Why Julie Johnston Will Be the Next Big Star for the U.S. Women's National Team

John D. HalloranContributor IIJanuary 10, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 12:  Abby Wambach #14 of the United States celebrates her second goal of the game with her teammates in the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium on December 12, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Wambach's goal was her 150th international goal. USA won 4-0. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Over the next two years, as new USWNT head coach Tom Sermanni begins to prepare for the 2015 World Cup, one player he will almost certainly be looking at is Santa Clara University midfielder and U.S. U-20 captain Julie Johnston.

The versatile defender/midfielder/forward had a fantastic year in 2012 and, by the look of things, should be on the full national team in the very near future.

In September of this year, Johnston led the U.S. U-20 team to the World Cup championship in Japan as the U.S. center-back and captain. She also won the Bronze Ball as the tournament’s third best player.

Then, returning to Santa Clara for her junior collegiate season, Johnston earned First-Team All-American honors for the second year in a row.

Finally, to top it all off, Johnston was named U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of the Year in December.

In the U-20 World Cup final back in September, Johnston led the U.S. back line to a shutout against a German team that had scored 15 goals in five games in the tournament. The U.S. won the game 1-0 and with it, the U-20 world championship.

Throughout the U-20 tournament, Johnston proved her excellence time after time. For the U.S., Johnston was the rock of the U.S. defense, repeatedly winning balls out of the air, saving the U.S. multiple times with last ditch tackles and putting out fires with the type of recognition and anticipation that any great defender needs.

Even though Johnston typically plays in the midfield for Santa Clara, the defensive acumen she displayed in the U-20 World Cup is something Santa Clara assistant coach and USWNT legend Brandi Chastain sees as well.

As the two-time World Cup and Olympic champion Chastain said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report in November,

“[Johnston] has a great defensive awareness. She sees the space around her, she anticipates where the player on the ball is going to play it, she sets her body up in a really good position. And, I am as impressed with her ability to win the ball as I am with her ability keep the ball.”

When Johnston returned to Santa Clara from the U-20 World Cup having missed the team’s first seven games, she immediately became the Broncos utility player playing in the midfield, up front and in the back. And that versatility gives Johnston a leg up over many of the other young players who will be vying to break into Sermanni’s lineup.

Chastain also stated in the same November interview that she believes Johnston could even be the solution to the U.S.’ problems at right-back or even a replacement for an aging Shannon Boxx as the U.S.’ holding midfielder. “I think she’s capable of growing into that position. There will be a lot of work to do in terms of maturing. That’s a mature position. But I think [Johnston] has a great future...Julie can grow into that position.”

Johnston also seems to have the right attitude to get ahead in a very competitive U.S. depth chart. In addition to being selected captain of the U-20 squad for the World Cup, Chastain sees Johnston’s leadership and hard work on a daily basis at Santa Clara.

“I hold Julie in the highest esteem. She’s not only a hard-working player, but she loves the little things about the game. She’s becoming a better leader—she was a great leader for U-20’s. What I love about her is that she is as demanding of her players as she is of herself. I think she has a great future. She’s the kind of player the U.S. needs. She can be physically dominant in the air, on the ground, in a tackle, she’s hard, she’s strong…she’s got great composure on the ball, she loves playing under pressure… I think having a player like Julie Johnston for the U.S. is really important.”

Recently, Johnston even got a sneak peak as to what the next level with the full national team will look like.

As the USWNT prepared for its recent friendly against the Republic of Ireland in December, Johnston visited the team and even had a sit-down chat with current USWNT captain Christie Rampone.

In a casual chat on the bench, Rampone even said to Johnston, “You’ll be here. Don’t doubt yourself. You’ll be here.”

With her great play, work rate and versatility, Johnston should be a part of the USWNT soon—and for years to come.

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