The Americans are at the top of ESPN’s women’s rankings in history, although there is strong competition for the top spots in the world. ESPN

While 2020 could be getting in the way of women’s football of anything, the unions and clubs are fighting to get players back on the pitch and let us play exciting games while we all sit at home. In 2021, global enthusiasm for the game has never been greater. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer League is about to return in all its glory – starting April 9 – while in Europe, championship matches are expected in the final stages of the Champions League and in the major leagues.

What more do you want? Well, we here at ESPN FC and espnW wanted to appreciate and honor some of our favorite players with our first Top 50 Women’s title.

How hard is it to name the best players in the world in a year as messy as the last? Maybe. But we felt it was important to celebrate the achievements of the leagues, clubs and players who have worked hard and sacrificed to get back on the pitch. Even with the effects of the COWID-19 pandemic, it was a record year for women’s soccer.

The NWSL became the first professional sports league to return to the U.S. with a new competition (the Challenge Cup) that was so successful it was added to the 2021 schedule, while the Women’s National League (with a little help from its men’s counterparts) reversed the trend of declining leagues and completed the 2019-20 season last summer.

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Julie Foudy expects the NWSL to return to strength after a wave of player transfers to England.

There was much excitement in England this summer when not one, but five US Women’s World Cup (USWNT) champions decided to join the Women’s Super League. Chelsea have broken the record for female transfers by bringing Pernille Harder (spoiler alert: she tops this list) from Wolfsburg to London.

In the Champions League, Lyon proved that they are still the team that won their fourth title in a row last August. But the French side’s dominance is already in jeopardy, with Paris Saint-Germain unbeaten in 80 league games this season and well on their way to winning their first home game (and ending Lyon’s 12-game winning streak).

Experts from around the world involved in women’s soccer voted to write our first issue. With confident voices from inside and outside of ESPN, we’ve compiled all the votes into the top 50 players you see below.

And then something about the rankings themselves: Some stars played a full season in 2020, while others are just getting back into the swing of things after the league lockout. It was important to our committee that individual achievement and talent not only be rewarded with cups and trophies. You may not agree with some of the reviews, and that’s okay. We also had several debates around the (virtual) office. — Kathleen McNamee

50. Ellen White

Club/Country: City of Manchester / England
Age: 31
Position: Before

Even at 31, blanks are inevitable when it comes to goals. She is fifth in the Women’s Super League (WSL) with eight goals this season, but she is one of the best at turning every half chance into a goal – all to earn points. She was top scorer at the 2019 World Cup along with Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, and she’s as accurate as ever: She scored a hat-trick for England against Northern Ireland in February, her first international in 11 months.

At club level, she helped City qualify for the 2020 FA Cup and was embroiled in a thrilling duel with Arsenal’s Miedema for the WSL goalscoring record. Miedema is at 56 and White is behind at 55. She is a leader and always wants to score goals, England interim boss Hege Riese said after her hat-trick against Northern Ireland. She’s always looking for runners in the box. — Tom Hamilton.

More: Women’s Super League reaches historic multi-million dollar television deal

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Julie Foudy says getting 50 points is bad enough for Manchester City’s Ellen White.

49. Jackie Groenen

Club/Country: Manchester United/Netherlands
Age: 26
Position: Midfield

Dutch fans call Greens a hoover because she does a job no one likes: In the midfield, that means picking up anything that moves and putting in a lot of miles to give her teams the tools to succeed. But don’t underestimate Greens. She is a master on the field and at 26 years old, the world of football is at her feet. She is the missing link at Manchester United and has contributed to everything since her arrival in May 2019, including scoring goals. And who could have scored his goal in the 99th? Forgot the first minute of the 2019 World Cup semi-finals? Like his toys, he was a legend. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Nederland

48. Daniel van de Donck

Club/Country: Arsenal/Netherlands
Age: 29
Position: Midfield

There aren’t many players more resilient than the Arsenal playmaker, who rarely lets his coach and team down. The 29-year-old midfielder plays with passion, works hard and covers a lot of ground. She’s the player every coach wants, not only because she provides a lot of assists, but because their teams function better as a unit when she’s on the field. Although she played a more defensive role at Arsenal, her role in the Netherlands gives her much more freedom in attack, which she prefers. Even at 1.70m tall, Van de Donk can get past the tallest defender with a header. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Nederland

47. Asllani kosovar

Club/Country: Real Madrid/Sweden
Age: 31
Position: Before

Kosovar Aslanni arrived in Spain in the summer of 2019 as part of Real Madrid’s spending programme to prepare for the newly promoted Tacon in 2020 (since renamed Real Madrid Femenino). David Aznar’s star player, a creative and silky midfielder, has already scored 12 goals this season and helped Los Blancos climb from 10th place last year to a battle for second place this season. Madrid’s next task is to compete with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who have been the dominant women’s team in Spain for more than a decade. Aslani, who has become a role model for the Swedish immigrant community because of her Kosovar heritage, is at the heart of this mission. — Sam Marsden.

46. Steph Houghton

Club/Country: City of Manchester / 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 captained the club to the 2016 WSL Championship and three FA Cups. While her leadership skills are never in question, she is also developing her game. This season, until the 19th. March, Houghton has the most passing yards in the WSL (8,582 total yards, tied with Alex Greenwood for second with 7,828 yards), has the most touches on the ball (1,457) and by far the most carries (1,075). Add them together and you get the picture of a complete protector, a catalyst for everything the city does. said City Manager Gareth Taylor : It is at the forefront of its implementation. She carried the team through the good times and the bad. — Tom Hamilton.

45. Becky Sauerbrunn

Club/Country: Portland Thorns/USA
Age: 35
Position: Defender

Consistency and reliability are not words usually associated with greatness, but for Sauerbrunn they are as apt as any description of his play and presence on the team. Choosing position as a central defender and reading the game have long been her strengths, allowing her to stay two or three steps ahead of the opponent, although what she once described as her speed, she can still use when necessary. It wasn’t until the 2015 World Championships in the United States that she secured a spot on the grid. Sauerbrunn has since become a household name, however, and as captain she will want to lead her team to its first-ever Olympic and World Cup competition for women. — Jeff Carlisle

44. Lena Gessling

Club/Country: Wolfsburg/Germany
Age: 35
Position: Midfield

Lena Gessling has been at the top of German football for almost a decade. That is why many were shocked when Wolfsburg announced in February that she would not be renewing her contract after the summer. The 36-year-old had just won her sixth women’s Bundesliga title, played in her fifth UWCL final in eight seasons and won her seventh German Cup. As part of Wolfburg’s restructuring this year, she was offered a coaching role off the ice, but she says she has at least two more years of playing time left. – Kathleen McNamee.

43. Eva Pajor

Club/Country: Wolfsburg/Poland
Age: 24
Position: Before

Ewa Pajor started her career at the age of 15, making her the youngest player in the history of the Polish top division. Although her young talent was quickly exposed when she joined Wolfsburg in 2015, her rise has not been easy. Wolfsburg director Ralf Kellermann said a slow and cautious path to the first team had been crucial to his success, adding that he had not yet reached his full potential. She finished the 2018-19 season with a career-high 24 goals – the top scorer in the Women’s Bundesliga – and an average of one goal every 79 minutes.

Pandemic and knee injury was caused by a sprain in 2020, but as his re-entry against SV Meppen at 7. March – 267 days since her last league goal – says it all, she’ll be back to her best in no time. – Kathleen McNamee.

42. Beth England

Club/Country: Chelsea/ England
Age: 26
Position: Before

England are one of the top scorers in the WSL, which is no mean feat given the quality of the competition. Her drive is remarkable – she describes herself as a builder – and in six years she has gone from a passable left-back to one of the best strikers in world football. She ranks third in assists per 90 minutes (0.63) and third in goals per 90 minutes (0.62). She competes with world-class strikers like Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder and Erin Cuthbert for a place in the Chelsea attack. She helped achieve key goals, scoring in the 2020 Conti Cup final and knocking out Chelsea last season, including a win over Manchester City in December 2019 (the first win over City in five years), earning her WSL Player of the Season in June 2020 and PFA Player of the Year in September. — Tom Hamilton.

More: Women’s sports face a surprising barrier to entry: Equipment designed for men.

41. Christiane Guirelli

Club/Country: Juventus/Italy
Age: 30
Position: Before

Juventus striker Cristiana Guirelli has not stopped scoring since her hat-trick against Jamaica at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The 30-year-old finished the 2019-20 season as champion with Juventus Turin and led Italy to the 2022 European Championships as runner-up, all thanks to her goal-scoring streak : Girelli led the Serie A with 16 goals in 16 games and eight goals for the Azzurri in 10 qualifying games. Girelli also leads by example on the pitch and plays an important role in the development of Italian women’s football towards full professionalism. — Kathleen McNamee

40. Megan Rapinoe

Club/Country:
Age: 35
Position: Before

At this point in Rapinoe’s career, there don’t seem to be many worlds left to conquer. She won two World Championships (2015, 2019) and an Olympic gold medal (2012), but Rapinoe is still hungry for more hardware. There was a time when she was best known for her passing skills – who can forget her pass to Abby Wambach against Brazil at the 2011 World Cup? — Although for a long time there was a smart and creative side to their game. Rapinoe’s profile outside the field has risen thanks to her leading role in American women’s struggle for equal pay, as well as her support for social justice issues. On the field, despite spending much of 2020 dealing with a coronavirus pandemic, she scored three goals at the 2021 Believers’ Cup and hopes to score more at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. — Jeff Carlisle

More: How athletes like Rapinoe inspire long-term action.

39. Kim Little

Club/Country: Arsenal/Scotland
Age: 30
Position: Midfield

Few midfielders are as productive in attack as they are when their team doesn’t have the ball, as they run to the goal, score important goals and pass the ball. She was named in the 2020 PFA squad – one of three Arsenal players along with Leah Williamson and Vivienne Miedema – and is still one of the most influential players in the WSL. She was the only WSL player to make the UWCL team, reaching the European elite. USE Great Hope Solo considers Malo the most talented player she has ever played with, with her passing, vision and technical ability [the best] in the world. Very few people have won five League titles and three FA Cups at Arsenal. — Tom Hamilton.

38. Alex Morgan

Club/Country: Orlando Pride/USA
Age: 31
Position: Before

Given Morgan’s excellent play over the past decade, it’s a surprise at first glance to see him in 38. But in 2020, Morgan had to withdraw from the game due to her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter Charlie last May. Meanwhile, Morgan was hit with a coronavirus pandemic caused by COVID-19 late last year. A knee injury also limited her time in 2020, but 11 years after her U.S. debut, Morgan is still one of the great players with her speed and goal-scoring ability. His 108 international goals are good for fifth on the American list and ninth in the world. Her legend was further enhanced this year when she travelled the world with her baby Charlie to join Tottenham and get more game time after giving birth.

The road back to her best form has not been easy for Morgan, but given that she has always performed at critical moments in the past, whether it was at the 2012 Olympics or in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Championships, Morgan is in a good position to try and win a second Olympic gold medal – Jeff Carlisle.

More: Lessons for Team USA from the Shebelia Cup: Is Morgan ready for the Olympics?

37. Melanie Leipols

Club/Country: Chelsea/Germany
Age: 26
Position: Midfield

The timing of Melanie Leipol’s arrival at Chelsea could not have been worse. The former Bayern Munich captain and two-time women’s Bundesliga winner has signed on 23. March 2020 in London – ten days after the VFL suspended it due to a coronavirus pandemic. She didn’t make her league debut until August, but she slid into Chelsea’s midfield like she was made for the role. In a team full of attackers, his solid passing and consistent defensive work was a quiet asset. The standards they set every day on the training ground are just uncompromising, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes told The Times of London. Their attention to detail in restoration and everything else is second to none. — Kathleen McNamee

36. Kadidiatou Diani

Club/Country: Paris Saint Germain/France
Age: 25
Position: Before

Lyon have dominated the French scene for several seasons now, but Paris Saint-Germain’s willingness to spend big money on players like Diane shows why Lyon’s hegemony may not last. Despite interest from Lyon, she decided to stay in Paris and extended her contract in May 2020, becoming the second highest paid footballer in the world. (Her contract, worth nearly $400,000 for the season, was signed only by Norway’s Ada Hegerberg.) The 25-year-old celebrated her 100th birthday in March. Afterwards, he commented that the team was determined to push Lyon to the limit, something they had failed to do in previous years. She’s played a big part in that this season, scoring 12 goals and having the most nine assists.

Her versatility between the first and second halves of the pitch, her speed and her dribbles have made her a key player for France, alongside her three goals in their successful 2022 European Championship qualifying campaign. — Kathleen McNamee

35. Martha

Club/Country: Orlando Gordo/Brazil
Age: 35
Position: Before

Martha, like Beyoncé or Pelé, is only recognizable by her name. One of only four active players to have scored over 100 international goals (the others being Alex Morgan, Carly Lloyd and Christine Sinclair), the Brazilian striker is the GOAT in yellow and blue. Her fast feet have made her a sensation in the various leagues she has played in, from Sweden to Brazil to the United States to the WUSA and NWSL. The 35-year-old has a record that rivals any other in football. She is top scorer of the World Cup (17), played in four editions and was named FIFA World Player of the Year six times.

His Brazilian teammate Cristian said in February about Marte: It’s probably the biggest in the history of football. We are very happy that the Brazilian has achieved all this. Despite limited playing time last year due to COVID-19, she led Brazil to second place in the 2021 Believers’ Cup, scoring a penalty against Argentina and a goal against Canada. Pride, which Marta has always had a hard time with, will hope to achieve her goal in her fifth season when Brazil once again hands her the bracelet on her way to her fifth Olympics. — Lindsay du Plessis.

34. Magdalena Ericsson

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

The Chelsea captain is one of the best defenders in the world, both in terms of her leadership qualities and her form. Magda and I are united in our ambitions for this club, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said of Ericsson, who she believes will be a successful coach when she hangs up her boots. She’s a great leader, and we both understand that to consistently win trophies, we need to create a culture of daily wardrobe norms. We do our best not to be smug.

His rise at Chelsea is all the more impressive when you consider he only got there in 2017. She ranks second in the WSL (behind Steph Houghton) in total passing yards (5,889 yards) and progressive passing yards (105, behind Chloe Kelly’s 117). Talk about the trading game: He ranks third in the WSL in passing yards and has the fifth most touches on the ball (1,269), with most passes coming in the middle third of the field. She is a glue player, a reliable option who starts every game and coaches the team. Eriksson was at the heart of Sweden’s efforts to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup, and she is also an ardent advocate of diversity and equality off the field. When asked to describe herself in three words on iPaper in November, she said: On the field, a reliable leader, a winner. Off the field, 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 Cadeisha Buchanan for the Believers’ Cup meant we missed the chance to see one of Canada’s biggest stars on the international stage, but it’s no surprise the French team wanted to keep her. The three-time Canadian Player of the Year was named to the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying XI and continued her success in Lyon, where she won her fourth UWCL title, her fourth league title and her third French Cup. The 25-year-old took on the challenge of making her mark and that of the Lyon team. Injuries to key players have given her a chance to show how effective she is. The relentless defender has already played 100 games for her country and will be crucial if Canada is to win gold at the Olympics this summer. — Kathleen McNamee

32. Amel Majri

Club/Country: Lyon/France
Age: 28
Position: Midfield

Amel Majri’s remarkable journey at Lyon began when she was admitted to the club’s academy at the age of 12. She now has seven UWCL world titles, ten championships and eight French cups to her name. Not bad for a 28-year-old. Like many other European stars, her league season was cut short in 2019-20, but she still managed to score five goals and six assists in 14 games. She looks back on all her games to see what she could have done differently, and considers her dedication to the ball one of her greatest qualities. This self-awareness has allowed her to develop the precision in her flanks and passing that makes her so valuable to her club and country. — Kathleen McNamee

31. Khadija Shaw

Club/Country: Bordeaux/Jamaica
Age: 24
Position: Before

Shaw was a star at the University of Tennessee and was named SEC Player of the Year in 2018, but turned down the NWSL draft to try her luck abroad and join French team Bordeaux in 2019. Shaw scored 10 goals last season and is the league’s top scorer this year. Former French defender Aline Riera said of Shaw last December: She has a rare profile…athletic and very powerful with exceptional ball coverage, but she can also do incredible things with her feet because she has great technique and is fast. Her story is one of extreme psychological power, having achieved European and international recognition despite great personal tragedies. The loss of four brothers and two cousins while in college tested her resolve to stay in the United States or even continue playing football, but the sport gave her direction and protection. — Lindsay du Plessis.

30. Christian Endler

Club/Country: Paris Saint Germain/Chile
Age: 29
Position: Goalkeeper

Few goalies in football are intimidated and in awe of Endler. Not only is she six feet tall, but she’s not afraid of anything. (Just ask the Americans: Endler was named player of the match at the World Cup, despite the USWNT’s 3-0 victory). It hasn’t always been easy for Endler, who didn’t make it to his first World Cup until 2019. There she received praise from the elusive Solo Hope, writing in the Guardian: Christian is the kind of spectacular athlete that every country should be trying to get on the gridiron. It has been said…that the goals for women should be smaller because we are smaller than men, but I keep saying that we are not looking for average goalkeepers. We’re looking for one in a million. For me, Christian Endler is unique. It took him almost a decade of his career to make a name for himself on the club circuit with PSG. Either way, it is now one of the best stops in the world. — Lindsay du Plessis.

29th Abby Dahlkemper

Club/Country: Manchester City/USA
Age: 27
Position: Defender

Several defenders have had long careers on the U.S. women’s national team, from Joy Fawcett to Christy Pierce Rampone at Soerbrunn. All the more reason to praise Dulkemper as one of the best playmakers in the world with her passing – former US coach Jill Ellis once called her a natural playmaker on defense here – and her dominance at tackle. Sepsis in 2016 almost ended her international career before it had even started, but she has always been a fighter; it’s a testament to her abilities that she was immediately in the base at Manchester City when she arrived in January 2021, playing against some of the best defenders in the world. — Jeff Carlisle

28. Leek Marten

Club/Country: Barcelona/Netherlands
Age: 28
Position: Before

Voted FIFA’s best player in 2017, Martens still has a lot of work to do. Technically gifted, she enjoyed a 2020 year where every touch of the ball seemed perfect. The Barcelona striker has been plagued by injuries in the past, but her elegant moves continue to amaze opponents. His specialty is to come in from wide positions and curl the ball into the top corner with his excellent shooting skills. Martens said she had struggled to play football from home from a young age, but her early struggles only strengthened her mentality. So don’t be surprised if it moves up the rankings in the coming years. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Nederland

27. Asisat Oshoala

Club/Country: Barcelona/Nigeria
Age: 26
Position: Before

Oshoala, arguably Africa’s most successful female footballer, has been named CAF Female Footballer of the Year four times, most recently in 2019. That year she signed for Barcelona, where she has since won four titles and finished second in the Women’s Champions League. Oshoala is extremely accurate in the penalty area and is always the teammate you want to see finish. Oshoala continues to impress at the Catalans, averaging over a game since his arrival in Spain. And now that Nigeria has confirmed its status as the best women’s team on the continent, Oshoala is undoubtedly their most important player. — Lindsay du Plessis.

26. Kristen Press

Club/Country: Manchester USA/USA
Age: 32
Position: Before

A year ago, the press had a huge surge of confidence. While Alex Morgan was on maternity leave, the Stanford University graduate scored five goals in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifier and another two in the 2020 Shebelia Cup. Then began the pandemonium that arrested her after she refused to play for the Utah Royals. However, as is so often the case on the pitch, Press found another way and secured a move to Manchester United in September 2020, keeping him at the top. The change seems to have paid off with the few goals she scored for the Red Devils. In this year’s SheBelieves Cup against Brazil, a goal from distance was the hallmark of the press. Press was more of a supersub at the last two world championships, but given the tight schedule of the Olympics, his talent will come in handy. — Jeff Carlisle

25. Caroline Weir

Club/Country: City of Manchester/Scotland
Age: 25
Position: Midfield

The ridiculously talented Scottish attacking midfielder continues to surprise his teammates and perhaps himself. Look at their goal against Manchester United in February. About 25 yards from United’s goal, Weir sent a beautifully balanced throw over Mary Earps’ head and into the net. The above goal was compared by Lucy Bronze to Eric Cantona, and then by Glenn Hoddle to Gareth Taylor, their manager at City, but that’s nothing new to them, especially when it comes to City United.

It looks good when you take it off, but if I had thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have done it, Weir said afterwards. I’m lucky he came in, because I probably would have looked ridiculous and been yelled at! But when she came in, everyone was overjoyed! — Tom Hamilton.

24. Alex Popp

Club/Country: Wolfsburg/Germany
Age: 29
Position: Before

Especially given his status as a German legend, Popp has had the most success of the three. March 2021 against LSC Kwinner with two goals Wolfsburg on the 50th anniversary. UWCL victory – a feat only achieved by Lyon and Frankfurt. The two-time German Player of the Year was also the only Wolfsburg player to score a goal in the 2019-20 UWCL final loss against Lyon and more than contributed to her team’s dominant victory. She has scored 11 goals in 2019-20 and has four league goals so far this season, but what makes her such a good player is her presence on the field. This led to a European qualifying campaign in which Germany scored 46 goals in eight matches and only conceded one. Germany, now one of the world’s most formidable teams, will likely return to their former European dominance next summer. — Kathleen McNamee

23. Lindsey Horan

Club/Country: Portland Thorns/USA
Age: 26
Position: Midfield

Horan’s skills as a boxing midfielder are so pronounced that he easily makes this list. She can pass, defend and keep the ball under pressure, especially if she gets the ball from the defense. Her late runs into the penalty area are a weapon for club and country, and she has shown a knack for achieving big goals, such as winning the 2017 NWSL final. All the more surprising because she was the underdog at the 2019 World Cup, losing her starting spot in the US midfield to Sam Mewis. It’s a testament to the insane depth of the American team, and yet Horan can get it back on track. With Mewis injured in the SheBelieves Cup, Horan proved she is still a valuable asset to the U.S. by playing in all three games. No doubt she will be on a plane to Tokyo this summer. — Jeff Carlisle

22. Alexia Putellas

Club/Country: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 27
Position: Midfield

Poutellas is a midfielder who has the talent to score big goals. She has already made history in Barcelona by becoming the first woman to score at the Johan Cruyff Stadium and Camp Nou. Earlier this season she scored the first goal against local rivals Espanyol when Lewis Cortes’ side played their first league game at the Camp Nou. Putellas has been part of Barca’s first team since 2012, after spending a year in the club’s academy, and he has seen the transition to the professional team up close. In this period she won four league titles and reached the final of the Champions League, becoming one of the best midfielders in Spain. — Sam Marsden.

21. Dauphin Cascarino

Club/Country: Lyon/France
Age: 24
Position: Midfield

Delphine Cascarino, who had already featured as a substitute in two finals, was part of the starting eleven for the 2019-20 UWCL final and rewarded Lyon manager Jean Luc Vasseur’s confidence with the Player of the Match award. French manager Corinne Diacre was there that day as an observer and noted that Cascarino controlled the match and tipped the balance. Remarkably, this is the same player who didn’t even know there was a UWCL when she started playing. The 24-year-old is already considered one of the best wingers in the world. Her contract at Lyon expires this summer, and although she says she still wants to impress there after 11 years, it’s hard to believe other top clubs won’t be interested. — Kathleen McNamee

20. Eugénie Le Sommer

Club/Country: Lyon/France
Age: 31
Position: Before

The 31-year-old has scored in double figures in each of the last 11 seasons for Lyon, but has had to juggle roles as Ada Hegerberg’s absence has given him a central role in the French champion’s team this season. Like her French and Lyon teammates Wendy Renard and Amandine Henry, Le Sommer has been critical of life in the French camp under Corinne Diacre, who is accused of leading the French team into total chaos during the World Championships, but she remains one of the most influential and important players for the club and the country. She is France’s top scorer in 86th place, five points ahead of the great Marinette Pichon. After winning her seventh Champions League title with Lyon, she said: We’re not tired of winning. We’re not tired of it. It’s a lot of work and sacrifice, day in and day out, but when you get rewards like that, it’s worth it. — Kathleen McNamee

19. Marie Antoinette Cato

Club/Country: Paris Saint Germain/France
Age: 22
Position: Before

Katoto is a scoring machine, with one of the highest number of goals (17) of any striker in the European leagues in the 2020-21 season so far. She was Division I’s top scorer for the past two seasons, so her presence on our first women’s rankings is no surprise. Catoto, who started as a defender, has been watching videos of Cristiano Ronaldo to hone her skills, and it shows when she’s on the pitch. Perhaps PSG’s finest moment came in November 2020, when they scored the only goal against Lyon during an 80-game unbeaten run in the league. It only took her 10 minutes to get the ball in the net and put her team on the road to what could be their first championship. Did we mention she’s only 22? — Kathleen McNamee

18. Ji So-yun

Club/Country: Chelsea/South Korea
Age: 30
Position: Midfield

Ji is a complete midfielder who scores goals and gives assists, but also doubles them with relentless effort in defense, as well as his ability to get things done. The South Korean international joined Chelsea in 2014 and has been an integral part of the club’s development into one of the best teams in Europe. She has been involved in three WSL wins (2015, 2018, 2020) and two FA Cups (2015 and 2018), and despite all the new recruits and various regeneration periods, she has been their constant. She has been the most influential player in the existence of the WSL, Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said in January. It was part of a trip to Chelsea that went from nothing at all, to an incomplete, to a full day’s work. She will be remembered as a Chelsea legend. — Tom Hamilton.

17. Jennifer Hermoso

Club/Country: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 30
Position: Before

Thanks to his achievements in Spain and at Barcelona, Hermoso has become one of the top scorers in the world. After periods at Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid, the Madrid striker returned to Barça for his second spell two years ago. She played 23 times in 19 league games last season as Barca won the title for the first time since 2015. She has maintained that form this season with 16 goals in 16 Primera División games and was recently named club top scorer (134) and the country’s top scorer (42). In addition to her goals, she often dives in to act as a playmaker, feeding players like Asisat Oshoala and Caroline Graham Hansen for her. This ability to occupy different areas depending on the needs of the game makes them almost impossible to defend. — Sam Marsden.

16. Amandine Henry

Club/Country: Lyon/France
Age: 31
Position: Midfield

Henry is one of those players who makes a difficult aspect of football seem effortless. Her vision, sense of position and ability to read and dictate the rhythm of the game have at times made her the unsung hero of Lyon’s success.

Like her Lyon teammates Wendy Renard and Eugenie Le Sommer, she has won everything at the national level, but is still chasing the elusive international honor as captain of the French national team. She’s not afraid to make a difference at this level. The 2019 World Cup was total chaos under Corinne Diacre. Despite public criticism, Diacre included her in his December squad and she remains captain of the French team. — Tom Hamilton.

15. Rose Lavelle

Club/Country: Manchester City/USA
Age: 25
Position: Midfield

Lavelle is the Euclid of the USWNT, a master of geometry who finds the right angles to create offensive opportunities for his teammates. Do you need a way to break down a hard defense? Lavelle is the player most likely to find a solution. She is also capable of achieving life goals. She scored the decisive goal in the 2019 World Cup final against the Netherlands and recently scored a crucial goal in the 1-0 win over Canada in the Veterans Cup. And she’s not afraid of new challenges either. Along with national teammates Sam Mewis and Abby Dulkemper, she has joined Manchester City to battle Chelsea in the WSL standings. The only thing that has slowed Lavelle down over the years are injuries, and U.S. women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovsky has tried to regulate Lavelle’s playing time to keep her healthy. But when she’s on the field, she’s a key part of the American offense. — Jeff Carlisle

14. Saki Kumagai

Club/Country: Lyon/Japan
Age: 30
Position: Midfield

Saki Kumagai is one of the best players, male and female, in East Asia. Since joining them in 2013, she has more than held her own at Lyon and her performances last season are testament to that. Not only did she score a goal for Lyon in the UWCL final, but her skills were a joy to watch throughout the tournament. Whether it was her presence in the midfield or her ability to beat everyone around her with the ball, her work rate was second to none and 2021 could well be her best year. As the Olympics approach, she has stated her goal for this year: to win a gold medal on home soil. Kumagai said recently, no more and no less. — Kathleen McNamee

13. Tobin Heath

Club/Country: Manchester USA/USA
Age: 32
Position: Midfield

For much of her early career, Heath showed herself to be an incredibly inconsistent player with a lot of talent but little end product. But as of 2016, she put all her eggs in one basket with the help of then-American manager Jill Ellis. She was omnipresent in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup, even though she didn’t score a goal at the tournament itself. After getting a taste of European football at the start of her career at Paris Saint-Germain, she joined Manchester United in 2020, where she impressed with her attacking skills. This allowed Casey Stoney’s impressive young team to gain skills and experience immediately. An ankle injury forced her to miss the Chevelle Cup, forcing her to race against the clock to prove her fitness and ability for this summer’s Olympics. — Jeff Carlisle

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0:59

Kathleen McNamee is baffled by the position of Chelsea’s Fran Kirby in the ESPN women’s rankings.

12. Fran Kirby

Club/Country: Chelsea/ England
Age: 27
Position: Before

Kirby is one of the best players in the world, but he’s also a wonderful and inspiring character. In my 25-year career, I’ve never seen a player’s life change as much as I’ve seen him from a place of hardship, brokenness, despair, to joy, to gratitude, to application, Chelsea boss Emma Hayes told ESPN. So we need to celebrate them, but we also need to care for them. She has a special, special talent.

Last year Kirby battled pericarditis that kept her out of football for nine months, but in the final stages of that gruelling process she promised Hayes and her Chelsea teammates that she would return stronger than ever. Just look at Chelsea’s 6-0 victory over Bristol City in the recent Conti Cup final, in which she scored two goals for Chelsea and accounted for the other four. He recently signed a new contract until 2023 and desperately needs to keep winning trophies.

I want to make sure I push myself every day, and as long as I do that, I know I’ll be in a good position, Kirby said. — Tom Hamilton.

MORE: How Fran Kirby gave everything to get back on top.

11. Wendy Renard

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

The imposing 6ft 3in centre striker is the rock of Lyon’s Olympic team, which continues to crush all its predecessors in Europe. She finished third behind Lucy Bronze and Pernilla Harder at the 2020 FIFA Awards and was named UEFA Champions League defender of the season. Although strikers are usually rewarded, their constant presence in various football awards is testament to the integral role they play. She has won seven league titles with Lyon and 14 consecutive titles in the French top division, but she brings much more to the table than just defensive work. She plays a key role in Lyon’s changeover game and has already scored eight goals this season – she is a powerful aerial threat when it comes to setting up game situations. Her coach at Lyon, Jean-Luc Wasser, describes her as an exceptional player who cannot be pigeonholed or replaced. — Tom Hamilton.

10. Debinha

Club/Country: Courage of North Carolina/Brazil
Age: 29
Position: Before

Just like Marta, the Brazilian Debinha is small in stature (1.70m) but full of talent. In the 2020 NWSL Fall Series, the North Carolina Courage senior was the leading scorer and the second leading scorer behind the great Christine Sinclair. While soccer was scarce because the NWSL had not yet started, the striker scored twice for Brazil in the SheBelives Cup in February (she became the 100th seeded player in the world) and four times in two games against Ecuador in November. But although Debinha scores goals, her value lies in the fact that she is a complete player, with both attacking and defensive skills. Courages coach Paul Riley explained their evolution since 2017: When she arrived, she didn’t want to play either side of the ball for the first two months. It didn’t work. She has taken her responsibilities, she has taken her responsibilities. I think you [see] how often she comes back for the ball, defends for us and shuts down the others. She’s a complete player. — Lindsay du Plessis.

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Kathleen McNamee is delighted that Barcelona and Norway international Caroline Hansen is in the top ten of the ESPN FC women’s rankings.

9. Caroline Graham Hansen

Club/Country: Barcelona/Norway
Age: 26
Position: Midfield

In a Barcelona team full of talent, Hansen still manages to stand out. The Norwegian international organization follows the line of the right and is the source of most attacks on its side. She’s fast and skilled, but she seems to beat players without using those qualities, sliding past defenders like they weren’t there. He came over from German club Wolfsburg in 2019 and helped Barca recapture the title from Atletico Madrid last season. They are undefeated in the league this season, winning all 19 games. In her first campaign in the Catalan league, which was interrupted by the pandemic, she played seven times and was substituted eight times, but it was her creativity that made her one of the best players in the game. In her two seasons at Barca, she was represented by double figures and became the Norwegian coordinator when Ada Hegerberg was absent. — Sam Marsden.

8. Julie Ertz

Club/Country: Chicago Red Stars/USA
Age: 28
Position: Midfield

Most players move to more defensive positions as they get older. But Ertz appears to be an exception to that rule. She established herself in the center of defense at the 2015 World Cup, so much so that she was named in that year’s FIFPro World XI. But since 2017, she has moved to midfield, where her selection and positioning have made her an effective shield for the U.S. defense on its way to another World Cup. This is the case for their country and their club, the Chicago Red Stars. At club level, she has even played as an attacking midfielder at times. But no matter where Ertz plays, one aspect of his game remains the same: It is an absolute danger in standard situations. She scored 16 of her 20 international goals on dead balls. Even though she gave up playing in the fall series, the fact that she finished in the top 10 shows how valuable she was as a player in 2020. — Jeff Carlisle

7. Zenifer Marozsan

Club/Country: Lyon/Germany
Age: 28
Position: Midfield

When Phil Neville commented during the 2019 World Cup that Lucy Brons was the best player in the world, his star defender quickly corrected him. The only player I can compare her to is Kelly Smith. Zenifer has so much raw talent. I could never hit a ball like she did. She’s so smart and capable, Brons said. With her creative approach to the ball, the German international has already provided nine assists for Lyon in the league, surpassing her 12 from last season.

Whether at Lyon or in Germany, when she has the ball she is a certainty and there are few defenders who can compete with her. — Kathleen McNamee

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Julie Foudy thinks Crystal Dunn has more than earned her place in the top 10 of the ESPN FC Women’s Ranking.

6. Crystal Dunn

Club/Country: Portland Thorns/USA
Age: 28
Position: Defender

Dunn’s strength is his versatility, not the blue steel of Zoolander. She was used as an outside and center back in USWNT’s youth. After moving through the collegiate and professional ranks, she used her speed, skill and knowledge of the field in an offensive role and was named NWSL MVP in 2015 after allowing 15 goals. But it wasn’t until the 2019 World Championships that Dunn showed the full extent of his skills. Dunn was instructed by then-manager Jill Ellis to play at left back and succeeded, although teams referred to her as inexperienced in that role.

Can he play a more offensive role for another team in the world? Don’t doubt it. In fact, she has become the attacking midfielder for the Portland Thorns this season. But for the U.S., Dunn has become irreplaceable on the left side of the U.S. defense, and U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski is not hesitant to use her elsewhere. With her ability to push the weapons both offensively and defensively, she is among the best in the world. — Jeff Carlisle

5. Lucy Bronze

Club/Country: City of Manchester / England
Age: 29
Position: Defender

Like her former Lyons teammate Wendy Renard, Lucy Bronze is becoming increasingly popular with strikers. In December, she became the first English player (male or female) to be named FIFA’s best player. She was also the first defender to receive the award and said at the time that she was proud that her name would be preserved for the rest of history. Of course, that’s not the only reason the 29-year-old is in the story. Her three years at Lyon were rich in trophies, something she wants to repeat this year with Manchester City. While this cut took some time to adjust to the season, the impact is undeniable. Her success rate is one of the highest in the league, and with 81% accuracy, she is City’s driving force. In December, the English Football Association released a video of a bronze microphone during a national team training match. This proved to be an invaluable insight into the leadership she displays at the ball, whether pointing out shortcomings or encouraging. — Kathleen McNamee

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Kathleen McNamee explains why Pernille Harder was rightly named one of the four UEFA Women Footballers of the Year.

4. Pernille stiffer than

Club/Country: Chelsea/Denmark
Age: 28
Position: Before

Whether it was in personal embraces or on the field, it seemed that Pernille Harder would be everywhere in 2020. The Danish forward made history in women’s football by becoming the most expensive player on her switch from Wolfsburg to Chelsea, and it’s easy to see why Blues manager Emma Hayes wanted her so badly. They have won Germany’s home double against Wolfsburg for four years now and operate in a team full of attacking power, much like Chelsea. That didn’t stop them from scoring 103 goals in 113 games. At the end of the 2019-20 season, she won the Golden Boot for the second year in a row with an impressive 27 goals, the most for a player in the league since 2010. With seven goals and three assists, she has yet to reach that height in the WSL, but what sets her apart is her mobility and the way she creates space for others around her. It gives us different ways to attack, Hayes said. Anywhere, behind the front line, anywhere as an attacking midfielder – she is versatile. — Kathleen McNamee

3. Vivianne Miedema

Club/Country: Arsenal/Netherlands
Age: 24
Position: Before

Midema’s record of 56 goals in the Women’s Super League tells you everything you need to know about her, especially since it only took her three seasons to set the record. She is without a doubt one of the best finishers in the world. But judging Midema on her goals alone does not give her enough credit. Her footballing intelligence has improved over time and in recent games she has shown how unselfish she is in front of goal when a teammate is in a better position. She can lend a hand with the heel or the leg, which is why she has been compared to top Dutch strikers like Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp.

With 71 goals in 93 appearances for her country, she may be the most prolific scorer in Dutch history. Even more impressive, it only took him six years to achieve this record. Because sometimes we seem to forget, but Midema is only 24 years old. A phenomenon that strives for more. — Sjors Grol, ESPN Nederland

2. Sam Kerr

Club/Country: Chelsea/Australia
Age: 27
Position: Before

When Sam Kerr ran to the corner flag and turned around after her second goal in the Continental Cup final, she couldn’t help but smile. Fans have been waiting for him all year and it was like the final piece of the puzzle for a striker who broke records for goals in the NWSL and W-League. Her partnership with Fran Kirby has been unbeatable this season and she is just two goals behind Midema in the WSL scoring charts.

The Australian captain’s talent has never been in doubt, but this season she has clearly clicked and gone from a staple on the bench to a partnership that can rival Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. But Emma Hayes always wants more for her star striker, especially when it comes to her flips: The second half of the flip was very sloppy. At the Olympics, he would have had a 4.0! — Kathleen McNamee

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Sam Mewis shares her hopes for the future of women’s soccer as the first winner of the ESPN FC women’s title.

1. Sam Muiz

Club/Country: Manchester City/USA
Age: 28
Position: Midfield

Remarkably, Mewis has gone from a player who didn’t make the 2015 USWNT World Cup team or the Rio 2016 Olympics to a player who Vlatko Andonovski calls a true example of what the USWNT stands for. Their arrival to the Women’s Super League in August 2020 may not have been considered the most high profile signing of the summer, but it may have had the most immediate and lasting impact. She was part of Gareth Taylor’s starting eleven and scored several important goals, including the FA Cup final for Manchester City in January. Now she sleeps with the medal next to her bed. Add to that his sensational form with the USWNT. She scored her first hat trick against Columbia, and although an injury kept her off the SheBelieves team, she will surely be one of the first on Andonovsky’s Olympic team. Since February 28, she has scored six goals – three in the league and three in the WSCL. With a two-point lead over Chelsea in the league and an exciting quarter-final against Spanish champions Barcelona, they could soon be sleeping with a few more medals next to their bed. — Kathleen McNamee

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