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The case for the most essential USWNT player: Becky Sauerbrunn

Nov 13, 2022; Harrison, New Jersey, USA; United States defender Becky Sauerbrunn (4) controls the ball against Germany during the first half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Becky Sauerbrunn may be one of the best players to ever put on the U.S. women’s national team uniform.

And as Just Women’s Sports continues its series of the most essential USWNT players ahead of the 2023 World Cup, Sauerbrunn is near the top of the list.

While many have contributed in points and assists, Sauerbrunn has made an indelible impact despite never having scored in a game for the USWNT. Her leadership and play on defense don’t go unnoticed, and neither does her activism off of it.

“Sometimes I look to Becky like my moral compass,” Sam Mewis said in 2020. “Like, whatever she is doing is what I know is right, so I should probably do the same thing.”

Fellow defender Casey Krueger has said that Sauerbrunn “sets the standard,” while Tierna Davidson called her a “fantastic role model.”

A two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist, Sauerbrunn is also a four-time NWSL Defender of the Year and reached 200 caps for the USWNT last year. She is now up to 212 appearances and counting.

When naming Sauerbrunn USWNT captain for the second time in her career in 2021, head coach Vlatko Andonovski cited her communication skills as one of the many reasons for appointing her as the team’s leader.

“She was a leader of the team before. She is a leader of the team now,” Andonovski said. “She has been incredible in communication between players and coaches, and she has always been there for the players. Quite frankly, she has been there for the coaches as well.”

The appointment came as the team was navigating how to take a stand against racial and social inequity.

“I am helping facilitate a space for those conversations to take place,” Sauerbrunn said. “And then there are a bunch of players on this team in that space who are stepping up and sharing their advice and their experience.”

Those conversations appear to have continued and expanded to include speaking out against gun violence, supporting women’s rights and, more recently, transgender participation in sport. Earlier this week, Sauerbrunn spoke out against anti-transgender legislation with an op-ed in her hometown newspaper in Missouri. Teammates Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe expressed their support for Sauerbrunn’s public stance before the U.S. plays two SheBelieves Cup games this month in Texas and Florida, two states that have passed similar bills.

Sauerbrunn has never hid from standing tall in her convictions. As the team has navigated issues from racial inequities to abuse in both the NWSL and U.S. Soccer, Sauerbrunn has remained a steady, positive presence and someone players can turn to for guidance.

Sauerbrunn’s significance to the team includes her defensive abilities and leadership.

Through 12 appearances last year, Sauerbrunn helped anchor the defense to 11 clean sheets. Even during the team’s three-game losing streak in October, the defense allowed just six total goals against some of the world’s top teams in England, Spain and Germany.

Sauerbrunn’s experience on the field and off will be instrumental as the team looks to repeat as World Cup champions this summer, especially with newcomers like Naomi Girma playing on soccer’s biggest stage for the first time.

“The reason why I have played as long as I have is because I can problem solve. I can see spaces. I can identify dangerous spots that teams can capitalize on,” she told St. Louis City SC last year. “I always found myself in the way of the ball.”

But despite a run of pure dominance during her career, which has spanned over a decade, Sauerbrunn hasn’t always been given the credit she deserves.

“From the outside, some things have more glory, some things have less glory,” Sauerbrunn said in 2021. “Unfortunately, being a defender, it doesn’t have that much glory, but it’s just as important.”

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