The United States women’s national team finished 2012 in spectacular fashion, going 28-1-3 and winning an Olympic gold medal in London.
And, with two of the world’s best strikers in Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, things continue to look bright for the team.
However, should either succumb to injury or with Wambach feeling the effects of an aging body, here are six young Americans who could be ready to step into their places.
Maya Hayes started to work her way into the consciousness of USWNT fans when she scored 31 goals in 2011 to lead NCAA Division I during her sophomore season at Penn State.
In 2011, Hayes was also one of three finalists for the Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top soccer player in the country, and a first-team All-American.
This fall, the forward helped the U.S. to the U-20 World Cup title in Japan, leading the team with four goals in the tournament.
In the 2012 college season, Hayes helped lead Penn State to the national title game and was named a first-team All-American again. Despite missing a part of the 2012 season due to her duties with the U-20 national team, Hayes still scored 16 goals.
Kealia Ohai is another player who burst onto the scene in 2012 with her performances for the U.S. team during the 2012 U-20 World Cup.
Ohai’s tireless running down the flank in the U.S.’ 4-3-3 was certainly impressive, but the true gift that Ohai possesses is that ever rare combination of both speed and technical skill.
In addition, Ohai’s competitiveness can only truly be appreciated by watching her over 90 minutes. She chases down every ball, works incredibly hard to win the ball back immediately after her team loses possession and works back very well defensively.
Ohai scored the game-winning goal in the U-20 World Cup final and finished the tournament with two goals and two assists.
In the 2012 College Cup with the University of North Carolina, Ohai scored the game winner in overtime of the semifinals as well as the opening goal for UNC in their national final victory over Penn State.
She has finished all three of her seasons with UNC as the team’s leading scorer.
Ohai also finished 2012 with both a U-20 World Cup win and a NCAA national championship—not too shabby.
If Crystal Dunn is not playing with the United States women’s national team as a forward in the next year of two, it will most likely be because she is playing on the team’s back line.
Dunn may be the most versatile player coming up through the youth ranks of the U.S. women’s program right now.
While Dunn has played for the University of North Carolina as a forward, attacking midfielder and center back, Dunn started at right-back for the U.S. team that won the 2012 U-20 World Cup this fall.
In the U-20 World Cup, Dunn’s fantastic play on the right side was crucial to the team’s success.
Dunn’s rampaging runs down the right flank tore apart opponent’s defenses.
When Dunn gets forward, she is dangerous because she can hurt a team in so many different ways.
She can put great serves into the box, she can knife through opposing defenses on the dribble and she can go in on goal herself.
Dunn assisted the game-winning goal in the U-20 final by beating two German defenders on the dribble.
As an attacking midfielder for UNC in the College Cup this fall, Dunn setup the game-winning goal in the semifinals and her move to from center-back to attacking midfielder during the NCAA tournament was key to UNC's success.
There’s little doubt Dunn will see her chance with the USWNT in the next year or two; the biggest question is at what position.
Lindsey Horan is one of the most exciting prospects in U.S. women’s soccer—and almost no one even knows who the forward is.
This fall, Horan skipped out on a scholarship at the University of North Carolina to sign a reported six-figure deal with Paris Saint-Germain, the storied French club.
Horan was the leading scorer for the U-20 team in World Cup qualifying, but missed the U-20 World Cup due to injury.
She will, no doubt, be given her chance with the USWNT in the very near future.
Christen Press was one of the four players (Lori Lindsey, Jill Loyden and Meghan Klingenberg were the others) who were alternates on the Olympic roster this past summer for the USWNT.
Olympic rosters are limited to 18 players, rather than 21 players like they are for a women’s World Cup. So, it is reasonable to assume, were Olympic rosters comprised of 21 players, that Press would be an Olympic gold medalist right now.
Regardless, Press is one of the U.S.' best up-and-coming goal scorers right now.
At Stanford, where Press played her college soccer, the forward scored 71 goals in her career and won the 2010 Hermann Trophy.
Past winners of the Hermann Trophy, awarded each year to the best player in college soccer, include Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Christine Sinclair, Michelle Akers, Tisha Venturini and Cindy Parlow—pretty good company.
The 23-year-old Press currently plays professionally in Sweden.
The most obvious candidate to be the next Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan is already on the team and her name is Sydney Leroux.
Leroux does not see a great deal of playing time right now as she sits behind perhaps the two best forwards in the world.
However, when Leroux does get in, she makes an impact.
Leroux finished 2012 with 14 goals for the USWNT, all of them coming off the bench.
There is not a women’s soccer roster in the world that is tougher to make than the USWNT and yet Leroux, who was not on the U.S.’ 21 woman roster for the 2011 World Cup, managed to make the far more competitive 18 woman roster for this summer’s Olympic games.
As a youth player with the U.S., Leroux was the all-time U.S. U-20 leader in goals with 30, was named U.S. Soccer’s Young Athlete of the Year in 2011 and was the Golden Ball winner at the 2008 U-20 World Cup when she was only 18.
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