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Six breakout players to watch at 2023 Women’s World Cup

Eighteen-year-old Linda Caicedo’s talent is on full display for Colombia at the World Cup. (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Every team at the 2023 World Cup has now played their first group stage match, with a number of fun surprises and close matchups underlining the competitive nature of this year’s tournament.

With no 13-0-style blowouts in sight, players from across the globe had to step up their games to ensure three points for their teams. In a strong first week for World Cup debuts, players participating in their first major international tournaments are quickly making their mark on the competition.

Here are a few of the top performers from the first round of the group stage who might be the key to their squads going all the way.

Ary Borges, Brazil

Borges, a star forward for Racing Louisville in the NWSL, kicked off Brazil’s World Cup campaign with a bang against Panama. The 23-year-old scored a hat trick in her first career World Cup start, leading the way as Brazil cruised to a 5-0 win. The forward also notched an assist, contributing to four of Brazil’s five goals.

Brazil’s next generation is eager to win the country’s first Women’s World Cup title in honor of the legacy of players like Marta and Formiga, and Borges is one of those players who has been building toward this moment. She connects well with World Cup talent in Louisville, such as the USWNT’s Savannah DeMelo and China’s Wang Shuang. She’s scored two goals in all NWSL competitions so far in 2023, but her introduction to the world stage could not be denied.

Sophia Smith, United States

Going into this World Cup, the USWNT’s hopes for a three-peat placed a lot of pressure on 22-year-old Sophia Smith, the reigning NWSL MVP. If Smith felt the pressure in first major international tournament, she didn’t show it as she contributed to all three of the USWNT’s goals against Vietnam.

With the USWNT, Smith is tasked with being more versatile from her winger position, something that has not slowed down her scoring output. She’ll be relied upon once again in the reigning World Cup champions’ next group stage match against the Netherlands on Wednesday night. A win would put the USWNT in control of their own destiny in Group E.

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Alexandra Popp scored a brace for Germany in their opener after missing last year's Euros final. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Alexandra Popp, Germany

At the age of 32, Alexandra Popp is playing some of the best soccer of her career, just in time for Germany’s chance to lift the World Cup trophy for the third time. Playing in her fourth World Cup, Popp is Germany’s imposing target striker, scoring with her head as well as her feet. She made her presence felt with a brace in Germany’s 6-0 opening win over Morocco, the biggest margin of victory in the World Cup thus far.

When Germany made a surprise run to the European Championship final in 2022, Popp missed the eventual loss to England due to injury. Her form has not waned in the year since then, with the forward scoring a goal for her club, Wolfsburg, in the 2023 Champions League final. Popp’s presence on the field at this World Cup could be the difference-maker that puts Germany over the top.

Linda Caicedo, Colombia

The 2023 World Cup is 18–year-old Linda Caicedo’s third in the past year: She starred at both the U-17 and U-20 World Cups before taking the 2022 Copa America Femenil by storm with Colombia’s senior team. In her senior World Cup debut against South Korea, she looked like the most technically advanced player on the field, controlling play and notching her first senior World Cup goal to put the game out of reach.

Caicedo is just getting started, signing with Real Madrid earlier this year to take her game to the next level. She’ll need to step up even more in Colombia’s next two games, as her team aims to make it out of Group F alongside Germany. Colombia is making its return to the world stage after missing the tournament in 2019, but with Caicedo leading the way, they won’t stay under the radar for long.

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Angel City's Jun Endo is off to a hot start for Japan at the World Cup. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Jun Endo, Japan

The vision for Japan’s rebuild materialized in their opening 5-0 victory over Zambia, not least due to the contributions of World Cup debutante Jun Endo. A force with Angel City FC in the NWSL, Endo gave Zambia’s defenders very little time to compose themselves, often getting to the endline and cutting in centrally to generate an overwhelming pace of attack.

Endo finished the match with a goal and an assist, as well as a number of good chances called back for marginal offsides. But what sets the winger apart is her ability to control the tempo of the match while still executing with the perfect timing to find her teammates in space. All the more impressive is that the performance came after Endo suffered a knee injury at the club level, briefly putting her World Cup dreams in doubt. The 23-year-old brings an edge that her teammates feed off of, and that energy could lead Japan — who also defeated Costa Rica 2-0 on Wednesday — all the way to the final.

Melchie Dumornay, Haiti

Haiti has a difficult task ahead of them to get out of their group, after a slim 1-0 loss to England in their tournament opener, but they still have a global star on their hands. Nineteen-year-old Melchie Dumornay looked like the generational talent she’s been heralded as in the game against the reigning European champions. The new Olympique Lyon signing came into the tournament as one of the breakout stars of Concacaf W qualifying in 2022, and she raised her game to a new level on the biggest stage.

With Haiti as heavy underdogs, Dumornay needed to not only generate attack, but also retain as much possession as possible to relieve pressure on the defense behind her. Her constant motor is an underrated facet of her game, allowing her to push back into Haiti’s defensive midfield and defense to get the ball, and then evade defenders with her dribbling as she progresses into the attacking third.

Haiti will have to get through Denmark for a shot at extending their stay at their first World Cup, but with Dumornay on the field, anything is possible.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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Team USA, Germany Play Pre-Olympic Exhibition Game in London

Team USA's 5x5 Basketball Team stands for the National Anthem before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Team USA looks to rebound from Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game loss in an exhibition against Germany today. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball's 5x5 team will tip off in an exhibition against Germany in London this afternoon, getting in one last tune-up before the Summer Olympics begin.

The US is hunting an eighth-straight gold medal this year, with group stage play starting on July 29th.

Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to face Germany in pre-Olympic exhibition.
Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to take on Germany in London. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

US to use All-Star loss as fuel

Coming off the weekend's All-Star Game loss, the Olympians are ready to repeat history: They earned their Tokyo gold medal immediately after losing the first Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game back in 2021.

Breanna Stewart, who led Team USA with a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double on Saturday, said that the defeat "is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities, [and now] we can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better."

Today’s tilt against Germany will see the US work to lock in their defense, particularly in the paint. They'll also lean into their positional versatility before heading to Paris.

WNBA pro Satou Sabally leads Team Germany in today's pre-Olympic exhibition game against Team USA.
WNBA pro Satou Sabally helped Germany to their first-ever Olympic berth. (Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Olympic debutants Germany enter first US clash

The exhibition marks the first-ever US-Germany linkup. The German team will make their Olympic debut in Paris after decades of failing to qualify for major international competitions. Their sixth-place 2023 EuroBasket finish sent them into February’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they punched their ticket to the 2024 Games.

Leading Germany's run was two-time WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally, who put up career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, and steals with Dallas last season. Her 20-point, 11-rebound double-double was the difference-maker in Germany's must-win 73-71 Olympic qualifying victory over Brazil.

Other German players to watch include 2022 NY Liberty draft-pick — and Sabally's sister — Nyara Sabally, along with Liberty sharpshooter Leonie Fiebich.

Where to watch the Team USA vs. Germany game

Today’s exhibition tips off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on FS1.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: USWNT Star Jaedyn Shaw Is Expecting “Dubs All Around”

retired uswnt star kelley o'hara interviewing san diego wave and uswnt forward jaedyn shaw
'1v1' is back with Jaedyn Shaw joining Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, San Diego Wave and USWNT star Jaedyn Shaw joins two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from the 19-year-old Wave FC phenom about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her experience with international competition at this point in her young career, and how she's preparing to take on the 2024 Summer Games.

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The 91st: Complete USWNT & Olympic Soccer Preview Featuring Jess McDonald

Logo for JWS USWNT Olympic show The 91st
The latest season of JWS' awarding-winning Olympics show 'The 91st' premieres today. (Just Women's Sports)

We're back! Hosts Jordan Angeli, Duda Pavao, and retired USWNT forward Jess McDonald deliver a full preview of this year's Olympic soccer tournament in Paris.

Watch for full analysis of USWNT manager Emma Hayes's coaching style, this team's shifting identity in this new USWNT era, and a projected starting XI for the team's group stage opener against Zambia. The 91st hosts also break down all three Olympic groups — including top players and teams to track throughout the tournament — plus give their predictions for the medal rounds and individual awards.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

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