The United States women's soccer team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal on Thursday when it defeated Japan 2-1 in the final and avenged its loss to the Japanese in last year's World Cup. While veterans such as Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd were key to the win, many other players emerged throughout the tournament.
Team USA is by far the deepest and most talented team in the world, and its mix of grizzled veterans and exuberant youngsters went a long way in helping it succeed. It became abundantly clear that the Americans are a force to be reckoned with in the present, but they have plenty of reasons for optimism in the future as well.
Here are three young players who turned in fine performances during the London Games and promise to be the faces of United States women's soccer down the line.
Which player is the true future of American women's soccer?
Most probably already consider forward Alex Morgan to be one of the best players in women's soccer, but this tournament marked the first time she was used as a starter on the big stage.
Her synergy with Wambach was incredible throughout the Olympics, as she used her pure speed and skill to play off Wambach's power and physicality. Morgan tied for fifth in the tournament with three goals, and she set up Lloyd beautifully with a cross for the first marker of the gold-medal match.
Morgan has immense offensive ability and is only going to get better. She is already a huge threat and one of the best pure goal scorers in the world, but she has the potential to be the best women's soccer player in the world, period.
She is extremely marketable because of her unquestioned skill and good looks, so all signs point to Morgan becoming the face of women's soccer across the globe in the very near future and for a long time to come.
Forward Sydney Leroux was the only new addition to the American team compared to the World Cup squad, but she didn't seem out of place in the least. Leroux acted mostly as a high-energy substitute who would enter late in games to provide a spark.
The 21-year-old, Canadian-born player was especially vital in a 4-3 win over her home country, as she allowed Team USA to utilize a 4-3-3 attack that led to the tying goal, as well as the winning goal in extra time of overtime.
Wambach hasn't shown any signs of slowing down or wanting to retire, but Leroux would seem to be the heir apparent for her spot. Leroux and Morgan are fairly similar players with a lot of flair, and they would probably make a very dangerous striker duo up top.
For now, Leroux will play the super sub role like Morgan did during the World Cup in Germany, but it is only a matter of time before she is a key player.
Midfielder Tobin Heath may not have quite the amount of substance that someone like Megan Rapinoe does at this juncture, but it was referenced multiple times during Team USA games that head coach Pia Sundhage believes that Heath is the future of American women's soccer.
Her contributions aren't as evident on the stat sheet as players such as Rapinoe, Wambach, Morgan and others, but she seems to make excellent, subtle plays in each and every game that contribute to a winning effort.
With that said, Heath is perfectly capable of getting noticed as well. I'm not sure that any player on the American team has better ball skills than Heath, as she has proven capable of ball-handling her way out of a phone booth and often sends defenders spinning.
Heath has all the skill in the world and can be an elite flanking midfielder if she can continue to improve her services. With Rapinoe as a mentor, I don't think that will be a problem.
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