NWSL

10 influential figures in women's soccer

Lizzy Becherano
Megan Rapinoe stands as one of the most influential figures in women's soccer
Megan Rapinoe stands as one of the most influential figures in women's soccer / Richard Heathcote/GettyImages
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On international women’s day, we celebrate the past and present athletes who work hard to revolutionize women’s soccer both on and off the pitch. 

As the sport continues to grow, it’s important to recognize the figures who have led to its progress and ongoing success.

From Megan Rapinoe to Marta, here are 10 players who made an immense impact on women's soccer.

1. Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan has worked hard to become a recognizable name in sports / Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Alex Morgan: a name recognized anywhere in the world. 

After playing across the globe, Morgan is now setting a new foundation for NWSL expansion team San Diego Wave FC.

She’s become synonymous with the fight for equality and equal pay, pushing the limits for the next generation of American players. 

2. Nadine Angerer

Nadine Angerer
after retiring, Nadine Angerer has become a goalkeeping coach for Portland Thorns FC / Lewis Gettier/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Goalkeepers rarely get all the attention, but Nadine Angerer deserves it. After a stunning career spanning 20 years, she has since retired as one of the most impactful players of her position. She featured for Germany on 146 occasions, winning two FIFA World Cups, five UEFA European Football Championships, and three Olympic medals. 

She was also named 2013 FIFA World Player of the Year and the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Goalkeeper. Now, she stands as the inspiration and leader for a new generation by serving as the goalkeeping coach for NWSL side Portland Thorns.

3. Sun Wen

Wen Sun kicks the ball
Sun Wen has become a figure in women's soccer / Jonathan Ferrey/GettyImages

The Chinese player was named FIFA Female Player of the Century in 2000 for her contributions on the pitch. She spent most of her career in the Chinese women’s league, scoring 164 goals in 659 appearances between 1989 and 2000. 

With the Chinese national team, she managed 106 goals in 163 appearances while leading the team to a golden medal at the Olympics. Individually, she won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 1999 FIFA World Cup.

4. Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith
Arsenal Ladies' Kelly Smith changed the game / Ben Hoskins/GettyImages

This list would not be complete without one of the greatest English female soccer players of al -time.

Between 2005 and 2009, she recorded 73 goals in 66 appearances for Arsenal Ladies. On international duty, she finished her career with the second-most goals scored in England's national team history with 46 in 117 caps. 

Now, she has become the voice of women’s soccer by featuring in match transmissions, and commentating on BBC Sports to continue pushing the global conversation around women's soccer.

5. Ada Hegerberg

Ada Hegerberg
Ada Hegerberg changed women's soccer / Catherine Steenkeste/GettyImages

Hegerberg stands as one of the most talented Norwegian female soccer players of all time. 

Since joining Olympique Lyonnais in 2014, the striker has recorded 152 goals in 128 appearances.  She holds the record for most goals in a single UEFA Women’s Champions League season with 15 goals, as well as the most goals in UEFA Women’s Champions League overall with 56 goals. In 2018, she made history by winning the first ever Ballon d’Or Féminin.

The player has also taken a stand for women’s football to demand change. In 2017, Hegerberg decided to stop representing the Norway national team as a form of protest due to a dispute with the NFF.

6. Lauren Hemp

Lauren Hemp
Lauren Hemp is slowly becoming an iconic figure with Manchester City / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Lauren Hemp is changing the game.

The young Manchester City player has become one of the most talked about players in the WSL and UEFA Champions League at only 21 years old. She’s scored 18 goals in 53 appearances for the team so far. 

The striker was named England Young Player of the Year in 2016, and more recently earned the title of PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year on three consecutive occasions.

7. Trinity Rodman

Trinity Rodman
Trinity Rodman has become the highest paid NWSL player at just 19 years old. / Omar Vega/GettyImages

At only 19 years old, Rodman is revolutionizing the NWSL. In 2021, the Washington Spirit selected Rodman as the second overall pick to make her the youngest player ever drafted into the NWSL. 

She has since then lifted the championship trophy with the Spirit, scoring eight goals in 29 appearances throughout the season. Rodman’s involvement on the pitch has led her to push women’s soccer forward by signing the largest contract in league history.

Rodman also recently debuted for the USWNT during the 2022 SheBelieves Cup.

8. Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe has become synonymous with the future of women's soccer / Brad Smith/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Rapinoe’s work on and off the field has made her a modern day hero of women’s soccer. She has become one of the biggest voices in the fight for equal pay and representation, while breaking records as a forward on the pitch too. 

She’s made a name for herself around the world, featuring in the NWSL, Australian W-League, Division 1 Féminine and the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Rapinoe has also led the USWNT to two World Cup trophies and two Olympic medals. She has recorded 62 goals and 71 assists in 187 appearances, and will not stop there. 

Rapinoe was also named the recipient of the Ballon d’Or Féminin in 2019.

9. Marta

Marta
Marta holds the record for most goals scored in a World Cup ever / Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Marta can be regarded as one of the greatest female soccer players of all time. She began her career in 2000, at only 14 years old. Her club career has taken her around the globe, kicking off with Vasco de Gama before jetting to Sweden, Brazil and the United States. 

Internationally, the six-time FIFA World Player of the Year became the first footballer to score in five consecutive Olympic Games. Marta also holds the record for most goals scored at a World Cup with 17, making her the all-time goalscorer in the tournament.

She’s recorded 114 goals for Brazil in 170 appearances since 2002, representing her country at five World Cups.

10. Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm revolutionized the USWNT / David Madison/GettyImages

Mia Hamm is considerably one of the most influential figures in women’s soccer. During her time with the USWNT between 1987 and 2004, Hamm recorded 158 goals in 276 appearances. She led the American team to two gold medals and one silver at the Olympics, and two FIFA Women’s World Cup trophies. 

Individually, Hamm won the U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year on five consecutive occasions and FIFA World Player of the Year twice. 

Off the pitch, she made commercial appearances and took up public speaking to force the conversation around the exposure for female athletes. Hamm advanced media opportunities to drive women’s soccer into its deserving spotlight.

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