These Americans are trying to stop the U.S. national team from winning the FIFA Women's World Cup
PARIS – Whatever the outcome of the Women’s World Cup this summer, there is an indisputable fact in soccer’s female circles. The United States, whether it adds a fourth world title to its historic haul or not, has the strongest and deepest pool of talent in the game.
The flagship is the national team, spearheaded by the likes of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, and among the favorites as it seeks to defend its trophy on July 7. Yet nothing quite smacks of depth and dominance as much as the reality that there are a bunch of Americans who will play in the World Cup this summer – for non-American teams.
Miranda Nild is one of them. A skillful forward for Cal in the Pac 12 and a lifelong admirer of the U.S. national team, Nild, 22, will face off against the Americans for Thailand in Reims on Tuesday night. She qualifies for the Southeast Asian nation as a result of her heritage – her father originally hails from Bangkok – and she will be backed by a noisy and passionate group of supporters during the tournament.
“It is insane the amount of support I have,” she told FOX Sports. “My family and boyfriend are here, they are even taking sides against the U.S.. It is incredible.”
For Nild, this World Cup could potentially be the springboard to a professional career, or be the end of the road. The National Women’s Soccer League has less than 200 playing spots, and competition for places is tough, though there is nothing like the global audience of a World Cup to serve as a potential platform.
“Hopefully I will play good enough that there will be some teams reaching out,” she added. “I would love to just play soccer for as long as I can.”
Another American, Kennesaw State goalkeeper Tiffany Sornpao, is also on the Thailand roster. At the start of the year, Sornpao was planning to come to France on vacation to watch the tournament. Now, she is part of the actual roster.
“Five months ago I was hyped just to be able to go to France and watch a (World Cup) game,” she tweeted. “Five months later I make the roster to be in the (World Cup).”
“It says everything about the strength of our program and of women’s soccer in America in general,” U.S. midfielder Lindsay Horan said. “There are a ton of players who work hard and make sacrifices but don’t quite get to national team level. It is great for them to be able to still have a chance at a World Cup.”
The spread of American soccer talent can be likened in some ways to Brazil in the men’s game. Hundreds of Brazilian players move overseas to play for club teams and some end up settling in their new homes, before going on to play for the national team of those countries. Spain’s Diego Costa is perhaps the most notable example.
On the women’s side, other nations have found talent by researching the NCAA college ranks, although sometimes the contact is initiated by the players themselves. New Zealand captain Ali Riley grew up in Los Angeles dreaming of playing for the U.S. and was even sat behind the goal when Brandi Chastain’s iconic kick clinched the 1999 championship at the Rose Bowl.
When she was in high school, her dad, a New Zealander, reached out to that country’s federation after hearing it was hoping to expand its women’s program.
“That was the start of it,” Riley said. “It has led to an incredible adventure.” This will be Riley’s fourth World Cup, while she has also traveled all through the South Pacific on international duty and become a popular figure in New Zealand sporting circles. She currently plays for Chelsea in England’s Women’s Super League.
There are more. Ryann Torrero is a full-time Los Angeles fashion model who will be part of the Chilean roster for the tournament. Playing for her mother’s homeland has given her a chance to connect with another part of her family history. “My home is the United States, I am comfortable here, I enjoy the culture here,” Torrero told the Urban Pitch podcast. “But at the same time I definitely have an entire other side that I know to be home as well.”
Another goalkeeper, England’s Karen Bardsley, was born in Santa Monica and raised in Chino Hills, 40 miles east of Los Angeles. For her, representing England continues to be a way to maintain a connection with her parents, who are still “extremely British” in personality even after spending so long in California.
While the Americans on other rosters have taken a different journey to those on the U.S. team, there is still a communal sense of understanding.
“Those players have our respect,” U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara said. “Part of having a successful career is about chasing your dream and finding a way to make it happen. Playing a World Cup is a dream for everyone.”