The NYC Ticker-Tape Parade Belongs To The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Now 

A ticker-tape parade through lower Manhattan is pretty much the quintessential homecoming for American heroes. So it’s fitting that the conquering U.S. women’s soccer team — which won the World Cup on Sunday — will get its second parade in four years down New York City’s “Canyon of Heroes” on Wednesday morning. That’s an appropriate honor after one of the most dominating performances we’ve ever seen in all of sports history.

Today’s ticker-tape parades in NYC go almost exclusively to teams like the one Megan Rapinoe led to championship glory. Including the past two parades, both earned by the women’s soccer players, sports heroes have gotten 11 of the past 12 parades in New York over a span of 25 years. (The only exception was in 1998, when 77-year-old John Glenn and the rest of the space shuttle Discovery crew were honored.) But that wasn’t always the case. Although about 18 percent of the 196 NYC ticker-tape parades in Wikipedia’s database have commemorated sports accomplishments over the years, that ranks a distant third behind parades thrown for important heads of state (38 percent) and military figures (20 percent). Before sports went on its recent tear, it made up only 13 percent of ticker-tape parades, or roughly the same share as went to famous (nonastronaut) adventurers such as pilot Amelia Earhart and explorer Richard Byrd.

Here’s a look at all 196 New York ticker-tape parades in our data set, broken down by year and type:

When we plot out the whole history of these parades, a few things jump out:

  • Sports is everything now. Athletes have always gotten some share of parade glory, but there have been as many sports parades in the past 25 years as in the nearly 40 years prior, even as the overall rate of parades has dropped dramatically.1 And while you might think that a New York championship parade requires a New York-based team to win — which hasn’t happened much since the Yankees’ last dynasty ended in 20002 — the city has also been known to throw a big party for Olympians, successful national teams like the USWNT and even individuals like Sammy Sosa (yes, really) after the Dominican-born outfielder hit 66 home runs and helped provide relief for victims of Hurricane Georges in 1998.
  • They sure loved their parades in the 1950s and 1960s. Nearly half (48 percent) of all the parades on the list happened during the 1950s and ’60s alone. Along with the celebration of sports — baseball in its NYC heyday, plus great individual athletes such as Althea Gibson and Ben Hogan — it was the perfect moment for visiting dignitaries (50 heads of state got parades) and war heroes (21 military parades) to get honored in the wake of World War II. And then came the advent of the space program, which spawned numerous astronaut parades after the accomplishments of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. The space race represented a peak of sorts for ticker-tape parades; astronauts would be celebrated eight times from 1962 to 1971, and the end of the Apollo program in 1972 coincided with a sharp decline in the number of parades held. (The city’s near-bankruptcy in 1975 didn’t help matters either.)
  • The 1920s and 1930s were a prime time for adventurers. The first great period of parade activity ramped up around the start of the 1920s, not long after the end of World War I. At first, the honorees were what you’d expect — dignitaries from abroad, military leaders, heroic sea rescuers, etc. But by the middle of the decade, parades began to more frequently honor expeditions like trips to the North Pole and trans-Atlantic flights. From 1926 through 1938, more ticker-tape parades were devoted to adventurous accomplishments (19 total) than all other reasons combined (18).
  • There have been some bizarre excuses to throw parades over the years. If you go through the list of parades, you’re guaranteed to have at least one moment of, “Wait, why?” A few of our favorite weird commemorations included … Aimé Tschiffely, the Swiss-Argentine professor who embarked on a solo horse ride from Buenos Aires to New York; Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, a pilot who accidentally flew to Ireland (instead of California) from New York;3 the 48 European journalists who went on an “American discovery” flight around the U.S. in 1949; the Order of the Knights of Pythias, a secret society that got its own parade in 1955; pianist Van Cliburn, who won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958; separate parades, two weeks apart, for both the first woman to swim the English Channel and the first mother to swim the English Channel; Marquis Jacques de Dampierre, who got a 1930 parade because his long-dead ancestor happened to be Revolutionary War hero Lafayette; and Connie Mack, who was honored in New York for managing a Philadelphia baseball team for 50 years. If you are interested in reading more about NYC’s history with unnecessary parades, Splinter’s David Matthews wrote on the topic before the USWNT parade four years ago.
  • These things are rare now. If you’re in the New York City area Wednesday and have a chance to attend the U.S. women’s team’s parade, you should probably check it out. These massive ticker-tape celebrations used to happen several times per year, but now we’re lucky if we get one every three or four years. And if anyone on this list deserves the acclaim, it’s this American team. Amid a backdrop of calls for equal pay, this is only the 12th Canyon of Heroes parade devoted entirely to women. Before the USWNT’s 2015 parade, it had been 55 years since a woman was the sole focus of a ticker-tape parade. Now the U.S. women have earned each of the past two. That’s a remarkable accomplishment — and one worth a massive celebration in lower Manhattan.

What We Know (And Don’t Know) After 2 World Cup Games

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): We’re two games into group stage of the Women’s World Cup, and there’s a lot we already know: Nine teams have already advanced to the knockout rounds, and even though she has played only one game, Alex Morgan looks like the player to beat for the Golden Boot.

But there’s also plenty that we’re still waiting to learn. How will the seeding shake out? Which of the third-place teams will advance? And how will the American women fare against more robust competition?

After a first-game drubbing of Thailand, the U.S. took a subdued but still convincing win against Chile. What were your takeaways from Sunday’s match?

TerrenceDoyle (Terrence Doyle, contributor): I think it would be hard not to talk about the play of Chile’s goalkeeper, Christiane Endler, and how things could have been much worse without her sublime performance.

emily (Emily Scherer, designer): Christiane Endler!!!!!!!!!!!

TerrenceDoyle: She was unreal!

sara.ziegler: Christen Press will be having nightmares about Endler for a while.

emily: She even got into Carli Lloyd’s head in the penalty kick!

sara.ziegler: Endler had six saves on nine shots on target. Pretty impressive.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): The roster changes were a big story for the match against Chile, but I was really surprised at how some of those fringe players played. It feels really wrong to even call them second string, but players like Ali Krieger and Tierna Davidson and even Moe Brian played pretty well!

TerrenceDoyle: I think that’s right. The U.S. “bench” was a known entity coming into this tournament, but … wow. Just wow. There are a lot of great players in this tournament, but I don’t think any team has the strength in depth that the U.S. has.

sara.ziegler: It did feel like the starters might have finished some of those shots in the second half, but against a keeper like Endler, maybe not!

TerrenceDoyle: The eye test says Endler has been pretty remarkable in this tournament — some of the saves she’s made have looked impossible — but her goals prevented mark is actually in the red. One of those instances where the eye test and the analytics aren’t jelling.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Endler leads the entire World Cup in saves right now, with 10. South Africa’s Andile Dlamini is second with nine saves. However, she has faced 27 shots. Endler has faced fifty.

TerrenceDoyle: FIFTY.

emily: That’s hockey numbers!

sara.ziegler: Holy crap.

TerrenceDoyle: Chile, ah, need more of the ball?

tchow: I am curious to know how many of those shots were on target against her though. All 50? There’s no way.

neil: Nah. Only 15. But still, a lot of danger coming her way, most due to the U.S. just controlling so much of the play.

The Americans had a higher share of all shot attempts (on goal or not) against Chile than they did in the 13-0 romp over Thailand.

And the possession percentages were roughly even between the games.

tchow: Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that Endler has faced the U.S. and Sweden. Outside of the U.S., the Swedes are tied for second with Italy with the most goals in the tournament so far.

TerrenceDoyle: Still quite a fair amount. In terms of keepers who have played in both their nation’s games, Endler is facing more shots on goal per game than any other.

emily: Has Alyssa Naeher faced the least?

neil: Somehow Carly Telford of England has faced one fewer than Naeher. (But in one game.)

TerrenceDoyle: As has Sarah Bouhaddi of France (in two games).

sara.ziegler: But don’t forget Stephanie Labbé of Canada, who has faced a grand total of ZERO shots on target. (Against Cameroon and New Zealand.)

tchow: Canada, the U.S. and Germany have yet to be scored against in the tournament so far.

neil: From the U.S. perspective, all of these shot differential stats really point to the idea that these first two matches were glorified warmups. What have we learned about the Americans so far? Can you learn anything from these lopsided mismatches?

TerrenceDoyle: They’ve been ruthless in front of goal, which is good for confidence going forward. They’re outperforming their expected goal numbers so far. We’ll see how that holds up against Sweden, which gave them fits in 2015.

sara.ziegler: ^^^ and in 2016!

TerrenceDoyle: true!

tchow: All due respect to Thailand and Chile, that is a good perspective to keep in mind, Neil. The game on Thursday against Sweden will tell us a lot.

TerrenceDoyle: Opposition aside, the Americans have already far outpaced their goal tally from the group stage four years ago. (They scored just four times in 2015!)

sara.ziegler: We haven’t learned much about the goalkeeping, that’s for sure. The one time the U.S. came closest to giving up a goal against Chile — a play in which the Chilean striker was ultimately offside — Naeher made a pretty big mistake in coming off her line.

emily: I would have loved to see Ashlyn Harris get some minutes, but coach Jill Ellis has been very clear that it’s Naeher’s job.

tchow: Emily, I was surprised with all her changes in this second game that she didn’t give Harris some game time too.

emily: I wasn’t surprised! Ellis has been doing this since Hope Solo left.

TerrenceDoyle: Is it because goalkeeping is such a confidence-based position? You want your goalie to be in a groove.

sara.ziegler: Is it a confidence-boosting thing?

Ha — jinx

TerrenceDoyle: lol

emily: But come on, give me Harris and Ali Krieger on the field together!

tchow: It would have been great to see Harris and Krieger play together. I understand Ellis for wanting to stick with her goalie, but this would have been the perfect game to bring on someone else.

TerrenceDoyle: Agree on that. And you have to figure it won’t happen going forward, barring injury or a disastrous performance vs. Sweden.

tchow: I don’t think anyone was sure how much playing time or how well Krieger would play in this tournament, but she got a full 90 minutes and more than held her own: 84 percent pass completion as a right back, and she won 71 percent of her duels, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.

TerrenceDoyle: The Carli Lloyd left-footed volley against Chile is the goal of the tournament so far, idc what anyone says. The degree of difficulty, while falling backward, to get anything on that ball, let alone as much as Lloyd got on it, is high.

sara.ziegler: idk, Terrence, that Julie Ertz header was pretty incredible:

tchow: What patriots you all are. Such U.S. bias. If we’re talking goal of the tournament, Amandine Henry’s in the opening game was ridiculous.

sara.ziegler: USA! USA!

neil: And what about Christen Press’s rocket out of a volley from the left side (even if it was saved)?

TerrenceDoyle: There have been some other *absolute bangers* so far! I just can’t get my head around the Lloyd finish.

emily: What a tournament for Alex Morgan. She’s been the face of the team for years, but this feels like her real breakout on the field after grabbing only one goal in the 2015 World Cup and two in 2011, and it’s only just started!

neil: It was great to see her do the bulk of the crazy scoring in the 13-0 win.

I think even she was surprised that the goals kept coming, and coming, and coming, and coming…

TerrenceDoyle: The Golden Boot race is going to be fun. Especially if Cristiane keeps this up for Brazil.

sara.ziegler: Curious about your opinions on this: Did the U.S. let up a little after the 13-0 game? Did that criticism affect them at all?

neil: Certainly it affected their celebrations against Chile.

sara.ziegler: That golf clap KILLED ME.

tchow: I don’t think they let up, and I would actually be really disappointed if we find out later that they did.

TerrenceDoyle: With all due respect to Thailand, I think Chile is a stronger side with a better goalkeeper. The U.S. still dominated play and even passed the ball better/more cleanly against Chile.

neil: Even though they scored 10 fewer goals, they could have scored more if not for the huge saves.

TerrenceDoyle: 100 percent, Neil.

tchow: I honestly can’t believe how long that 13-0 scoreline stayed in the headlines and my news feeds.

neil: In fairness, that is a WILD score for a soccer game.

TerrenceDoyle: Very much so. But agree, Tony. Had to not look at soccer Twitter for, like, a week. (Which, tbh, was a welcome vacation for my brain, which is filled with worms at this point because of soccer Twitter.)

sara.ziegler: Friend of the site Michael Caley posts expected-goal maps after every match, and that one was AMAZING:

tchow: thErEs nOt EnOUgh scOrInG iN SOcCeR. tHeRes TOO MUCH ScORinG iN socCeR

sara.ziegler: 🤣

emily: It’s familiar for Thailand, but this was the first time they’ve been on the other side of things. In 2018, they beat Indonesia 13-0 and Cambodia 11-0.

TerrenceDoyle: “OK, so the point of all sports is to score as many goals/points as possible.”


sara.ziegler: But also, make sure you don’t celebrate your accomplishments, or celebrate the accomplishments or your teammates.

But if you don’t celebrate the accomplishments or your teammates, WHY AREN’T YOU FRIENDSSSSSSSS?

There is truly no winning.

emily: There’s never any winning in women’s sports.

sara.ziegler: Ain’t that the truth.

TerrenceDoyle: Imagine your friend worked for, like, half a decade or more to reach the pinnacle of their career, then they got there, and they celebrated, and you were like, “Sorry, your celebrations are a little MUCH.”

tchow: Nuengruetai Srathongvian, Thailand’s coach, spoke about the loss, and I think what she said should have ended all discussion about whether the scoreline was problematic. So with that in mind, let’s move on.

sara.ziegler: Let’s look ahead to Sweden, a very familiar foe. This match doesn’t matter THAT much, but it’s important for seeding, and of course the U.S. doesn’t want to lose its last group game. What can we expect out of this game?

TerrenceDoyle: (if they win and france wins, they’re on the same side and can see one another in the quarters, yes?)

tchow: (yes)

TerrenceDoyle: THE U.S. SHOULD TANK.

Kidding, but only sort of.

tchow: Don’t say it, Terrence. Don’t say it. Ahhh, damn it.

sara.ziegler: Hahahaha

TerrenceDoyle: lolol sorry

sara.ziegler: But if the Americans lose to Sweden, they could face Germany in the quarters! No easy roads.

tchow: Going back to Sara’s question, I would expect Ellis to go back to her A-team lineup for this game.

An A-Team that doesn’t include Lloyd or Press or Pugh. LOL, the US are ridiculous.

emily: Ridiculously stacked.

TerrenceDoyle: You can only play the opponent in front of you, and if that happens to be France, it happens to be France. They’re probably going to have to beat them at some point if they want to win the whole thing, so if that’s in the quarters, it’s in the quarters.

So, yeah, roll that A-Team out and exact revenge on Sweden.

Sorry, that was aggressive. I mean Sweden no harm.

sara.ziegler: The U.S. is the only team with more expected goals so far (11.28) than Sweden’s 8.09, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.

They’ve played the same competition, of course, but that has to be a little worrying to the Americans.

TerrenceDoyle: And Sweden hasn’t been taking full advantage of that high xG mark either.

sara.ziegler: Yeah. And they’ve had just 18 shots on target to the U.S.’s 29.

TerrenceDoyle: Kosovare Asllani and Madelen Janogy have both been quietly good so far for Sweden. I think this match could be about containing them, honestly.

sara.ziegler: Leaving the U.S.-Sweden match behind, which other teams have impressed you all the most?

TerrenceDoyle: ITALY

tchow: I was just about to say Italy too. We gave them just a 59 percent chance of advancing to the round of 16 before the tournament. They’ve already qualified.

TerrenceDoyle: Canada are low-key looking very dangerous right now.

They’re scoring less than their xG numbers say they should be and winning anyway. If they start taking their chances, they’ll look a threat. Especially if Christine Sinclair starts burying her chances. Which, I mean, she will.

emily: ARGENTINA 🇦🇷

sara.ziegler: Argentina has been really surprising! They had a very smart game plan against England.

TerrenceDoyle: Goalkeeper Vanina Correa has been absurd.

sara.ziegler: The one time they deviated from their plan … England scored.

TerrenceDoyle: The Correa save on the Nikita Parris penalty kick was SPECIAL. Also LOL that it was England’s first ever pen miss at a World Cup. The men should take notes.

Correa leads in goals prevented per 90 among goalies who have played in both of their team’s games as a result. She’s also the main reason Argentina still has a chance at advancing.

tchow: Argentina is another squad our projections were down on and probably wrong about. They have a 25 percent chance of making it now, which still seems low to me.

sara.ziegler: They’re looking up at quite a few teams that already have 3 points. And they just have the 1.

TerrenceDoyle: Cruel sport. They’ve played better than their points total suggests.

neil: Somehow our model had Argentina rated lower than both Chile and Thailand (!) before the tournament. (Still does, actually.)

emily: They lost their funding from the Argentine soccer federation for a few years.

sara.ziegler: Is that part of the consequence of not being able to schedule enough matches?

It’s been great to see them play so well, though, given what they’ve been through.

tchow: Argentina could still get second place if England ends up beating Japan in the final group game.

TerrenceDoyle: As a Correa fan boy, I hope they make a run at it.

tchow: There’s been a lot of talk about goalkeeper performance in this chat already, but Correa has been ridiculous. She has an 89 percent save percentage right now.

sara.ziegler: As the first of the third matches get started right now, what are your final thoughts on what we’ve seen so far?

emily: Sinclair is four goals away from breaking Abby Wambach’s record. Will she do it?

TerrenceDoyle: VAR is bad and is turning the sport into a surveillance state. That yellow on the pen save for Sydney Schneider in Jamaica v. Italy was … I mean, it was terrible. It’s soooo hard to save a pen. The success rate for shooters is something like 70 percent. It’s taken from so close, the net is so big, goalies should be able to do whatever they want.

sara.ziegler: It will be very interesting to see if any changes come to VAR after all of this.

Seems worse than last year in the men’s World Cup.

TerrenceDoyle: Straitjackets for defenders because everything is a handball now.

tchow: Next chat, can we devote the entire thing to kit talk? I’ve been dying to talk to someone about China’s gray away kits.

sara.ziegler: LOL. Totally, Tony.

emily: Australia’s kit ❤ ❤ ❤

tchow: There are so many exciting games that don’t involve the U.S. to close out these group stages! Netherlands vs. Canada in Group E. England vs. Japan in Group D. Group C is all kinds of crazy with Brazil, Australia and Italy. More soccer!!

TerrenceDoyle: Group C is definitely in for a wild finish, Tony. Soccer is fun, the World Cup is fun!!!

sara.ziegler: But also: USA! USA!

emily: 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸

Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions.

How Close Is The Rest Of The World To Catching The U.S.?

The U.S. is No. 1 again in the FIFA world rankings, and while the Americans are not the favorites in the Women’s World Cup, it’s always a surprise when the world’s elite program does not win the title. It was that way in 2007, when the top-ranked Americans lost in the semifinals, and again in 2011, when Japan stunned the top-ranked Americans in the final. The U.S. did win it all in 2015, though it wasn’t at the top of the rankings that year. The question, once again, is how much longer the U.S. can stay at the top of the heap.

The rest of the world has been catching up to the U.S. women’s national soccer team for the past 30 years, though the achievements haven’t been evenly distributed around the globe. European teams in particular have narrowed the gap, but teams from South American and Africa are still searching for success.

Entering this year, seven of the top eight World Cup squads of all-time by Soccer Power Index were from either the U.S. or Germany. In this World Cup, France and Australia are in that conversation, both rated more highly than the world champion U.S. team of 1999. This year’s teams from the Netherlands, England, Japan and Canada are close behind.

This is no accident. The European federation reported almost 2.1 million registered female players in FIFA’s 2014 women’s football survey, just shy of the 2.3 million registered in the U.S. and Canada alone. Elsewhere in the world, though, progress has been slower. The developing African and South American federations reported just 54,055 and 25,459, respectively. The top 20 nations in FIFA’s rankings had 91 percent of the registered players.

Since the U.S. won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, the primary reason given for the Americans’ international success has been Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs. The national team still faces inequality: Players filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit in March and have used some of the interest in the World Cup to spotlight unequal pay. Still, the American players are the products of the world’s most successful player development organization. If a country set out to build an international powerhouse from scratch, the process would look a lot like what has happened in the U.S. in the past 47 years: Require equal scholarship funding for male and female college athletes; furnish rosters with the fruits of a nationwide travel soccer system; and pump money into the national team for the best players to train together and test themselves against the most skilled opponents in the world.

In Europe, the best clubs, leagues and national teams are funneling money into the women’s game like never before. The number of professional and semipro players is up from 1,680 in 2013 to 3,572 in 2017. The number of girls’ youth teams is up from 21,285 in 2013 to 35,183.

Europe may also have an advantage that isn’t universally present: the interest in soccer that has made so many of its nations dominant on the men’s side. The total women’s football budget across the continent has more than doubled from 50.4 million euros in 2012 to 111.7 million euros in 2017, according to a report from the European federation. Barclays, the title sponsor of the English Premier League, has signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the Women’s Super League, the top women’s professional league in England. Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona’s women’s teams played in March before an announced crowd of 60,739, a world record for club matches. That’s an anomaly for anywhere, including Europe, but it also far exceeds any club crowd in the U.S.

With more resources, European clubs are attracting more of the world’s top players, and the most successful women’s soccer organization in the world is not an American franchise but France’s Olympique Lyonnais, which has won six of the past nine Champion’s League finals. France has the highest-paying women’s soccer league in the world, according to Sporting Intelligence’s 2017 global sports salaries report. The average player salary in France’s top league was $49,782, compared with $43,730 in Germany, $35,355 in England and $27,054 in the American NWSL. The maximum salary this year in the NWSL is $46,200, while Lyon reportedly pays several players in the six figures. Fifteen of the club’s players are on World Cup rosters: eight for France and seven spread across six other countries.

On other World Cup contenders, though, women face myriad issues, primarily that the national federations pay them little or nothing and that international matches are difficult to schedule. Teams in developing countries play in the World Cup and the Olympics (if they qualify) and in their continental tournaments, but they rarely find matches outside of those years. By August 2016, only four of 10 teams in the South American federation were in FIFA’s rankings because they had played so infrequently that they were deemed “inactive.”

Argentina, ranked 37th on the women’s side, may be the biggest example of that disparity. Its players went on strike in 2017 after going unpaid, and they have had to pay for their own travel, uniforms and health insurance. In March, the national federation gave the 16-team women’s league professional status — but the teams were allocated just $2,600 per month for the top eight players, or about $330 each.

In Africa, the conditions are similar. The Super Falcons of Nigeria have won 11 of 13 African titles and have qualified for every Women’s World Cup. But their coaches and players have often worked without pay. The team protested at its hotel after winning the 2016 African Cup of Nations, refusing to leave until the federation paid the salaries and bonuses the players were owed. “This is a fight about the welfare of the team,” forward Asisat Oshoala told BBC Sport at the time. “It’s about the way the team has been handled over the years. We are champions. We went out to fight for the nation even without being paid. Not everything is about money, but of course it is an issue.”

With women’s soccer development still emerging in much of the world, several countries have struggled to schedule even friendlies. Last year, with another World Cup trip looming, Nigerian midfielder Ngozi Okobi implored her country’s federation to arrange “something big” for the team. “We’ve witnessed how the gap is gradually closing on the continent between us and others,” she said. “We can’t wake up one morning without top matches and then start traveling to France.” Governing bodies, though, have lagged in providing funding for such matches, placing another roadblock between these countries and international success: When they do put together a group of 20 competitive players, who do they play?

In all of these areas, the quadrennial World Cup is critical for assessing progress and laying the foundation for more development. For Thailand, South Africa or Argentina, a win in the group stage — or even a goal or two — can help raise the profile of women’s soccer back home. An important piece in the equation is FIFA, which has taken steps in recent years to move toward promoting the women’s game. The world governing body established a women’s football division in 2016 with an eye toward reaching 60 million female players worldwide.

Khalida Popal is an activist for women’s soccer, the kind the sport has relied on for years. She grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, playing in hiding during the Taliban regime. She founded the Afghan women’s football league and practiced on a NATO base before later leaving the country amid death threats from extremist groups and seeking asylum in Denmark. Now an administrator for the Afghan women’s national team, she works to bring sports to European kids in refugee camps. Count her among many who see the World Cup as a potential spark for developing countries to place more resources in women’s soccer and for girls to become familiar with the sport. “There’s still a long, long way to go, but if we compare … it is happening,” Popal said. “Many positive changes are taking place.”

Stipends of $330 per month for the Argentine players and endorsement deals for European leagues are marginal, but they are steps. Countries of all kinds are working to build women’s soccer programs the way the U.S. did — they’re just a few decades behind.

Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions.

Get To Know The 2019 U.S. Women’s National Team

This year’s U.S. women’s national team is a mix of familiar faces and young talents. A dozen players from the team’s winning run in the 2015 Women’s World Cup have returned, including eight of the 11 players who started the final match against Japan. But this is the first World Cup for some of the team’s key players, like midfielder Rose Lavelle, forward Mallory Pugh and defender Abby Dahlkemper.

But who are they, both on and off the field? We’ve been diving through their stats, interviews and social media musings to put together our guide to the team’s likeliest impact players. The U.S.’s path to a record fourth World Cup starts on June 11. Don’t get caught flat-footed.

Starting forwards

Tobin Heath

As a youngster, Heath was drawn to the Brazilian style of soccer, with its flair and panache. Her favorite player growing up was Ronaldinho, the Brazilian legend who played as if the ball were glued to his foot. Heath took her ball with her everywhere, sending it through the legs of chairs in her house — and also her mom. That informed the style that would become her hallmark with the Portland Thorns and the national team.

One of the most technically proficient players on the team, the 31-year-old Heath tends to create space out of nowhere thanks to those crafty dribbling skills. Fans call her the Nutmeg Queen because of how often she humiliates defenders by passing the ball through their legs to bypass them. Nutmegs are sadly not a stat tracked by any data-keepers, but Heath’s dribbling is among the world’s best, standing sixth in international play in completed dribbles per 90 minutes since 2017. Some of them surely went through the five-hole.

Alex Morgan

Morgan is the most marketable and famous member of the team, with an off-the-field empire — a movie, a streaming series and a line of books — that continues to grow regardless of whether she’s scoring goals. Luckily for the USWNT, Morgan enters this World Cup as a healthy starter for the first time after off-and-on injury woes, which means she could finally have the breakout performance at a World Cup that fans have been waiting for.

The 29-year-old Orlando Pride striker is at her best when she races behind backlines and takes on goalkeepers, but she also tends to check back and hold up the ball for other talented attackers. Sometimes that means she doesn’t score as many goals as fans or critics would want, even if she’s setting up the players around her. But with 28 goals in her last 36 games for the USWNT, it’s a good bet that Morgan will add to her tally in France.

Megan Rapinoe

As notable as “Pinoe” is on the pitch, she’s just as well known for her outspokenness off it. She joined Colin Kaepernick’s protest of kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 until U.S. Soccer took steps to ban it, which turned the affable and gregarious Rapinoe into a divisive figure. She’s also been outspoken against President Trump but says there’s no conflict in wearing the United States crest over her heart; the openly gay native of conservative Redding, California, says she is “a walking protest.”

On the field, both for the USWNT and Reign FC, she plays with a similar confidence. She’s unpredictable, she can score in different ways, and she sometimes takes over games with her individual brilliance, with a right-footed delivery that stands up against any in the game. At 153 caps, the 33-year-old Rapinoe is one of the veterans on this squad, having competed in the two previous World Cups, and she memorably assisted Abby Wambach in 2011 on the latest goal in World Cup history, a 122nd-minute equalizer to advance past Brazil in the quarterfinal.

Starting midfielders

Julie Ertz

Fans may remember Ertz as Julie Johnston from the 2015 World Cup, but in 2017, the Chicago Red Stars defender married Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. (Her teammates and coaches still call her J.J.) In the last World Cup, she was a center back along the backline, but she is a defensive midfielder now. In her new role, Ertz shields the backline while pushing up into the attack, where she has proven to be the team’s best header of the ball. Since 2017, the only Americans with more headed goals than Ertz in international play are Carli Lloyd and Lindsey Horan.

Ertz’s role for the USWNT is more crucial this time around because there isn’t another like-for-like player on the roster who provides both the mobility and physicality that Ertz does. The 27-year-old puts her body on the line so often that finishing games with gauze to stop any bleeding has become something of a joke among USWNT fans.

Lindsey Horan

Lindsey Horan took an unusual path to the national team. She was the first American woman to go pro straight out of high school, forgoing a scholarship from the powerhouse program at UNC to sign with Paris Saint-Germain at 18 years old. Back then she played as a striker, but after coming back to the U.S. to play for the Portland Thorns, she has transformed into an all-around midfield threat.

The 25-year-old can score goals, and she influences the game by controlling the midfield and disrupting opponents. In the NWSL last year, Horan was involved in 555 duels across 24 matches — 190 more duels than any other player in the league — and she won the ball 321 times, which is 116 more than anyone else. Horan is among the league’s best at progressing the ball at her feet, a plus ball-winner in central midfield, and by far the most effective long passer in the league.

Rose Lavelle

Lavelle has a bulldog dog named Wilma that she tweets about a lot, and her social media presence is filled with videos of her performing choreographed hip-hop dances with her teammates. The Washington Spirit midfielder always seems to be having fun, and she plays soccer the same way.

Of the World Cup debutants, Lavelle could play the most crucial role. The 24-year-old is a classic “No. 10” player, which means she’s a playmaker who can unlock defenses with slick passes and creativity. She is one-of-a-kind on the USWNT’s roster, and coach Jill Ellis is counting on her to create goals. Lavelle is among the most creative passers on the team, passing less often than her midfield teammates but aggressively when she does. This is her first major tournament, and how she responds to the big stage could make or break the U.S. team.

Starting defenders

Abby Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper’s national team career nearly ended right after it started. A few weeks after her first USWNT call-up in 2016, she contracted a serious sepsis infection and worried that she might lose her leg. She was bedridden for six weeks until surgery and intravenous antibiotics cleared the infection. By mid-2017, she was back on the national team radar, where she has been a fixture as a center back ever since.

The 26-year-old has been one of the best defenders in the NWSL lately, and for the national team, she plays a specific role of pinging direct balls up the field to striker Alex Morgan. For her play with the North Carolina Courage, Dahlkemper has stood out among NWSL center backs for both the volume and precision of her passing. During the past two NWSL seasons, she has completed the third-most long balls per 90 minutes among center backs, and her 55 percent completion rate ranks second.

Crystal Dunn

What position does Dunn play? Good question. She’ll start for the USWNT as a left back, but it’s not unusual to see Dunn flipped over to the right side, shifted to the central midfield or up the field as a winger — sometimes all in the same game. Even as a left back, she’ll often be high up the field when the U.S. has possession, giving the team an asymmetrical look of having an extra attacker on the left and just three defenders in the back.

It makes sense — Dunn, 26, plays as an attacker for the North Carolina Courage, and she has traditionally been one of the most productive attacking players in the NWSL. Among league players who aren’t pure strikers,1 only Tobin Heath can match her 0.81 nonpenalty goals and assists per 90 minutes in the last two seasons.

Kelley O’Hara

O’Hara’s journey to right back was a long one. She broke into the national team in 2010 as a forward. For the 2012 Olympics, she was converted into a left back. By the time the U.S. won the World Cup in 2015, she was in the midfield. For her club teams — currently the Utah Royals; before that, Sky Blue FC — she’s been shuffled around nearly as much. Now, the 30-year-old has returned to the back line, but on the right side.

Given her experience elsewhere on the pitch, O’Hara has as strong an attacking mindset as any defender could. Look for her to bomb up the field and combine with Rose Lavelle and Tobin Heath in front of her. O’Hara is a key creative outlet and playmaker for the U.S., and there’s a good case that no fullback in the world does more to support her midfield in possession: She has tallied 4.9 progressive passes played and received per 90 minutes since 2017, behind only France’s Amel Majri and O’Hara’s American teammate Crystal Dunn for most in international competition.

Becky Sauerbrunn

A lover of cats and science fiction books, Sauerbrunn — captain of the Utah Royals FC — is the cerebral foundation of the U.S. back line and the most experienced veteran on the defense.

She was a late bloomer on the national team — her big break came at 25 years old when she replaced an injured player. But she has been a fixture with the USWNT since, and she was the NWSL defender of the year in 2013, 2014 and 2015. She just turned 34, and this may be her last World Cup, but she’ll be needed as the leader of a relatively young back line. At 158 caps, Sauerbrunn is the third-most capped player on the team, and she’ll be the second-most capped starter behind Alex Morgan.

Starting goalkeeper

Alyssa Naeher

For two decades, the U.S. has put two strong personalities in goal: Hope Solo and Briana Scurry. Naeher, 31, takes a different, quieter approach. Perhaps the most controversial thing the Chicago Red Stars keeper has ever said is that she prefers to do The Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle with her morning coffee – sorry to The New York Times.

Naeher isn’t the shot-stopper Solo was during the USWNT’s previous World Cup cycle — Naeher’s save percentage for the U.S. since Feb. 13, 2015, has been 71 percent compared with Solo’s 79 percent, according to Opta Sports.2 But Naeher plays a bigger role in the team’s offense, completing about 14.3 passes per 90 minutes for the national team over the past two years, compared with Solo’s 8.7 per 90 in 2015-16. Naeher’s greater skill with the ball at her feet is apparent in her long passing: She completes 4.2 passes over 25 yards long to Solo’s 2.6, and she has a higher completion rate on those long passes, 48 percent to 42 percent.

Likely super-subs

Carli Lloyd

Anyone who only tunes into the Women’s World Cup every four years may be surprised to see Lloyd — the hero of 2015 — listed as a substitute. But the Sky Blue FC midfielder will turn 37 soon after the tournament ends, and coach Jill Ellis has determined that the younger attackers on the roster are a better stylistic fit. Lloyd, a no-nonsense New Jerseyite who is known for training even on vacation and making her own ice baths wherever she goes, isn’t happy about being a substitute, and she’s not afraid to show it.

Lloyd’s age certainly hasn’t hurt her form. Even as her role and minutes have been reduced, she’s been incredibly effective in a U.S. kit. Her 10 nonpenalty goals since 2017 is third-best for the US despite more limited playing time in the last three years.

Samantha Mewis

When U.S. Soccer conducted a written test to gauge the soccer IQ of players of both genders, Mewis scored in the top 1 percent. Credit all those books she reads — the North Carolina Courage midfielder says it’s her favorite hobby, and Harry Potter is her favorite series. At 5-foot-11, she is the tallest field player the USWNT has ever had.

Mewis, 26, may not be the best at any single thing, but she is very good at everything she’s asked to do, and she can slot into any central midfield role that might open up. She also isn’t afraid to fire shots from distance, which forces backlines into a tough decision of how to defend her. Mewis can win a tackle and play a pass like her fellow midfielders, but what sets her apart most notably are the one to two shots from outside the penalty area that she unleashes per match — of the USWNT players since 2017, only Rapinoe (of course) has tried her luck from range more often.

Christen Press

Press was a standout in college as a striker, setting Stanford’s all-time scoring record at 71 goals. But she only broke into the U.S. national team when she gave up on trying to make it — she went to play in Sweden, where she figured U.S. scouts wouldn’t see her. In the process, she rediscovered her love for soccer. Although the 30-year-old now plays stateside in the NWSL for the Utah Royals, she has said that she still likes to enjoy the Swedish coffee break known as fika, and she’s a proponent of meditation.

It hasn’t been easy for Press to find a place on the team. She couldn’t supplant Alex Morgan as the team’s go-to striker, and in 2015 she was thrust into a wide midfielder role where she never looked comfortable. Now, she has embraced being a winger and has been a consistent threat off the bench. She has averaged 0.78 nonpenalty goals and assists per 90 for the U.S. since 2017 while providing nearly one-third of her international minutes as a substitute.

Mallory Pugh

Pugh broke into the USWNT at 17 years old, and she’s been a regular ever since, so it’s easy to forget that she is the second-youngest player on the team, having just turned 21 in April. She left UCLA to turn pro with the Washington Spirit before ever playing in an official game, following in the footsteps of fellow Coloradan Lindsey Horan.

While expectations have been heaped on Pugh as the future of the team, she figures to be a “super-sub” off the bench for the Americans this summer. Pugh, like Press, is one of the weapons that sets the U.S. apart from the rest of the world, and she has been among the 10 most efficient scorers in international football in the last two years.

Annette Choi contributed visuals to this story.

Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions.