The opportunity is tremendous.
At Australia-New Zealand 2023, more than half of Vlatko Andonovski's 23-woman United States roster will compete at her maiden World Cup. Soccer's marquee event can change lives forever, powerful enough to turn relatively anonymous prospects into global celebrities over a matter of mere weeks.
"Obviously the World Cup is a much bigger level," first-timer Naomi Girma, a 23-year-old center back who will lead the back line in place of injured captain Becky Sauerbrunn, told FOX Sports in a phone interview.
Twelve years ago, it was Alex Morgan — then known to her battle-tested teammates as "Baby Horse" — who scored in both the semis and the final to become a household name overnight. While Morgan and fellow veteran Megan Rapinoe remain the undisputed headliners of the 2023 U.S. team that next week will begin its quest to win an unprecedented third consecutive world title — a feat no men's or women's team has ever accomplished before — they won't necessarily still be its most celebrated members following the Aug. 20 final in Sydney, Australia.
With a team that is younger and more diverse than its predecessor, a number of newcomers could explode into the American consciousness over the next month or so — none more so than Trinity Rodman.
As the daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman, the 21-year-old forward is already a natural curiosity among fans. But she's also already well on her way to making a name of her own with the USWNT; on Sunday, Rodman scored both goals in 2-0 win over Wales, the Americans' final tune-up match before opening the group stage of the World Cup on July 21 against Vietnam (9 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
Rodman is the second-youngest player on the squad after 18-year-old phenom Alyssa Thompson, who replaced Mallory Swanson when the latter suffered a torn patellar tendon in her left knee in an April friendly against Ireland.
"In October, she was playing youth soccer and now, in July, she will be at the biggest stage in women's soccer," Andonovski said of Thompson after the team was announced last month.
Then there's Sophia Smith, 22, an all-action goalscorer who is likely to start over both Rodman and Thompson Down Under.
The influx of new blood isn't the only thing that sets this U.S. World Cup team apart from previous rosters. A criticism of the four-time world champion USWNT over the years has been the lack of diversity within its ranks. While openly gay players, like Rapinoe and all-time U.S. top scorer Abby Wambach, have been key members of the team for decades, the 2019 roster featured just three African Americans (defender Crystal Dunn and reserve forwards Swanson and Jess McDonald) and zero Latinas.
This time, even without the injured Swanson and Catarina Macario, seven Black players are on the squad. Midfielder Ashley Sanchez and fullback Sofia Huerta are of Mexican descent. Huerta, a Boise, Idaho native, represented Mexico at an under-20 World Cup and even suited up five times for El Tri at the senior level before permanently switching to the U.S. in 2017.
"Historically, soccer in this country has been a predominantly white sport," Williams told FOX Sports. "Growing up, when I would go to tournaments, there wasn't really anybody who looked like me. So this is a really cool opportunity not just for myself, but for anybody who can see themselves in me."
"Representation is one of the most important things," Girma added. "This U.S. team is probably the most diverse that we've had. Being part of that is really special for me. I'm hoping it inspires young girls to feel like they belong in this space where maybe they didn't feel like that before."
The changing of the guard has already begun. Morgan is still a key player at 34 but might not be four years from now. Rapinoe, who turned 38 on July 5, will occupy a supporting role off the bench this summer after being front and center four years ago. She announced last week that she will retire from the sport when the NWSL season concludes this fall. This could be the last World Cup for 2015 alums Ertz, defender Kelley O'Hara and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, too.
In their place, this new generation of U.S. stars is ready to take over, ready to use this World Cup experience as the launchpad to the rest of their lives. They may be fresh-faced and unproven now, the way Morgan was once. But they know that this summer Down Under, history is there for the taking.
"I hope there's a lot of little girls watching, being inspired and wanting to play soccer," Girma said. "All it takes is one moment for a little kid's eyes to be opened."
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.