The USWNT best XI of the 2010s

(Left to right) Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger were all integral to the USWNT this decade. But did they all make the XI? (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
(Left to right) Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger were all integral to the USWNT this decade. But did they all make the XI? (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The U.S. women's national team finished the decade the same way it started: ranked as the No. 1 team in the world.

But what makes the USWNT's dominance so remarkable is that players came in and out over the past 10 years, but the team identity always stayed pretty much the same.

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As we close out this 10-year period, here is a look at the players who defined the U.S. and comprise the USWNT's best XI of the decade.

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo

Love her or hate her, there's no one else who could take her place on this list. The 2010s saw Solo set a new world record for the most shutouts at 102 and she was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper on the planet. At the 2015 World Cup, she was instrumental to the USWNT's victory, going 540 minutes without conceding a goal at the tournament.

Her stint with the USWNT ended unceremoniously in 2016 after she said the Swedish team played like “a bunch of cowards” at the Olympics, and she may be remembered by some fans more for her off-field issues, which dotted her entire career with the team. But she was a darn good goalkeeper, and would be in contention for an all-time best list of USWNT players.

Left back: Kelley O'Hara

This is perhaps the most difficult choice to narrow down and, unlike other positions in this best XI, it's not because there are so many good options. The USWNT, for all its depth, hasn't had a great selection of left backs over the years who have managed to stick. Going into the 2019 World Cup, the team didn't really have any – the starter, Crystal Dunn, has played as a forward and attacking midfield for pretty much her entire career.

Dunn would be a fine choice here. Meghan Klingenberg, the left back who played every minute of the 2015 World Cup, which the USWNT won, is another strong choice. But we have to go with O'Hara, who played left back every minute of the 2012 Olympics, where the USWNT won gold.

O'Hara is the only choice available to have won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal. The irony, of course, is that she was an off-the-bench midfielder at the 2015 World Cup and a right back at the 2019 World Cup. But no matter – she still belongs as the top left back.

Kelley O'Hara's efforts at the 2012 Olympics sealed her spot at left back on the all-decade team. (Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images)
Kelley O'Hara's efforts at the 2012 Olympics sealed her spot at left back on the all-decade team. (Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Center back: Christie Rampone

Christie Pearce, better known by Rampone over the past decade, has been one of the long-running players on the USWNT. Although her career started to wind down halfway through the decade, it's hard to ignore her impact as a leader of the team. She was frequently the player charged with organizing the back line, directing traffic in-game and giving pep talks to younger players. 

She captained the USWNT to the 2011 World Cup final, which the Americans lost but ended up being a turning point in the team's popularity. In 2015, she became the oldest player to appear in a Women's World Cup at 40 years (until Brazil's Formiga beat the record in 2019). 

Center back: Becky Sauerbrunn

Sauerbrunn's USWNT career fits neatly into the past decade. She broke through into the national team late in her career, making it as a late addition to a 2010 roster at 25 years old only after another player was injured. She kept getting call-ups and soon established herself as a steadying presence on the back line.

Never known for being the fastest defender on the field, Sauerbrunn swept up oncoming attacks with her impeccable positioning and spatial awareness. Add in her solid distribution and effective communication, and it's no wonder she played key roles in the USWNT sides that won World Cups in both 2015 and 2019. 

Right back: Ali Krieger

Although her addition to the 2019 World Cup roster came as a surprise that boosts her credentials as the best right back of the decade, she probably would've been the choice at this spot anyway. The memory that probably sticks with fans most is in 2011, when Krieger buried the decisive penalty kick against Brazil in one of the most dramatic games in World Cup history. 

But Krieger has been a dependable, hard-working presence for the USWNT over the years, which explained her last-minute call-up for the 2019 World Cup. As a strong 1v1 defender comfortable pushing up the field and providing service in the attack, she has been an influential fullback over the years. 

Defensive midfield: Shannon Boxx

There haven't been too many players on the USWNT in the mold of Boxx over the years, and her retirement after the 2015 World Cup certainly left a big hole that wasn't filled until coach Jill Ellis moved defender Julie Ertz up the midfield.

Boxx was a marauding destroyer, adept at snuffing out oncoming attacks and disrupting the midfield so much that opposing teams couldn't get into a rhythm. But with a powerful shot and a willingness to push forward, she tended to unbalance defenses who weren't prepared for her.

It's difficult to put together a list like this and not include Lauren Holiday, who was sensational at filling whatever roles the USWNT needed, be it as a defensive midfielder or an attacking one. But there was never a better defensive midfielder over the past decade than Boxx, and when it comes to the attacking side, it's impossible to leave the next person off this list.

The disruptiveness of Shannon Boxx (7) in the midfield was valuable to the USWNT. (ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP via Getty Images)
The disruptiveness of Shannon Boxx (7) in the midfield was valuable to the USWNT. (ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Attacking central midfield: Carli Lloyd

At the start of the decade, no one might've believed that Lloyd would eventually become the best player in the world and almost single-handedly lead the U.S. to not just a World Cup but an Olympic gold medal. Well, no one except for Lloyd herself, of course.

Before the decade began, she did score the game-winning goal at the 2008 Olympics, but she didn't take over that tournament like she eventually would the tournaments in 2012 and 2015. Interestingly, she only played at the 2012 Olympics because Shannon Boxx got injured in the opening game, but Lloyd played like a woman out to prove her coach wrong, and she scored both goals in the gold medal match.

But the 2015 World Cup was Lloyd's pièce de résistance. Her hat trick within the first 15 minutes of the final against Japan will go down in history as one of the defining moments of USWNT history, and she rightfully was named FIFA's player of the year afterward.

Left wing: Megan Rapinoe

Without Rapinoe's spectacular 2019, she may not have been the top choice here with players like Tobin Heath and Amy Rodriguez being worthy of consideration for one of the forward spots on this list. That's not to say Rapinoe wasn't in contention anyway – her left-footed delivery to Abby Wambach against Brazil in 2011 is probably the greatest and most important cross in U.S. Soccer history.

But her 2019 was earth-shattering. It almost goes without saying at this point, but Rapinoe carried the USWNT on her back, both on the field and off the field, en route to a comprehensive and dominant World Cup victory.

Right wing: Heather O'Reilly

O'Reilly's influence on this decade may not be quite what it was in the previous one, but she still earns her place on this list. She delivered the cross to Alex Morgan in 2012 that turned into the latest goal in Olympic soccer history and sealed a last-gasp win over Canada. And she was part of the 2011 World Cup team that fell short but changed the way Americans looked at the USWNT.

As workhorse who never stopped running and digging, former coach Pia Sundhage called her attitude “contagious” and, even after O'Reilly was relegated to a bench role, she was still the player in the locker room pumping everyone up. Indeed, it was difficult to see O'Reilly confined to the bench at the 2015 World Cup and as a practice player at the 2016 Olympics, but O'Reilly's positive attitude was a key part of the team's identity.

Heather O'Reilly's play and personality boosted the USWNT even after she was largely confined to the bench. (Photo by Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images)
Heather O'Reilly's play and personality boosted the USWNT even after she was largely confined to the bench. (Photo by Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images)

Striker: Alex Morgan

Morgan always seemed to be destined for stardom and a starting role with the USWNT. At the start of the decade, Morgan was a “super sub,” despite her protests to then-coach Pia Sundhage, and she managed to impact games anyway. She scored a crucial qualifying goal that allowed the USWNT to eke out a spot at the 2011 World Cup, and then she scored in the tournament's final, helping the U.S. force penalty kicks against Japan.

As a starter, her last-gasp goal in the semifinal of the 2012 Olympics is still considered one of the greatest moments in USWNT history. And despite her tournament-topping six goals at the 2019 World Cup, it's not all about the goals with Morgan. Adept at hold-up play, combining around the box and stretching defenses, Morgan has always made the players around her better, even when she's not scoring herself.

Striker: Abby Wambach

Forget the team of the decade – Wambach would make an all-time best XI, and not just for the USWNT but the world. With 184 international goals, the most of any man or woman in the sport, Wambach sits in the pantheon of soccer.

Wambach's career did end halfway through the decade as she retired after the 2015 World Cup, but she packed a lot in. Her goal against Brazil in 2011 is considered the greatest goal in U.S. Soccer history, rivaling only perhaps Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup (although Wambach's was technically more impressive). And without her contributions, the USWNT wouldn't have won their 2012 gold medal.

In many ways, Wambach was the player who defined the USWNT most over the past decade. The team's style was dictated by her presence up top, and remnants of that directness remain even though she's gone.

Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

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