From Mary Fowler to Vicky López: nine set to light up women’s football

The buildup to a World Cup is full of anticipation and, with less than six months to go, there are many questions still to be answered. Who will book a seat on the plane? Who will miss out? Will there be any surprises?

One thing is for sure, there is an incredible number of impressive youngsters coming through and that was highlighted in 2022, a year of multiple youth tournaments. Here we pick out nine young players who could break through on to the biggest stage.

Vicky López (16): The Prodigy Madrid-born López is the talk of Barcelona since signing last summer. She made her debut for the Spanish champions in December and became their youngest goalscorer, against Levante. An attacking midfielder with an abundance of skill, she was the puppet master in Spain’s Under-17 2022 World Cup win, picking up the Golden Ball award. This year’s senior tournament may come too soon, but she is one to keep an eye on.

Lauren James (21): The Inevitable Talent Any WSL fan will be aware of James’s raw talent. It was clear from the moment she took to the field for Arsenal at 16. Her record-breaking move from Manchester United to Chelsea in 2021 was headline-worthy, but it is this season that patience has paid off. Her natural skill, quick feet and vision have left some of Europe’s best defenders lying in her wake. A place in the Lionesses’ World Cup team seems almost a certainty.

Mary Fowler (19): The Next Big Thing Fowler burst into Australia’s senior team at 15 years old and has never looked back. Joining Montpellier gave her a flavour of European football before making the move to Manchester City last June. An intelligent forward who is adept at finishing with both feet, she went to the 2019 World Cup before travelling to Tokyo 2020, scoring spectacularly against Team GB in the Matildas’ quarter-final win. A home tournament beckons, the perfect opportunity to show exactly what she is about in Australia and beyond.

Linda Caicedo (17): The Teenage Sensation Last year was quite something for Colombia’s teenage sensation. The 17-year-old forward represented her nation in three age categories, making her mark along the way. In July, she was named the Copa América’s best player as Colombia finished runners-up. She went straight to the Under-20 World Cup before captaining the under-17s at the World Cup in India. Colombia lost to Spain in the final with Caicedo finishing as joint top-scorer. Another big 12 months await with Colombia heading to Australia and New Zealand. Domestically, she remains at Deportivo Cali, but has been heavily linked with a move to Europe that will surely come sooner rather than later.

Alyssa Thompson (18): The No 1 Pick Thompson was the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue in January as she became the youngest player to be drafted in the NWSL. Highly rated, the California native will play at Angel City next season. A fast forward, she has shone at youth level, scoring three goals and picking up a gold medal at last year’s Concacaf Under-20 Championship. She is very much part of Vlatko Andonovski’s thinking, making her senior debut against England at Wembley last October.

Maika Hamano (18): The Japanese Technician Chelsea gained the signature of one of Japan’s brightest young stars last month as Hamano made the switch from Kobe Leonessa. A forward with an abundance of technical flair, she shone at last year’s Under-20 World Cup. Her four goals and one assist helped Japan pick up the silver medal while she took home the Golden Ball. Hamano will spend the season on loan at Hammarby in Sweden where she will be hoping her performances put her in Futoshi Ikeda’s mind as he considers his World Cup squad.

Melchie Dumornay (19): The Haitian Superstar Haiti are not often at the forefront of football conversation, but they do possess one of the world’s most exciting talents. Dumornay has set the international stage alight, winning Best Young Player at last summer’s Concacaf W Championship. The pacy midfielder recently secured her dream move to Lyon from Stade de Reims – she joins the French champions in the summer – and will be at the heart of Haiti’s challenge for a World Cup place at the inter-confederation playoffs in Auckland this month.

Haiti’s Melchie Dumornay at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship.
Haiti’s Melchie Dumornay at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship. Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Esther Onyenezide (19): The Super Falcons’ Future Nigeria’s Onyenezide is one of a handful of young prospects making the breakthrough into senior football. A two-footed midfielder capable of many a moment of magic, she put in some stellar performances for her country at the Under-20 World Cup. The Falconets topped their group of France, South Korea and Canada with Onyenezide notching three goals and two player-of-the-match performances. She made her senior debut against the USA in September and has a real chance to continue her development with Nigeria going to Australia.

Gio Queiroz (19): The Brazilian Starlet There was plenty of anticipation in north London when Arsenal signed Gio last summer. An established member of Brazil’s national team, the teenager has caught the eye in the past few years. A skilful runner with an ability to play anywhere across the front three, she arrived in the WSL already an Olympian and with a Copa América title to her name. Spending the first half of the season on loan at Everton, she has taken her time to adapt to the league. She returned to the Gunners in January, making her debut against Leeds .

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A goal that gets better every time you watch it. Lauren James’s strike for Chelsea against Tottenham on Sunday was one that just summed her up. Her strength and skill with the ball at her feet were a sublime combination as she left defenders in her wake.

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