The 50 best players in the game right now



The U.S. women feature heavily on the first-ever ESPN FC Women’s Rank, though there’s tough competition all over the globe for top honors. ESPN

While 2020 might have thrown everything it could in the way of women’s soccer, leagues and clubs fought to get players back on the pitch and give us enthralling matches while we were all stuck at home. In 2021, global excitement around the game is at an all-time high. The National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. is on the cusp of returning in all its glory — beginning on April 9 — while in Europe, there are some nail-biting league races as well as big ties ahead in the latter stages of the Champions League.

What more could you want? Well, we here at ESPN FC and espnW wanted to get in on the fun and celebrate some of our favourite players with our inaugural Top 50 women’s rank.

Is it difficult to try and rank the world’s best players after a year as topsy-turvy as the last? Maybe. But we felt it was important to mark the achievements of the leagues, clubs and players who worked hard and sacrificed to get back on the pitch. Even with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a record-breaking year for women’s soccer.

The NWSL was the first professional sports league to return in the United States, with a new competition (The Challenge Cup) so successful that it has been added to the 2021 schedule, while the Frauen Bundesliga (with some help from its male counterparts) bucked the trend of leagues being curtailed and completed the 2019-20 season last summer.

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Julie Foudy expects the NWSL to wrestle power back from the WSL after a wave of players switching to the UK.

In England, there was excitement during the summer when not one, but five United States women’s national team (USWNT) World Cup winners decided to ply their trade in the Women’s Super League. They weren’t even the highest-profile signings of the summer, though, with Chelsea smashing the women’s transfer record to bring Pernille Harder (spoiler alert: she’s ranked highly on this list) to London from Wolfsburg.

In the Champions League, Lyon proved why they are still the team to beat with their fourth consecutive title last August. Their dominance in France, however, already looks on shaky ground with Paris Saint-Germain snapping their 80-game unbeaten run in the league this season, sending them possibly on course for their first domestic title (and ending Lyon’s run of 12 straight).

To compile our first edition, experts from across the world of women’s soccer cast ballots. With authoritative voices from both inside and outside ESPN, we then took everyone’s votes and tallied them together to give us the Top 50 players, which you’ll see below.

And a word on the ranking itself: some of the stars on the list played a full season in 2020, while others are just getting back into the swing of things after leagues were suspended. It was important to our panel that individual achievement and talent were recognized outside of winning cups and trophies. Some of the rankings you might disagree with, and that’s cool. We had a few debates about them around the (virtual) office too. — Kathleen McNamee

50. Ellen White

Club/country: Manchester City/England
Age: 31
Position: Forward

Even at 31, White is inevitable when it comes to scoring goals. She’s fifth in the Women’s Super League (WSL) this season with eight, but is one of the best at turning any half chance into a goal — complete with that goggles celebration. She was joint top scorer in the 2019 World Cup (with Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe) and is still just as clinical: she scored a hat trick for England against Northern Ireland in February, their first international in 11 months.

At club level, she helped City to the 2020 FA Cup, and is locked in an eye-catching battle with Arsenal’s Miedema for the all-time WSL goal-scoring record. Miedema sits on 56, while White is one behind on 55. “She’s a leader and she always wants to score goals,” England interim boss Hege Riise said after her hat trick against Northern Ireland. “She’s always looking for runs into the box.” — Tom Hamilton

More: Women’s Super League strike landmark multi-million pound TV deal

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Julie Foudy says it is a “disservice” to Manchester City’s Ellen White to have her ranked at 50.

49. Jackie Groenen

Club/country: Manchester United/Netherlands
Age: 26
Position: Midfielder

Dutch fans call Groenen the “vacuum cleaner” because she does the job no one really likes to do: in central midfield, that means putting in the graft, tackling anything that moves and logging the miles needed to give her teams a platform for success. But do not underestimate Groenen. She is a mastermind on the pitch and, at 26, has the soccer world at her feet. She was the missing link for Manchester United and since her arrival in May, 2019, she’s contributed in every way, including on the scoresheet. Plus, who could forget her 99th-minute strike in the 2019 World Cup semifinal? Like her playmaking, it was the stuff of legend. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Netherlands

48. Danielle van de Donk

Club/country: Arsenal/Netherlands
Age: 29
Position: Midfielder

Not many players are made tougher than the Arsenal playmaker, who rarely ever lets her coach, team or herself down. The 29-year-old midfielder plays with passion, works hard and covers tons of ground. She is a player every coach wants to have, not only because of her many assists, but because her teams function better as a unit when she’s on the pitch. While she has played a more defensive role for Arsenal, her responsibilities with the Netherlands leave her much freer to attack — something she has said she prefers. Even at 5-foot-3, Van de Donk can win a header against even the tallest defender. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Netherlands

47. Kosovare Asllani

Club/country: Real Madrid/Sweden
Age: 31
Position: Forward

Kosovare Asllani arrived in Spain as part of Real Madrid’s spending spree in the summer of 2019 as they prepared to take over the newly promoted Tacon (since rebranded as Real Madrid Femenino) in 2020. The star of David Aznar’s side, the silky, creative midfielder has scored 12 goals so far this season to help Los Blancos climb from 10th last year into the battle for second this season. Madrid’s next challenge is to compete with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who have been Spain’s dominant women’s teams for over a decade; Asllani, whose Kosovan heritage has made her a role model for Sweden’s immigrant communities, is central to that mission. — Sam Marsden

46. Steph Houghton

Club/country: Manchester City/England
Age: 32
Position: Defender

Houghton will go down in history as one of England’s greatest captains (121 appearances and counting). At City, she has captained them to the 2016 WSL title and three FA Cup triumphs and while leadership qualities are never in doubt, she’s also developing her game. This season, through March 19, Houghton has the greatest passing distance in the WSL (a total of 8,582 yards, with Alex Greenwood in second on 7,828), has had the most touches of the ball (1,457) and by far the most carries of the ball (1,075). Put those together and you’re getting the picture of a complete defender, the catalyst for everything City do. Said City boss Gareth Taylor: “She’s right up there for what she has brought to the game. She’s carried the team in good moments and difficult moments.” — Tom Hamilton

45. Becky Sauerbrunn

Club/country: Portland Thorns/United States
Age: 35
Position: Defender

“Steady” and “dependable” aren’t usually words associated with greatness, but for Sauerbrunn, they’re as apt a description as any for her play and her presence on the list. The center-back’s positioning and reading of the game have long been her primary strengths, allowing her to stay two or three steps ahead of the opposition, although she can still engage what she once referred to as her “Oh crap” speed when the need arises. She didn’t cement her spot in the starting lineup for the U.S. until the 2015 World Cup cycle. But Sauerbrunn has been a mainstay ever since, and as captain, she’ll be attempting to lead her team to the first World Cup/Olympic double in the history of the women’s game. — Jeff Carlisle

44. Lena Goessling

Club/country: Wolfsburg/Germany
Age: 35
Position: Midfielder

Lena Goessling has been at the forefront of German football for the best part of a decade, so it came as a shock to many when Wolfsburg announced in February that they would not be renewing her contract past the summer. The 36-year-old had just won her sixth Frauen Bundesliga title, played in her fifth UWCL final in eight seasons and won a seventh German Cup. She was offered an off-pitch coaching role this year as part of Wolfburg’s “restructuring,” but she says she has at least two years of game time left in her. – Kathleen McNamee

43. Ewa Pajor

Club/country: Wolfsburg/Poland
Age: 24
Position: Forward

Ewa Pajor started her career when she was 15, making her the youngest player ever in Poland’s top flight. While her young talent was quickly evident when she joined Wolfsburg in 2015, her ascent hasn’t been straightforward. Wolfsburg’s sporting director Ralf Kellermann has said that the slower, more careful path to the first-team has been crucial to her success, adding “she’s yet to unlock her full potential.” She ended the 2018-19 season on a high with 24 goals — top scorer in the Frauen Bundesliga — and was averaging a goal every 79 minutes.

The pandemic and a knee injury made for a disjointed 2020, but if her comeback shot against SV Meppen — 267 days since she last scored in the league — on March 7 is anything to go by, she will be back to top form in no time. – Kathleen McNamee

42. Beth England

Club/country: Chelsea/England
Age: 26
Position: Forward

England is one of the WSL’s most prolific finishers, and that’s saying something given the quality in the league. Her drive is remarkable — she describes herself as a “grafter” — and in the space of six years, she’s gone from being a reasonable left-back to one of the best strikers in world football. She sits third for assists per 90 minutes (0.63) and third for xG per 90 minutes (0.62) and all that when she’s competing with all-world forwards like Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder and Erin Cuthbert for a spot in Chelsea’s attack. She’s contributed key goals, scoring the winner in the Conti Cup final in 2020, and firing Chelsea to the WSL title last season, including the winner against Manchester City in December 2019 (their first win over City in five years), which led to her being crowned WSL Player of the Season in June 2020 and then PFA Player of the Year in September. — Tom Hamilton

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41. Cristiana Girelli

Club/country: Juventus/Italy
Age: 30
Position: Forward

Since her hat trick against Jamaica in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Juventus striker Cristiana Girelli has not stopped scoring. The 30-year-old finished the 2019-20 season as a champion with Juventus and led Italy to the 2022 European Championships as best runners-up, all of it capped by her prolific scoring rate: Girelli topped Serie A with 16 goals in 16 games, and eight goals for the Azzurri over 10 qualifiers. Girelli also sets the example off the pitch, playing a significant role as Italian women’s football continues to work towards full professional status. — Kathleen McNamee

40. Megan Rapinoe

Club/country: OL Reign/United States
Age: 35
Position: Forward

At this stage of Rapinoe’s career, there appear to be few worlds left to conquer. She’s won two World Cups (2015, 2019) and an Olympic gold medal (2012), but Rapinoe is still craving more hardware. There was a time when she was known primarily for her crossing ability — who can forget her delivery to Abby Wambach against Brazil at the 2011 World Cup? — even though there has long been a crafty, creative side to her game. Rapinoe’s profile off the field has skyrocketed given her leadership in the U.S. players’ equal-pay fight as well as her support of social-justice issues. On the pitch, despite sitting out most of 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, she scored three goals at the 2021 SheBelieves Cup and will be hoping to add more at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. — Jeff Carlisle

More: How athletes like Rapinoe are inspiring long-term action

39. Kim Little

Club/country: Arsenal/Scotland
Age: 30
Position: Midfielder

Little is your complete midfielder, as prolific in attack — making late runs toward goal, contributing key goals and assists — as she is when her teams don’t have the ball. She was named in the 2020 PFA Team of the Season — one of three Arsenal players to make the cut alongside Leah Williamson and Vivianne Miedema — and continues to be one of the most influential players in the WSL. She was the only WSL player to make the UWCL’s team of the tournament, placing herself among Europe’s elite. USWNT great Hope Solo rates Little as the “most talented player [she has] ever played with,” with “her passing and vision and technical skill [the] best in the world.” Little has also won five top-flight titles at Arsenal and three FA Cups. — Tom Hamilton

38. Alex Morgan

Club/country: Orlando Pride/United States
Age: 31
Position: Forward

Given Morgan’s exceptional play over the last decade, seeing her at No. 38 is a surprise at first glance. But in 2020, Morgan had to step away from the game for a spell due to pregnancy and then the subsequent birth of her daughter, Charlie, last May. In the interim, the coronavirus pandemic hit, with Morgan contracting COVID-19 late last year. A knee injury also limited her time in 2020, but 11 years after making her U.S. debut, Morgan’s speed and scoring rate still put her among the game’s greats. Her 108 international goals is good for fifth on the U.S. list and ninth worldwide. Her legend was only more cemented this year as she crossed the globe, baby Charlie in tow, to join Tottenham and build up her game time after giving birth.

It wasn’t a straightforward route back to her best for Morgan, but given her history of delivering in crucial moments, be it the 2012 Olympics or in the 2019 World Cup semifinal win over England, Morgan will be given every opportunity to try to win a second gold medal at the Olympics.— Jeff Carlisle

More: U.S. national team lessons from SheBelieves Cup: Morgan ready for Olympics?

37. Melanie Leupolz

Club/country: Chelsea/Germany
Age: 26
Position: Midfielder

The timing of Melanie Leupolz’s arrival at Chelsea could not have been worse. The former Bayern Munich captain and two-time Frauen Bundesliga winner signed with the London side on March 23, 2020 — 10 days after the suspension of the WSL amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was August before she got her competitive debut, but she has slipped into the Chelsea midfield as if she was custom made for the role. In a team full of attackers, her strong passing and consistent defensive work have been a quiet asset. “Her standards on the training pitch every day are just without compromise,” said Chelsea manager Emma Hayes to the Times of London. “Her attention to detail off the pitch in her recovery and everything else; second to none.” — Kathleen McNamee

36. Kadidiatou Diani

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/France
Age: 25
Position: Forward

Lyon have dominated the scene in France for several seasons, but the willingness of Paris Saint-Germain to splash big money on players like Diani shows exactly why Lyon’s hegemony might not last much longer. Despite interest from Lyon, she opted to stick with Paris and renewed her contract in May 2020, reportedly making her the second-highest paid women’s footballer in the world at the time. (Her deal, worth nearly $400,000 per season, was only bettered by Norway’s Ada Hegerberg.) The 25-year-old celebrated her 100th game for PSG in March with a brace, remarking afterward that the team was “determined” to push Lyon to the very limits, something they’d failed to do in previous years. She has more than contributed to that challenge this season with 12 goals and a league-leading nine assists.

Her versatility between up front and midfield, as well as her pace and dribbling ability, have made her a crucial player for France, in addition to her XX goals during a successful qualification for the 2022 European Championships. — Kathleen McNamee

35. Marta

Club/country: Orlando Pride/Brazil
Age: 35
Position: Forward

Marta, like Beyonce or Pele, is recognisable by her first name alone. One of only four active female players to score more than 100 international goals (the others are Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Christine Sinclair), the Brazil striker is the GOAT in yellow and blue. Her quick feet have caused havoc in the various leagues she played in, from Sweden to Brazil to the USA’s WUSA and NWSL. The 35-year-old has a list of accolades to rival anyone to play the game. Most notably, she’s the overall top scorer in FIFA World Cups (17), having played in four editions, and has six FIFA World Player of the Year gongs.

Brazil teammate Cristiane said in February last year of Marta: “She’s without doubt the greatest in the history of football. It gives us immense happiness to have a Brazilian having achieved all of this.” While she’s had little game time in the past year because of COVID-19, she led Brazil to second place in the 2021 SheBelieves Cup, scoring a penalty against Argentina and a goal against Canada. The perennially struggling Pride will hope Marta can build on her club-leading goal tally in her fifth season there, while Brazil are set to hand her the armband once again as she heads to her fifth Olympic Games. — Lindsay du Plessis

34. Magdalena Eriksson

Club/country: Chelsea/Sweden
Age: 27
Position: Defender

The Chelsea captain is one of the finest defenders, though every bit as much for her leadership as her form. “Magda and I are united in our ambitions for this club,” Chelsea manager Emma Hayes says of Eriksson, whom she has tipped to be a successful coach when she hangs up her boots. “She’s a wonderful leader and we both understand that to win successive trophies you have to drive a culture of daily dressing room standards. We do everything we can not to get complacent.”

Her ascent at Chelsea has been all the more impressive considering she only arrived in 2017. She is second in the WSL (behind Steph Houghton) for her total passing distance (5,889 yards) and for progressive passes (105, behind Chloe Kelly’s 117). When it comes to transitional play, she is the third most passed-to player in the WSL and has had the fifth-most touches of the ball (1,269), with the majority coming in the middle third of the field. She’s the glue player, the dependable option who starts off every move and then drives the team on. Eriksson was the heartbeat of Sweden’s journey to the 2019 World Cup semifinals, and off the field, she is also a vocal champion of diversity and equality. In November she was asked to describe herself in three words by the iPaper, she answered: “On the pitch, a leader, dependable, a winner. Off the pitch I’d say down to earth, democratic, loyal.” — Tom Hamilton

33. Kadeisha Buchanan

Club/country: Lyon/Canada
Age: 25
Position: Defender

Lyon’s decision not to release Kadeisha Buchanan for the SheBelieves Cup meant we missed out on seeing one of Canada’s biggest stars on the international stage, but it’s hardly surprising that the French side wanted to keep her close. The three-time Canada Player of the Year was named in the Best XI at the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying championship and has continued her success with Lyon in winning her fourth UWCL title, her fourth league title and her third French Cup. The 25-year-old has risen to the challenge of making a name for herself in Lyon’s star-studded side, too, with injuries to key players giving her the opportunity to show just how effective she is. The no-nonsense defender has already hit 100 caps for her country and will be crucial if Canada want to win gold at the Olympics this summer. — Kathleen McNamee

32. Amel Majri

Club/country: Lyon/France
Age: 28
Position: Midfielder

Amel Majri’s remarkable run with Lyon started when she was recruited by the club’s academy at 12. She now has seven UWCL titles, 10 league titles and eight French Cups to her name. Not bad for a 28-year-old. Like so many stars across Europe, she saw her 2019-20 league season cut short but she still managed to rack up five goals and six assists in 14 games. She watches all her games back to assess what she could have done differently and counts her selflessness with the ball as one of her top qualities. This self-awareness has allowed her to develop her precision crossing and passing that makes her so valuable for club and country. — Kathleen McNamee

31. Khadija Shaw

Club/country: Bordeaux/Jamaica
Age: 24
Position: Forward

Shaw was a star at the University of Tennessee, winning SEC Player of the Year as a senior in 2018, but spurned the NWSL Draft to try her luck overseas, joining French side Bordeaux in 2019. Shaw bagged 10 goals last season and is the league’s leading goal scorer this year. Former France defender Aline Riera said of Shaw last December: “She has a rare profile… athletic and very powerful with exceptional ball coverage, but also capable of incredible things with her feet because she has a very good technique and goes fast.” Her story is one of extreme mental strength, though, as she’s reached Europe and international acclaim in the face of great personal tragedy. Losing four brothers and two nephews while in college tested her resolve to stay in the U.S, or even continue with football, but the sport gave her focus and provided a refuge. — Lindsay du Plessis

30. Christiane Endler

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/Chile
Age: 29
Position: Goalkeeper

Few goalkeepers in soccer intimidate and awe quite like Endler. Not only is she 6-foot-1, but she’s utterly fearless. (Just ask the U.S. women: Endler was named player of the game in their World Cup clash despite the USWNT winning 3-0.) It hasn’t always been easy for Endler, who only reached her first World Cup in 2019. There, she received high praise from the hard-to-impress Hope Solo, who wrote in the Guardian: “Christiane is the type of spectacular athlete that every country should be looking for to tend the net. There were comments made … that women’s goals should be smaller because we are generally shorter than men but I keep telling people we’re not looking for average goalkeepers. We are looking for one in a million. For me, Christiane Endler is that one in a million.” It took nearly a decade into her career for her to make her name on the club stage with PSG. Now she’s one of the top stoppers in the world by any reckoning. — Lindsay du Plessis

29. Abby Dahlkemper

Club/country: Manchester City/United States
Age: 27
Position: Defender

There have been a few defenders that have had long careers in the U.S. women’s national team, from Joy Fawcett to Christie Pearce Rampone to Sauerbrunn. All the more reason to credit Dahlkemper for breaking into the side where her range of passing — former U.S. manager Jill Ellis once called here “a natural playmaker in the back” — and dominance in duels put her among the world’s best. A battle with sepsis in 2016 nearly halted her international career before it had started, but she’s always been a battler; it’s a testament to her ability that despite the fact that Manchester City has some of the best defenders in the world, she walked straight into the starting lineup upon arrival in January, 2021. — Jeff Carlisle

28. Lieke Martens

Club/country: Barcelona/Netherlands
Age: 28
Position: Forward

Crowned FIFA’s The Best in 2017, Martens still has much more to give. Gifted with technique, she enjoyed a 2020 in which every bit of contact she had with the ball seemed to be perfect. Injury has hampered the Barcelona forward in the past, but her elegant moves still bewilder opponents; her specialty is to sneak in from wide positions and curl the ball into the top corner with her magnificent shooting skills. Martens has talked in the past about how she struggled with playing football away from home from a young age, but her early difficulties have only led to an even stronger mentality. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see her climb up the rankings over the next few years. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Netherlands

27. Asisat Oshoala

Club/country: Barcelona/Nigeria
Age: 26
Position: Forward

Oshoala is probably Africa’s most accomplished female footballer, having won the CAF Women’s Player of the Year award four times, the latest in 2019. That was the year she signed with Barcelona, where she’s since won four titles and a UEFA Women’s Champions League runners-up medal. Oshoala is exceedingly accurate inside the penalty area and is always the teammate you want taking the final touch. Oshoala has continued to impress for the Catalan giants, averaging a goal per game since arriving in Spain, and now that Nigeria have reiterated their status as the premier women’s side on the continent, Oshoala is undeniably their premier player. — Lindsay du Plessis

26. Christen Press

Club/country: Manchester United/United States
Age: 32
Position: Forward

A year ago, Press was riding a massive wave of confidence. With Alex Morgan on pregnancy leave, the Stanford University grad scored five goals at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament and another two at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. Then the pandemic hit, halting her momentum after she opted out of playing for the Utah Royals. But as she’s done so often on the field, Press found an alternate path, and engineered a move to Manchester United in Sept. 2020 that allowed her to stay sharp. The move appears to have paid off beyond the pair of goals she’s scored for the Red Devils. At this year’s SheBelieves Cup against Brazil, Press scored on the kind of blast from distance that has been her hallmark. Granted, Press has been more of a super-sub at the past two World Cups, but given the compressed schedule at the Olympics, her talent will come in handy. — Jeff Carlisle

25. Caroline Weir

Club/country: Manchester City/Scotland
Age: 25
Position: Midfielder

The ridiculously talented Scottish attacking midfielder still surprises her teammates, and perhaps herself. Take a look at her goal against Manchester United in February. About 25 yards out from United’s goal, Weir sends the most gloriously weighted chip over Mary Earps’ head and into the net. The above goal was compared to Eric Cantona by Lucy Bronze, and then Glenn Hoddle by her City boss Gareth Taylor, but it’s nothing new for her, especially when it’s City-United.

“When it comes off, it does look quite good but if I thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have done it…” Weir said afterwards. “It was lucky for me it went in because I would have probably looked a bit stupid and I’d have probably been shouted at! When it went in though, everyone was buzzing!” — Tom Hamilton

24. Alex Popp

Club/country: Wolfsburg/Germany
Age: 29
Position: Forward

It was only fitting considering her status as a Germany legend that, on Mar. 3, 2021 vs. LSK Kvinner, it was Popp who scored twice to give Wolfsburg their 50th UWCL win — a feat only achieved by Lyon and Frankfurt. The two-time German Footballer of the Year was also the only Wolfsburg player to find the net during their 2019-20 UWCL final defeat to Lyon and has more than contributed to her side’s dominant domestic success. She scored 11 goals in 2019-20 and has four goals in the league so far this season, but what makes her such a top player is her presence on the pitch. She captained Germany to a near-perfect European qualification run that saw them score 46 goals and concede just once over eight games. With Germany one of the most impressive sides in the world right now, a return to their early European dominance will be on the cards for her next summer. — Kathleen McNamee

23. Lindsey Horan

Club/country: Portland Thorns/United States
Age: 26
Position: Midfielder

Horan’s ability as a box-to-box midfielder is so prolific that she easily makes this list. She can pass, defend and keep the ball under pressure, especially when she receives the ball from defense. Her late runs into the box are a weapon as well for both club and country, and she’s shown a knack for delivering big goals, such as the game-winner in the 2017 NWSL final. All the more surprising, then, that she was the odd woman out for the U.S. at the 2019 World Cup, losing her starting spot in the U.S. midfield to Sam Mewis. It’s a testament to the insane depth that the U.S. team possesses, and yet Horan could still force her way back into the lineup. With Mewis injured during the SheBelieves Cup, Horan proved that she still provides immense value to the U.S., playing in all three matches. She will undoubtedly be on the plane to Tokyo this summer. — Jeff Carlisle

22. Alexia Putellas

Club/country: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 27
Position: Midfielder

Putellas is a midfielder with a habit for scoring big goals. She’s already written herself into the history books at Barcelona by becoming the first woman to score goals at the Johan Cruyff stadium and Camp Nou. She netted the opening goal against local rivals Espanyol earlier this season when Lluis Cortes’ side played at Camp Nou for the first-ever time in a competitive match. Putellas has been a part of Barca’s first team since 2012, having previously spent a year at the club’s academy, and has witnessed first-hand the club’s transition into a professional team. During that time, she’s won four league titles and reached a Champions League final, developing into one of the finest midfielders in Spain. — Sam Marsden

21. Delphine Cascarino

Club/country: Lyon/France
Age: 24
Position: Midfielder

After being a substitute in the two finals before, Delphine Cascarino started the 2019-20 UWCL final and repaid Lyon manager Jean Luc Vasseur’s faith by winning Player of the Match. France manager Corinne Diacre was there, observing, on the day and noted that Cascarino tipped the balance by how she controlled the game. It is remarkable to think that this is the same player who didn’t even know there was a UWCL when she started playing. The 24-year-old is already being talked about as one of the best wingers in the world. Her contract with Lyon ends this summer and while she says she still has things she wants to achieve there after 11 years, it’s hard to think there won’t be interest from other top clubs. — Kathleen McNamee

20. Eugenie Le Sommer

Club/country: Lyon/France
Age: 31
Position: Forward

The 31-year-old attacker has returned double figures’ worth of goals for Lyon in each of the past 11 seasons, but has had to juggle roles given that Ada Hegerberg’s absence gave her a more central part in the French champions’ side this term. Like her France and Lyon teammates Wendie Renard and Amandine Henry, Le Sommer was also vocal in her criticism of life in the France camp under Corinne Diacre — who was accused of leading a French side in “total chaos” during the World Cup — but she continues to be one of the most influential and important players for club and country. She is France’s all-time top goal scorer on 86, five ahead of the great Marinette Pichon. After clinching a seventh Champions League title with Lyon, she said: “We’re not tired of winning. We’re not weary of it. There’s a lot of hard work and sacrifices day in, day out, but when you get the reward like that, then it’s worth it.” — Kathleen McNamee

19. Marie-Antoinette Katoto

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/France
Age: 22
Position: Forward

Katoto is a goal-scoring machine with one of the highest tallies (17) of any forward across the European leagues in 2020-21 so far. She’s been Division 1 Feminine’s top scorer for the past two seasons, so her appearance on our inaugural women’s rank is no surprise. Katoto, who started out as a defender, watched videos of Cristiano Ronaldo to perfect her skill and it shows when she’s on the pitch. Arguably, her most important moment with PSG came in November 2020, when she scored the only goal to snap Lyon’s 80-game unbeaten streak in the league. It took her just 10 minutes to find the back of the net that day and put her side on track for possibly their first league title. Did we mention she’s only 22? — Kathleen McNamee

18. Ji So-Yun

Club/country: Chelsea/South Korea
Age: 30
Position: Midfielder

Ji is a complete midfielder, chipping in with goals and assists, but then doubling that up with an unrelenting engine in defence alongside her ability just to keep everything ticking along. The South Korean international has been at Chelsea since 2014 and integral in their rise to one of Europe’s top teams. She’s been there through their three WSL title wins (2015, 2018, 2020) and their two FA Cup triumphs (2015 and 2018) and for all their new star signings and various stages of regeneration, she’s their constant. “Over the time the WSL has been in existence, she has by far and away been the most influential player,” Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said in January. “She has been part of the Chelsea journey that’s gone from absolutely nothing, to part-time, to full-time. She will be remembered as a Chelsea legend.” — Tom Hamilton

17. Jennifer Hermoso

Club/country: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 30
Position: Forward

With accomplished performances for Spain and Barcelona, Hermoso has become one of the top strikers in the world. After spells playing for Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid, the Madrid-born attacker returned to Barca for a second spell two years ago. She netted 23 times in 19 league games last season as Barca won the title for the first time since 2015. She’s carried that form into this campaign, scoring 16 goals in 16 games in the Primera Division, and has recently become the all-time top scorer for club (134) and country (42). On top of the goals, she often drops deeper to become a playmaker, feeding the likes of Asisat Oshoala and Caroline Graham Hansen ahead of her. That ability to occupy different pockets of space depending on what the game needs makes her almost impossible to defend against. — Sam Marsden

16. Amandine Henry

Club/country: Lyon/France
Age: 31
Position: Midfielder

Henry is one of those players who makes the fiercely difficult side of football look effortless. Her vision, positional awareness and ability to read and dictate the tempo of a match means she is sometimes the unsung hero of Lyon’s success.

Like her established Lyon teammates Wendie Renard and Eugenie Le Sommer, she has won it all on the domestic level but is still chasing those elusive international honours with France as the country’s captain. She’s not afraid to rock the boat at that level, having said the 2019 World Cup was “total chaos” under Corinne Diacre’s leadership. Despite the public criticism, Diacre included her in their December squad and she remains France captain. — Tom Hamilton

15. Rose Lavelle

Club/country: Manchester City/United States
Age: 25
Position: Midfielder

Lavelle is the USWNT’s very own Euclid, a master of geometry, finding the right angles to create attacking opportunities for her teammates. Need a way to break down a stingy defense? Lavelle is the player most likely to find a solution. She’s capable of popping up for vital goals too. She scored the clincher in 2019 World Cup final against the Netherlands, and more recently scored the vital goal in a 1-0 victory against Canada in the SheBelieves Cup. And she’s not afraid of new challenges either, securing a move to Manchester City along with international teammates Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper, where they are fighting it out with Chelsea atop the WSL table. About the only thing that has slowed Lavelle down over the years is injuries, and U.S. women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski has aimed to regulate Lavelle’s playing time in a bid to keep her healthy. But when she’s on the field, she’s a critical component to the U.S. attack. — Jeff Carlisle

14. Saki Kumagai

Club/country: Lyon/Japan
Age: 30
Position: Midfielder

Saki Kumagai is one of the best players, male or female, to ever come out of East Asia. She’s more than held her own at Lyon since she joined them in 2013 and her performances last season were proof. Not only did she score for Lyon in the UWCL final, her skill throughout the tournament was a joy to behold. Whether it was being a commanding presence in midfield or seemingly beating everyone around her to the ball, her work rate was second to none and 2021 could be her best year yet. With the Olympics coming up, she has stated her intentions for this year: win the gold medal on home soil. Said Kumagai recently, “nothing more and nothing less.” — Kathleen McNamee

13. Tobin Heath

Club/country: Manchester United/United States
Age: 32
Position: Midfielder

For much of her early career, Heath established a reputation as a maddeningly inconsistent player, plenty of flair with little end product. But starting in 2016, with the help of then-U.S. manager Jill Ellis, she put it all together. In the run to the 2019 World Cup, she was ever present, even though she didn’t score in the tournament itself. After getting a taste of European soccer earlier in her career with Paris Saint-Germain, in 2020 she moved to Manchester United, and impressed with her attacking prowess. She gave Casey Stoney’s impressive, youthful side an immediate injection of skill and experience. An ankle injury forced her to miss the SheBelieves Cup, and has her in a race against time to prove her form and fitness ahead of this summer’s Olympics. — Jeff Carlisle

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Kathleen McNamee is baffled at Chelsea’s Fran Kirby’s position in the ESPN FC Women’s Rank.

12. Fran Kirby

Club/country: Chelsea/England
Age: 27
Position: Forward

Kirby is one of the world’s finest players, but also a remarkable, inspirational figure. “In the course of my 25-year career, I’ve never seen a player transform their life as much as I’ve seen her … from a place of difficulty, disruption, despair, to joy, to gratitude, to application,” Chelsea boss Emma Hayes told ESPN. “So, we must celebrate her but we also must look after her. She’s a special, special talent.”

Kirby has had to cope with, and beat, the heart condition pericarditis last year that saw her miss nine months of football, but in the latter stages of the mentally exhausting process, she promised Hayes and her Chelsea teammates she’d return better than ever. If you want proof of this, just look at Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Bristol City in the recent Conti Cup final, where she scored two of Chelsea’s goals, and set up the other four. She recently signed a new deal through to 2023, and is desperate for further silverware there.

“I want to make sure that I keep pushing myself every day and as long as I keep doing that, I know that I’ll be in a good place,” Kirby said. — Tom Hamilton

MORE: How Fran Kirby beat heart disease to get back to the top

11. Wendie Renard

Club/country: Lyon/France
Age: 30
Position: Defender

The towering, 6-foot-2 centre-back is the rock of the all-conquering Olympique Lyonnais side as they continue to sweep all before them in Europe. She finished third at the 2020 FIFA Best Awards — behind winner Lucy Bronze and Pernille Harder — and was named UEFA Champions League defender of the season. While attackers typically receive the accolades, her consistent appearance in myriad football awards is a testament to how integral a role she plays. She’s won a remarkable seven Champions Leagues with Lyon, and 14 straight French top-flight titles, but she brings far more than mere defensive work. She is instrumental in Lyon’s transitional play and has chipped in eight top-flight goals — she’s a strong aerial threat when it comes to set pieces — this season. Her Lyon coach Jean-Luc Vasseur describes her as an “exceptional player” who “cannot be categorised and cannot be replaced.” — Tom Hamilton

10. Debinha

Club/country: North Carolina Courage/Brazil
Age: 29
Position: Forward

Like Marta, Brazil’s Debinha is small in stature (5-foot-2) but immense in talent. In the 2020 NWSL Fall Series, the North Carolina Courage veteran was the leading shot-taker, and second only to the great Christine Sinclair in goals scored. While football has been rare as the NWSL has yet to start, the striker scored twice for Brazil in the SheBelives Cup in February (making her 100th international appearance to boot) and four times in two games against Ecuador in November. But while Debinha does score goals, her value is as a complete player, with both attacking and defensive skills. Courage coach Paul Riley explained her development since 2017: “When she first came, the first couple of months she didn’t fancy playing both sides of the ball. That wasn’t going to work. She took ownership, she took accountability. I think you [can see] how many times she [comes] back behind a ball and defends for us and closes people down. She’s a complete player.” — Lindsay du Plessis

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Kathleen McNamee is ecstatic to see Barcelona and Norway’s ‘standout player’ Caroline Hansen in the top 10 of ESPN FC Women’s Rank.

9. Caroline Graham Hansen

Club/country: Barcelona/Norway
Age: 26
Position: Midfielder

On a Barcelona team packed with talent, Hansen still manages to stand out. The Norway international hugs the right touchline and is the source of most of her side’s attacks. She’s quick and skillful, but she seems to beat players without appealing to either of those qualities, gliding past defenders as if they weren’t there. Signed from German side Wolfsburg in 2019, she helped Barca wrestle back the title from Atletico Madrid last season and they’re unbeaten in the league this season, winning all 19 games to date. She netted seven times in her debut league campaign in Catalonia, cut short due to the pandemic, and has eight this term, but it’s her creativity that makes her one of the game’s best players. She has registered double figures for assists in both of her seasons at Barca and has emerged as Norway’s focal point in the absence of Ada Hegerberg. — Sam Marsden

8. Julie Ertz

Club/country: Chicago Red Stars/United States
Age: 28
Position: Midfielder

Most players move to more defensive positions as they get older. but Ertz is proving an exception to that rule. During the 2015 World Cup she was a mainstay in the centre of defense, so much so that she was named to the FIFA FIFPRO World XI for that year. But starting in 2017 she switched to midfield, where her tackling and positioning provided an effective shield in front of the U.S. back line on their way to repeating as World Cup champions. That continues to be the case for her country and her club, the Chicago Red Stars. She has even played as an attacking midfielder at times at club level. But regardless of where Ertz plays, one aspect of her game remains constant: she is an absolute menace on set pieces, having scored 16 of her 20 international goals from dead-ball situations. Despite the fact she opted out of the Fall Series, it shows just how valuable a player she was in 2020 that she makes it into the top 10. — Jeff Carlisle

7. Dzsenifer Marozsan

Club/country: Lyon/Germany
Age: 28
Position: Midfielder

When Phil Neville commented during the 2019 World Cup that Lucy Bronze was “the world’s best female player,” his star defender was quick to correct him. “The only player I could really compare her to is Kelly Smith. Dzsenifer has just got so much raw talent. I’ll never be able to hit a ball like she does. She’s so tricky and skillful,” Bronze said. The Germany international’s creativity on the ball has seen her contribute nine assists to Lyon in the league, putting her on track to surpass the 12 she created last season.

Whether she is with Lyon or Germany, there is a calmness about her when she’s on the ball and few defenders can match her. — Kathleen McNamee

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Julie Foudy believes Crystal Dunn is more than deserving of her top 10 place in the ESPN FC Women’s Rank.

6. Crystal Dunn

Club/country: Portland Thorns/United States
Age: 28
Position: Defender

Dunn’s strength is her versatility, and not in a “Zoolander” Blue Steel kind of way. At the youth level for the USWNT, she was deployed as a wide defender and a centre-back. As she moved through the collegiate and professional ranks, she utilised her speed, skill and field awareness in an attacking role, and in 2015 was the NWSL MVP after bagging 15 goals. But it was at the 2019 World Cup that Dunn showed off the full range of her skills. Asked by then-manager Jill Ellis to play left-back, Dunn excelled even as teams targeted her perceived inexperience in the role.

Could she play a more attacking role for any other team in the world? You bet. In fact, she’s penciled in to be an attacking midfielder this season for the Portland Thorns. But for the U.S., Dunn is borderline irreplaceable now on the left side of the American defence, with U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski showing no signs of playing her anywhere else. With her ability to get forward a weapon in attack, as well as her defending, she is firmly among the world’s best. — Jeff Carlisle

5. Lucy Bronze

Club/country: Manchester City/England
Age: 29
Position: Defender

Like her former Lyon teammate Wendie Renard, Lucy Bronze bucks the trend of attackers getting all the glory. In December, she became the first English player (male or female) to win FIFA’s The Best awards. She also was the first defender to receive the award and said at the time she was “proud” that her “name will be there for the rest of history now.” It certainly won’t be the only reason the 29-year-old makes history. Her three years with Lyon were complete with trophies, something she’ll be hoping to replicate this year with Manchester City. While a niggling injury meant it took her awhile to get settled into the season, her impact is not in doubt. Her passing rate is one of the highest in the league and with 81% accuracy she’s a driving part of City’s engine. In December, the English Football Association published a video with Bronze miked up during one of their national training games. It proved an invaluable insight into the leadership she shows off the ball as well as on, from shouting gaps she’d spotted to offering encouragement. — Kathleen McNamee

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Kathleen McNamee speaks about why UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Pernille Harder is rightly ranked at four.

4. Pernille Harder

Club/country: Chelsea/Denmark
Age: 28
Position: Forward

Whether receiving personal accolades or on the pitch, it seemed like Pernille Harder was everywhere in 2020. The Denmark captain made women’s football history when she became the most expensive player with her switch from Wolfsburg to Chelsea and it isn’t hard to see why Blues manager Emma Hayes wanted her so much. She won the German domestic double all four years she was with Wolfsburg and operated in a team stacked full of attacking prowess, much like Chelsea. That didn’t stop her scoring with 103 goals in 113 matches. She won her second consecutive Golden Boot at the end of the 2019-20 season with a mammoth 27 goals, the most for any player in the league since 2010. She hasn’t quite hit those heights in the WSL with seven goals and three assists, but what sets her apart is her movement and how she creates space for others around her. “She gives us options in a variety of attacking positions,” Hayes said. “Anywhere across the frontline, anywhere in an attacking-midfield role — she’s versatile.” — Kathleen McNamee

3. Vivianne Miedema

Club/country: Arsenal/Netherlands
Age: 24
Position: Forward

Miedema’s record-breaking 56 goals in the Women’s Super League tells you everything you need to know about her, especially as it took her just three seasons to set the league’s all-time scoring record. She is, without a doubt, one of the best finishers in the world. However, to measure Miedema by just her goals is not giving her enough credit. Her football intelligence is getting better with time, and in the past couple of games she showed how unselfish she is in front of the goal when a player is in a better position. She can provide assists with back-heels or a smooth chip, which leads to comparisons to the Netherlands’ greatest men’s strikers such as Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp.

With 71 goals in 93 international games for her country, she has scored by far the most goals in Dutch history. Even more impressive is that it took her only six years to reach this record. Because sometimes it seems to be forgotten, but Miedema is still only 24 years old. A phenomenon who is hungry for more. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Netherlands

2. Sam Kerr

Club/country: Chelsea/Australia
Age: 27
Position: Forward

As Sam Kerr wheeled and backflipped her way to the corner flag after scoring her second goal in the Continental Cup final, you couldn’t help but smile. Fans had waited a year to see her celebration, and it felt like the final piece of the puzzle for the striker who had broken scoring records in the NWSL and W-League. Her partnership with Fran Kirby this season has been second to none, and she’s just two goals behind Miedema in the WSL top scorer charts.

The Australia captain’s ability has never been in doubt, but it’s obvious something has clicked for her this season and she has gone from appearances off the bench to building a partnership to rival Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. Emma Hayes still wants more for her star forward, though, especially when it comes to her flips: “The second half of the flip was very sloppy. It would’ve been a 4.0 at the Olympics!” — Kathleen McNamee

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Sam Mewis shares her hopes for the future of the women’s game as the inaugural ESPN FC Women’s Rank winner.

1. Sam Mewis

Club/country: Manchester City/United States
Age: 28
Position: Midfielder

Mewis’ transformation from a player who didn’t make the 2015 USWNT World Cup or 2016 Rio Olympics squads, to someone who Vlatko Andonovski calls “a true example of what the USWNT stands for,” is remarkable. Her arrival to the Women’s Super League in August 2020 might not have been considered the most star-studded signing of the summer, but it arguably has had the most immediate and lasting impact. She slotted straight into Gareth Taylor’s starting lineup and has contributed a number of crucial goals, including in January when she scored the game winner in the FA Cup final for Manchester City. She now sleeps with the medal beside her bed. Add into this her sensational USWNT form. She scored her first career hat trick against Colombia, and while an injury kept her off of the SheBelieves squad, she will surely be one of the first names on Andonovski’s Olympic roster. Since Feb. 28, she has scored six goals — three in the league and three in the UWCL. There is no stopping this Tower of Power, and with City just two points off Chelsea in the league and an exciting quarterfinal against Spanish champions Barcelona, she could soon be sleeping with a few more medals beside her bed. — Kathleen McNamee



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