Asking Aly Wagner to identify the under the radar players to watch at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France can be a bit difficult. Wagner, a former U.S. international, will serve as the lead match analyst for Fox Sports for the tournament. In her eyes, the field boasts more talent than ever before, from top to bottom.
“As we’re seeing in 2019 compared to 2015, there are so many teams that are just much more tactically nuanced and savvy from the team that is the lowest-ranked in the World Cup to right up to number two,” Wagner told Uproxx over the phone.
This presents challenges from picking specific players to keep an eye on, if only because there are just so many of them. Her list is lengthy: Among others, France boasts Delphine Cascarino, Kadidiatou Diani, Amandine Henry, Élise Bussaglia; England has Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh, Steph Houghton, Ellen White, Fran Kirby; Germany features Melanie Leupolz, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Lina Magull; Japan will hope Yui Hasegawa and Yuka Momiki can get them to a third final in a row; the United States, well, it’s the United States.
Wagner helped Uproxx preview the upcoming tournament, which kicks off on Friday — France takes on South Korea in the opener — and runs through June 7.
I think one of the great tragedies about soccer fandom in the United States that is changing a bit is that fans are kind of prone to tuning out and only tuning in for World Cups, for the men’s team, for the women’s team, for all the teams. Is there a difference in how the Women’s National Team approaches the game in 2019 compared to how they did it when they won in 2015?
A lot looks different, I think, from 2015 to 2019. The way they play is definitely different. It was still … I would just consider it a lot less tactical in 2015 and more direct. They’re really intent on building out of the back this year. I would say in the lead-up to this World Cup, they’ve had to shift in that regard. I think they’re still not as patient as they can be, but I think they’re trying to be more patient, and they’re trying to understand the specific movements, I would say, to help open up stingy defenses.
I just think there is a greater understanding in the women’s game of how to stymie the opponent and how to hang in physically. They just happen to be more thoughtful in the approach, so it looks different. I actually think it’s much more entertaining, and I think it’s going to lead for a much better World Cup, just because games are more competitive, but I think there is just a greater control of the game and of the ball that we just didn’t have much of in 2015.
And then personnel wise, I would just say along with the tactical shift, you have the likes of a Rose Lavelle coming into the mix, and I think you get glimpses of what she did against Mexico. Her ability just to sit in the half space and create or make something out of nothing, her final ball, her vision. It’s all there.
So she’s a player that makes this team look different, Julie Ertz moving from the back line to the midfield, people are going to tune into this match [and] aren’t going to be ready for it because she was the stalwart on the back line with [Becky] Sauerbrunn in 2015, now she’s kind of put into that position in the midfield being that vocal and instrumental leader there. Obviously Alyssa Naeher is a big talking point for everyone. You know what shoes that Alyssa Naeher has to fill, the likes of Briana Scurry, Hope Solo, so those are really big personnel shifts that are going to impact the way the game looks. And Lindsey Horan would be another one that I would throw in there for sure.