While the current pool of talent has ballooned with great players scattered all over the world, those currently playing have a long way to go to reach the heights of those who came before.
However, they narrowly failed to make the cut. The Sporting News provides a comprehensive account of those who came close to being included in the list, further down below. The selection of players for the list is based on individual accolades, team championships, memorable achievements, and sustained success throughout their careers. Taking into account all these factors, The Sporting News examines the most exceptional players in the history of women’s soccer.
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The Sporting News has ranked the top 10 women’s soccer players of all time in reverse order, and among them is a modern-day superstar who is already considered one of the best ever.
10. Alexia Putellas (Spanish)
Now at 29 years old, Putellas is unquestionably one of the greatest ever. Even when she has accomplished and said everything, she continues to rise higher on this list, establishing herself as the queen of the current generation.
Putellas has led Barcelona, a star-studded team, to consistent success in European competitions, winning the League Champions crown twice and earning more than three medals as runners-up. The Spanish midfielder has been a giant for both her country and club for years.
Spain, considered the favorites, clinched the title in the Tournament 2023. They narrowly defeated the United States 2-1, eliminating them and reaching the quarterfinals, which they couldn’t achieve in 2019 when they crashed out in the group stage. Spain’s first appearance in the Women’s World Cup in 2015 coincided perfectly with her rise on the global stage. Putellas has helped Spain rise on the international stage, despite battling internal turmoil on numerous occasions, and she is yet to lead Spain to international glory.
Despite the lack of international silverware, Putellas has proven herself to be a capable leader and a worthy star, winning the MVP of the 2020 SheBelieves Cup and being the precursor to her two Ballon d’Or awards in 2021 and 2022, as well as coming in second as the world’s best player. She was sidelined for half of the 2022 European championship season due to a torn ACL, but her success is evident.
In this roster, with many additional players expected, the integration of Putellas’s trophies with Barcelona and progress with Spain is more than sufficient to position her in a contemporary women’s football scene where club soccer is increasingly competitive, and consequently significant.
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9. Sun Wen (Chinese)
Internationally, as a participant in the formative years of women’s soccer, her achievements propelled Sun to the status of an icon. Sun held the distinction of being the initial genuine worldwide symbol of Asian women’s soccer throughout her 16-year tenure with the Chinese national team.
In the final of the Women’s World Cup in China in 1999, only one of the three players who appeared was Sun, a 17-year-old making her international debut. Sun would be awarded the Golden Ball, the tournament’s best player, for her outstanding performance as the joint top scorer with seven goals. Despite the heartbreaking defeat in the penalty shootout to the United States, who were the hosts.
In 2001 and 2002, Sun was shortlisted for the initial two FIFA Women’s Player of the Year accolades, securing the second and third positions correspondingly as her career neared its end. In 2002, she received a nomination for FIFA’s Player of the Century award as a recognition of her remarkable accomplishments throughout her career, ultimately placing second to Michelle Akers.
8. Carli Lloyd (United States)
She was always there to provide critical assistance to her team when they needed it the most. While she was near her breaking point, she made sure to leave enough time for herself, even when it meant leaving others alone. Carli Lloyd, born in New Jersey, has scored 134 goals in 316 international appearances, making her a star in the world of soccer. Throughout the history of the national team, she has been one of the most consistent big-game performers, standing tall among the most successful players. However, Carli Lloyd’s exceptional career often went unnoticed while she played on a team full of exceptional players.
Lloyd has been at the center and front of some of the most iconic triumphs in women’s soccer in the U.S., Including securing the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament and being nominated for the Puskas Award for her sensational hat-trick in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, as well as scoring the game-winning goals in both the 2012 and 2008 Olympic gold medal matches from midfield.
In 2012, she received a nomination for the FIFA Player of the Year before securing the accolade in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, she received another nomination. During her time at Rutgers, she was recognized as a finalist for the MAC Hermann Award trophy. Additionally, she emerged victorious in the FA Women’s Cup in 2016/17 with Man City. Nevertheless, her performance at the club level was not as prosperous. Nonetheless, her significant stature within the U.S. International realm remains completely intact.
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7. Homare Sawa (Japanese)
Considered largely as the greatest Asian women’s player, Sawa is a legendary Japanese midfielder who has a career full of notable accomplishments. She has achieved accolades at both team and individual levels, while also being a goalscorer.
She would go on to become one of the most consistent presences in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, appearing in six tournaments across her career, with her debut international appearance occurring at the young age of just 15 in 1993.
Consequently, she would claim the 2011 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year accolade. She emerged as the leading goal scorer in the tournament with five goals. Sawa’s equalizer in the 117th minute provided an opportunity in the penalty shootout, triumphing over the United States through penalties after Japan’s remarkable display in women’s football, when they clinched the 2011 Women’s World Cup championship in one of the most memorable matches in the history of the sport. Sawa played a central role in this achievement.
Greats from around the world, including women’s football in Asia, have recognized her as one of the best. She has solidified her place among the top players by winning 11 league titles with her two Japanese club teams, Leonessa Kobe INAC and Beleza TV Nippon Yomiuri. Seeking revenge against the U.S. Team, she led her club to the final of the 2015 World Women’s Cup where she would make her return. After a brief retirement, she came back to help Japan win a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and would continue to contribute the following year.
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6. Michelle Akers (United States)
Michelle Akers, a legend of U.S. Women’s football, came into the early stages of the growth of women’s football just in time to earn her deserved accolades and popularity. Although she hasn’t earned her place among the all-time greats in the history of the sport, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t deserve it.
In 2019, Alex Morgan equaled the record for most goals scored in a single game in the Women’s World Cup by netting five goals in the 7-0 win against Chinese Taipei. This exceptional performance earned her the Golden Boot and remains the highest number of goals ever scored in a single FIFA tournament. Her remarkable achievement of scoring 10 goals in the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1991 was particularly noteworthy, with half of those goals being scored in a single match.
Nevertheless, that was not the sole initial accomplishment in Akers’ professional life. Nationally, she achieved the esteemed recognition in 1988 during her time at UCF, securing the inaugural MAC Hermann Trophy for women as the most outstanding collegiate athlete. Subsequently, she triumphed with an Olympic gold medal in 1996 and a second Women’s World Cup victory in 1999, gaining renown for her distinctive voluminous hair. However, she was compelled to retire prematurely, as her career would likely have endured even longer if not for the knee injuries sustained during her final World Cup campaign.
Following her recognition as the Player of the Century by FIFA in 2002, Akers established her status as one of the most exceptional players in history.
5. Christine Sinclair (Canadian)
Indisputable is the position as the most productive goal scorer in the history of global soccer, Sinclair’s professional journey has mainly revolved around attempting to elevate Canada into the highest tier of women’s soccer. With the aim of contributing another remarkable chapter to her illustrious career, Sinclair will participate in the 2023 Women’s World Cup at the age of 40.
Yes, Sinclair has also been a versatile player throughout her career, capable of playing in midfield and at No. 10. While she is known for playing more in front of the net, her most notable career highlights are her 190 international goals.
With longevity and achievements that encompass records, objectives, and championships, she had a legendary career. Not only did she leave her mark on the national team’s best result at the 2003 Women’s World Cup, finishing in fourth place, but she also captured the hearts of Canadians. Her international accomplishments would reach their pinnacle with a gold medal at the 2021 Olympic Games, solidifying Canada’s triumph in women’s soccer. Additionally, her collegiate career at Portland University would be kickstarted by these exploits, leading her to secure two NCAA titles. As a freshman at Portland University, she immediately made an impact, scoring an impressive 23 goals and leading the entire nation in first-year student achievements.
4. Abby Wambach (United States)
In the quarterfinals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Brazil managed to equalize in the 122nd minute, which is one of the most famous goals in the tournament’s history. Among her international strikes, Abby Wambach’s 184 goals on the field have earned her a place near the top of this list. With this achievement, she has become the second-highest scorer in the history of international football and the most prolific goal scorer in U.S. History.
Throughout her prime career, she was nominated four times for the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year awards, winning it once in 2012. She didn’t even play for a club team that solely focused on her international accomplishments, yet she still topped the list of awards.
The goal of the true legend’s game was to accomplish a year of achievements. Alongside her Player of the Year and AP Athlete of the Year awards, she became the first soccer player to win the Women’s World Cup. She also helped the Florida Gators win their first NCAA championship in 1998, benefiting her teams at every stage. She was an expert at movement off the ball and a monster in the air. However, Wambach’s bulldozer style made her a force to be reckoned with in the penalty area, as she was able to score with any method.
3. Birgit Prinz (German)
Prinz, the German striker, completely dominated everywhere she went until she retired at the age of 34. Unlike any other striker in the history of the game, her prime was unlike anything seen before, rivaling the longevity of Christine Sinclair or Abby Wambach’s careers. Possibly the most gifted goal scorer the game has ever seen, Prinz is revered as a legend.
From 2007-2010, she came in second to Marta for four consecutive years. She achieved three back-to-back FIFA Player of the Year accolades from 2003-2005. In one of the most remarkable outcomes in the nation’s history, Germany triumphed over hosts USA, 3-0, in the semifinals, marking the first of two Women’s World Cup championships she secured in 2003 and 2007. However, it is her achievements at the international level with Germany that she is most renowned for, concluding her club career with an astounding 282 goals in 282 matches.
The German legend has a more extensive trophy collection than most players in the history of the game. In 2002, she claimed a WUSA championship while representing the NC Courage in the United States, following a two-year break from German football. Three out of the four times she finished as the top scorer in the league occurred during successful title campaigns. She achieved eight German Cup victories and seven Bundesliga triumphs during a period of complete domestic dominance after her transfer to Frankfurt in 1998. In the mid-’90s, she secured two German Cup titles and two Bundesliga championships with Frankfurt. Wherever Prinz went, championships ensued at the club level.
2. Mia Hamm (United States)
In the United States, for years to follow, Hamm emerged not only as a leader in the locker room but also as an inspiration for generations of American women. Her abilities on the field were exceptional, as she could create goals for her teammates and score goals herself. Without a doubt, Hamm is the greatest player in the history of women’s soccer in the nation.
Mia Hamm, who has a history of soccer in the U.S., Puts herself second on the all-time list of goal-scoring for the U.S. She has made up a total of 158 goals, which is clear that no one else has made, and has also provided 147 assists.
Starting at the young age of 15, her illustrious journey began when she made her first appearance for the U.S. National team in 1987. On the international platform, she would emerge as a rising star, netting the decisive goal in a 3-2 triumph against Sweden in the inaugural U.S. Women’s World Cup game in 1991, all while being a mere 19 years old.
Hamm would become one of the most decorated players in the game, winning two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup titles at the international level. She is named alongside Michael Jordan as one of the greatest athletes of the last 50 years, and is considered one of the greatest college soccer players ever, winning four NCAA championships in five years at North Carolina. Along the way, she would not only be a dominant force in women’s athletics in the country, but also a prominent figure in women’s soccer, capturing the public’s attention throughout her career with many iconic moments.
In the year 2000, following Michelle Akers and Sun Wen, FIFA chose Hamm as one of the three most exceptional players ever, even before her career ended. She secured the third position in the Player of the Century voting. Her achievements, including winning the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award in 2001 and 2002 (the first two years the award existed), were a testament to her skill and were comparable to the honors her team received. Individually, she excelled.
1. Marta (Brazilian)
Marta, the legendary Brazilian, is the most exceptional athlete in the annals of women’s soccer. She continued to excel on the grandest FIFA platform, attaining the record of the highest goal scorer in the history of the Women’s World Cup with 17 successful strikes throughout her career, and potentially more in the future. Despite never clinching a Women’s World Cup victory, she finished as the runner-up in 2007.
In addition to settling for two silver Olympic medals in the near-miss Women’s World Cup, she couldn’t just get over the hump but dragged global glory single-handedly. Establishing her dominance throughout her prime career, including an incredible five straight years from 2010 to 2006, she won the FIFA Player of the Year award six times.
Concluding as the leading goal scorer of the competition, she earned the Golden Ball in the 2007 tournament. She would proceed to fulfill the tremendous promise she exhibited and capturing the Golden Ball for top player at the 2004 U-19 Women’s World Cup despite Brazil’s fourth-place finish, she demonstrated her talent from an early stage. However, those shortcomings in the team aspect have no effect on her entitlement to this position of power.
At the club level, Marta, who is now 37 years old, has primarily competed in the United States, excelling during a three-year period in the now-closed WPS with the Western New York Flash, achieving victory in the 2011 championship. After spending some time playing in Sweden, she came back to the U.S. And joined the Orlando Pride in 2015, where she currently holds the record for most appearances and goals in the club’s history.
It was simply impossible to include all the incredible players deserving a mention in a Top 10 list, given the sheer number of legends.
Kristine Lilly and Formiga, two individuals known as icons in women’s global soccer, were the first heroes to be taken off the list of career longevity.
In the history of football, Lilly is the only player to have managed to appear in all seven Olympic tournaments and seven World Cup tournaments as well. She has also managed to accumulate 234 caps for Brazil, which is the most for any player in international football history. Formiga, while spanning a lengthy career of 25 years, has managed to play 354 times for the United States.
Germany’s Nadine Angerer and the United States’ Hope Solo are two goalkeepers who have amassed impressive achievements and recognition throughout their illustrious careers.
Unfortunately, during the era of U.S. Dominance on the global stage in the Women’s World Cup 2023, it is possible that some of the players already glittering on their resumes may not make it to the squad. There are not enough iconic moments to see them around and be a part of the U.S. Team. However, it is worth mentioning that Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, who are icons of the sport, have not quite reached the level of their international teammates. On the other hand, Carli Lloyd has managed to make it to the Top 10 list on her own.
Despite her long absence from the national team, her resumé is impressive. At just 29 years old, Ada Hegerberg, the Norwegian icon, has already won two Ballon d’Or awards. Similarly, Cristiane, the Brazilian forward, is also a current player with many achievements. Both players could create even more memorable moments.
Lucy, who quickly established herself as one of England’s greatest players, could not be more excited to play in the game on the 31st. Wendie Renard, the legendary French captain, is already prepared to lead her team as the greatest central defender. Additionally, she is also rising on the list of top stars in the game, often scoring goals while maintaining her legendary status.