her club team the next three years. She went pro after two years at Stanford that included the 2019 national championship. She played for the USA at the 2016 U-17 World Cup and 2018 U-20 World Cup. “When we saw her at 12 years old, she was just electrifying,” said Real Colorado coach Lorne Donaldson, who's head coach of Jamaica at the 2023 World Cup. “She was very confident, thinks she can do it all. That’s the first thing we saw in her, the type of player we know can take it to the next level.”

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7 ...
... U.S. 2023 World Cup players represented the USA at U-17 World Cups:
Crystal Dunn (2008), Kristie Mewis (2008), Andi Sullivan (2012), Naomi Girma (2016), Sophia Smith (2016), Ashley Sanchez (2016), Trinity Rodman (2018).

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12. Alana Cook  (age 26)
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Cook played youth ball in New Jersey with Match Fit Academy Colchesters, helping the team win the 2013 U.S. Youth Soccer National League title.  At The Pennington School, she won regional and state titles. The 2017 College Cup winner at Stanford started her pro career at Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 before joining the NWSL's OL Reign in 2021.

13. Alex Morgan  (age 34)
One of Morgan’s first coaches was her dad who introduced her to the sport, buying a goal so she could practice at home. Morgan started playing soccer with Southern California AYSO and didn’t join her first club team — Cypress Elite — until age 14. She starred at Diamond Bar High School and was recruited to Cal after assistant coach Jennifer "JT" Thomas spotted her at a youth tournament in Idaho while scouting a different striker. Morgan scored four goals including the final gamewinner at the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup under Coach Tony DiCicco.

SA ReadingAlex Morgan's Advice to Parents: Be Supportive, Respect Boundaries

14. Emily Sonnett  (age 29)
Sonnett spent her youth club career (2003-2013) with North Atlanta Soccer Association, helping the club win Georgia State Cup Championships in 2007 and 2008 and the Region III title in 2008. She also helped NASA 12 Elite take home the U-19 national title at the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championship. She starred at Fellowship Christian High School, totaling a school-record 113 goals and 41 assists before college ball at the University of Virginia, where she switched from a midfielder to her current position of defender. “She was a part of a (senior) class that completely raised the bar, and there has been national attention given to us because of that,” Fellowship Christian coach Trip Hughes said.

15. Megan Rapinoe  (age 38)
In the far northern California city of Redding, Rapinoe started playing for a team coached by her father, Jim. Instead of playing high school ball, Rapinoe and her twin sister Rachael played for Elk Grove Pride — a Sacramento-area club to which their mother Denise, in her time off from her job as a waitress would drive them 180 miles each way. Rapinone got national attention via ODP and continued teaming up with her sister at the University of Portland. She scored a team-high three goals during the Mark Krikorian-coached USA's third-place finish at the 2004 U-20 Women’s World Cup.

SA ReadingMegan Rapinoe, blessed where the beautiful game has taken her

16. Rose Lavelle  (age 28)
Lavelle’s soccer journey began at age 5 in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, with YMCA coed rec ball. She moved on to GSSA Sycamore United, Lakota United and Cincinnati United Premier SC. Lavelle credits her love of soccer to her first coach Neil Bradford, who began training her when she was 8. “She’s one of those players where, if there was a game being played, she wanted to be there, whether it was a pick-up game or a National League game,” Scott Rodgers, Executive Director at Cincinnati United and Lavelle’s former coach, said. She played four years of varsity soccer at Mount Notre Dame High School before starring at the University of Wisconsin.

SA Reading: Rose Lavelle shows off her backyard skills on soccer's biggest stage

17. Andi Sullivan  (age 27)
Attending Washington Spirit games as a child while growing up in Virginia inspired Sullivan to pursue pro soccer. She began with McLean Youth Soccer before switching to Bethesda Soccer Club. She followed up her 2012 U-17 Women’s World Cup appearance and co-captaining the USA's 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup team with a 2017 national championship title with Stanford and MAC Herman Trophy honors.

18. Casey Murphy  (age 27)
Growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Murphy started playing soccer when she was 5 and began training as a goalkeeper around the age of 10. She played on Bridgewater-Raritan High School’s team and her club ball included an ECNL U-17 title with PDA Slammers. Murphy, who played college ball at Rutgers, started all six games for the USA at the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup.

19. Crystal Dunn  (age 31)
Dunn started playing soccer after her family moved from the inner city to Long Island, New York, where her clubs included the Albertson Fury, Rockville Centre Power and Rockville Centre Tornadoes. She took part in the Eastern New York ODP. Dunn played three years at South Side High School, helping her school win state titles in 2006, 2007 and 2009, missing the 2008 season while competing at the inaugural U-17 Women’s World Cup before starring for Anson Dorrance’s UNC. “Even as a 10-year-old, she had an exuberance to play,” Dunn’s Rockville Centre coach Tim Bradbury said. “She was excited to compete, would not be shackled within an environment devoid of fun and, if necessary, would create the fun herself. She was brave and relentless.” She played in the 2010 and 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cups, helping the USA win latter tournament.

SA Reading: The childhood soccer of Crystal Dunn — an environment that no longer exists

20. Trinity Rodman  (age 21)
Rodman began playing soccer at age 4 and, beginning at age 10, spent her youth club career with the SoCal Blues. Rodman helped the Blues win four ECNL national championships, five Surf Cups, and go on a five-year undefeated streak. She played one year of high school soccer as a freshman at Corona Del Mar High School and then transferred to JSerra Catholic High School. Rodman committed to play college soccer at Washington State University but went straight to the pros after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19. Before making her senior team debut in 2022, Rodman played in the 2018 U-17 Women’s World Cup. She scored nine goals to propel the USA at the 2020 Concacaf U-20 Championship, qualifying play for the U-20 World Cup canceled because of COVID.

21. Aubrey Kingsbury  (age 31)
Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, the goalkeeper won state championships in 2007 and 2008 with St. Ursula Academy before playing college ball at Wake Forest, where her three All-American seasons led to her U.S. national team program entry with the U-23s in 2014.

22. Kristie Mewis  (age 32)
The Massachusetts product and younger sister Sam (a starter on the USA's 2019 World Cup-winning team who is out injured), played youth ball for SC Scorpions. Kristie was a Region 1 ODP team regular  (2003-2007) and starred at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School before college ball at Boston College. Kristie (and Sam) played in the 2008 U-17 and the 2010 U-20 World Cups.

23. Emily Fox  (age 25)
Fox started playing local youth soccer (Loudoun Soccer) when she was in kindergarten in Ashburn, Virginia. She played for club teams Ashburn Crush, Ashburn/Herndon Freedom, and FC Virginia. In her one year of high school ball, as a freshman, Fox helped Stone Bridge High School to a state runner-up finish. She played in the 2016 and 2018 U-20 World Cups and starred at UNC.

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1 comment about "The youth soccer stories of the USA's Women's World Cup players: 1 through 23".
  1. Santiago 1314, July 20, 2023 at 11:23 a.m.

    Very Cool... Thanks for the Article...
    Lots of Good 'Ol USA Club/College Kids... Hope it is Still enough to Win the WC.!?!?!?

    Kick A$$ and TAKE #s.!!!!

    We Believe that we can Win;
    WE Believe That WE Can WIN.!

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