Women's Olympic Soccer 2012: 10 Rising Stars Who Will Break out in London

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2012

Women's Olympic Soccer 2012: 10 Rising Stars Who Will Break out in London

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    Olympic soccer gets underway today and the continual growth of the women's game will shine.

    Everyone knows about Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Marta, Homare Sawa and others. But when the matches begin look out for some of the younger athletes to break out and make a statement.

    The women's game is no longer a select few of supremely talented players on one or two teams. The talent gap is continually closing and parity is creeping in. That is an exciting development for the sport that will only keep growing the sport growing in popularity.

    Who are those that are going to break out in London? Start the slideshow.

Honorable Mention

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    Lauren Cheney, M, USA
    On the honorable mention list strictly because she has already slightly broken out. Cheney arrived on the world's radar at the 2011 World Cup with some great performances and should play an even more pivotal role in London.

    Lisa Dahlkvist, M, Sweden
    For those with a short memory, the Swedish National Team knocked off the U.S. in group play at the 2011 World Cup. Dahlkvist took a penalty and drained it in the 16th minute of that match. She is a good midfielder who helps maintain possession and sets up scoring opportunities for the Swedes.

    Marie-Laure Delie, F, France
    The 24-year-old forward is part of the fearsome striking attack France has. While they do have many options for scoring, Delie is one of the most fun to watch when she has the ball. The match against the Americans will be their toughest without question, but after that match expect a lot of scoring and action from the French, and Delie will be in the middle of it.

    Sydney Leroux, F, USA
    Leroux only gets an honorable mention spot because she may not see a lot of significant time on the pitch. And that is understandable with Wambach and Morgan at the helm. However, when she appears, get ready. Leroux and Morgan are the future tandem of the USWNT. The former UCLA Bruin will light it up when given the opportunity. The USWNT striker has a lot of goals in her future.

    Njoya Ajara Nkout, F, Cameroon
    Keep an eye out for this striker from Cameroon. Nkout is 19 years old. While Cameroon's chances of advancing out of group play are slim, watch Nkout as one of the young prospects of the tournament.

    Gaëane Thiney, F, France
    Much like Delie, Thiney is simply a joy to watch. The 26-year-old has 31 international goals to her credit; look for her to add a few more to that total throughout this tournament. Depending on the formation she may also be set up on the wing, but she is always involved in the offense.

No. 10: Yoreli Rincón, M, Colombia

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    Colombia should not advance past the group stage, but Rincón should be fun to watch.

    Rincón will turn 19 on July 27th and will surely be one of the young athletes to break out and make a name for herself. She can use the Olympics stage to showcase her skills and put her name out there for others to notice in the future.

    She currently plays for the Brazilian club XV de Piracicaba.

    Rincón could very well be the future of the Colombian women's team. We will see if she is given the opportunity to rise to the occasion soon enough.

No. 9: Eniola Aluko, F, Great Britain

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    Aluko started to shine in the WPS. Unfortunately, many did not see her perform there. But when Great Britain and New Zealand start the women's tournament in Cardiff, expect Aluko to arrive on the international stage.

    At the 2011 World Cup she shrunk in the moment. When Great Britain needed her to come through and provide that second scoring option, she was not there.

    However, she is very talented. I suspect that was a big learning experience for Aluko.

    Aluko can help move Great Britain to the quarterfinals alongside the likes of Kelly Smith. Keep an eye out for some blistering goals from the striker.

No. 8: Sofia Jakobsson, F, Sweden

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    Jakobsson saw some action in the 2011 World Cup, but not consistently. I am taking a bit of leap in saying that we will see a lot more of the striker at the Olympics.

    The 22-year-old forward may be ready to get on the level of Josefine Öqvist and Lotta Schelin.

    While Jakobsson may not start every match, she should still be a part of the Swedish game plan.

    She will need to take advantage of her playing time and show that she is ready to compete at this stage. I suspect she will. The 2012 Games could be a coming-out party for Jakobsson and put her on the map as the 2015 World Cup is around the bend.

No. 7: Hannah Wilkinson, F, New Zealand

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    Wilkinson at No. 7 continues the run of strikers on the list.

    She came off the bench for New Zealand at the Women's World Cup. Though they finished last in their group, they showed that they can be dangerous. If they want to threaten even more it may be time to allow the 20-year-old to break through at the Games.

    Wilkinson has 24 caps and nine goals to her credit. Standing at 5'9” she also gives New Zealand height in the front line. That can play a major role in set pieces. Look no further than the United States for proof of that.

    New Zealand has a great chance to advance to the quarterfinals in one of the third-place slots. Wilkinson can come through for the Football Ferns in a big way if given more time on the pitch.

    When she gets the call pay close attention to her work.

No. 6: Jill Scott, M, Great Britain

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    The 25-year-old midfielder will be crucial to the success of the English at the Olympics.

    A majority of the focus has always been on Kelly Smith, and for good reason, but Scott fantastic in the midfield.

    At the 2011 World Cup she helped keep Great Britain alive with a goal against New Zealand, and scored the lone goal against France in regulation. However, there was some controversy when she was not in the penalty kicks lineup.

    Now, that is behind Scott and Great Britain and they are set to put on a show for their country.

    Scott should pick up where she left off and be a major contributor for Great Britain.

No. 5: Eugénie Le Sommer, M, France

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    “We, however, didn’t really know where we were at world level,” said Le Sommer to FIFA.com.

    How scary is that statement?

    Abily, Le Sommer, Bompastor, Thiney, Delie and the rest of the talent and they still did not know they were world-class. Now they know. Now they have the confidence to compete against everyone and know they can win. They are dangerous.

    The 23-year-old midfielder put in the deciding penalty against England to advance to the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup, where they were beaten by the U.S. However, she didn't even come in to the match until the 106' mark. She returns to set up more scoring opportunities at the Games.

    Since the World Cup she has added 10 international goals to her credit, showing that she is ready to be a major contributor to the French cause at the Olympics. Whether she starts the match or not she will see playing time. France has a lot of options with its talent.

    Le Sommer could break out as one of the new faces during this tournament.

No. 4: Kelley O'Hara, D, USA

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    When Ali Krieger went down at the beginning of 2012 it raised a lot of questions about who would fill the role for the U.S. Krieger had been one of the highlights of the defense that has been spotty at times for the top-ranked women's team.

    Out of nowhere the 23-year-old Stanford Cardinal came in and solidified the back line.

    O'Hara has impressed since taking over the role. Since O'Hara joined the U.S. defense from her original role as a midfielder/forward, it has looked better than it did at the World Cup.

    O'Hara also adds a bit of pace to the back line. She is able to cover a lot of ground quickly.

    O'Hara's defensive skills will be put to the test immediately against France. O'Hara can become another U.S. star during these Olympic Games, and no one should expect anything less.

No. 3: Louisa Nécib, M, France

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    Nécib made a name for herself in the World Cup, and that should only grow at the Olympics.

    Nécib is one of the world's top midfielders going today.

    She has the ability to score, but it is her possession and vision that really stand out. Nécib is able to make the right pass at the right time and make it look easy. Her abilities in the midfield help set up numerous attacks that make France one of the most dangerous teams in the world.

    How do the French see her? Well, they have compared her to Zinedine Zidane. That pretty much sums it all up.

    Be on the lookout for Nécib at the Games.

No. 2: Saki Kumagai, D, Japan

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    Thanks to the brilliance of Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama, Kumagai's defensive work went largely unnoticed at the World Cup. What was her claim to fame at the World Cup? Oh, she just made the World Cup-winning penalty. That's all.

    That shouldn't be the case at the Olympics.

    The 21-year-old defender plays at one of the top clubs in the world, FFC Frankfurt. The unheralded defender is one of the best in the world and helps keep other teams away from goal for the Japanese.

    Kumagai will need to be on point as Japan is in group play with Canada and Sweden, both of whom have good offensive playmakers. Unfortunately for those teams, Kumagai is one of the best defenders out there today.

    She should get more recognition for her work along the back. Keep an eye on Kumagai during the tournament.

No. 1: Tobin Heath, M, USA

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    The 24-year-old North Carolina Tar Heel will be the breakout star of the tournament.

    Many may say Alex Morgan, but she broke out at the World Cup and has already garnered several endorsements because of that. The world has noticed her. They are not on notice for Heath, yet.

    USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage has made the move to put Heath in the starting lineup recently and it has paid off.

    Heath's presence in the midfield was a big reason why they made the domination of Japan look easy on June 18th. Just three minutes in to the match she set up Alex Morgan for a goal.

    The USWNT enter the Olympics red hot. The change up at midfield is a big reason for their play and if it continues at this pace the USWNT will look unstoppable. With Heath in the starting lineup the potential she showed at UNC is coming to fruition.

    She is another one of the young U.S. talents that will set the world on fire. Expect Heath to deliver during the Games in a major way.