Updated: Jan 1, 2020
The United States have taken home the trophy, making them the second nation to win back-to-back titles, and giving them four total out of eight tournaments. For obvious reasons, the US end up reasonably well represented on my end-of-tournament awards. Though they don’t have quite as many names as you might expect. That’s a function of a team that played well across the board, but also suffered some poor games in virtually every position.
It’s a testament to the quality of the team that some mediocre individual performances were always backed up by teammates sufficiently that it never quite bit them.
And that’s actually a general feature of the tournament as a whole. Plenty of players had incredibly good games. Very few had rock solid tournaments from top to bottom.
That’s potentially a demonstration of the parity in the sport these days, which is good. But it did make it difficult to pick individual players. Nonetheless, here is my Best XI
Ellen White (ENG), Alex Morgan (USA)
Rose Lavelle (USA), Kosovare Asllani (SWE), Amandine Henry (FRA), Jill Scott (ENG)
Kelley O’Hara (USA), Nilla Fischer (SWE), Abby Dahlkemper (USA), Lucy Bronze (ENG)
Sari van Veenendaal (NED)
Forwards: White, Morgan
The easiest name on the whole list was Ellen White. In a tournament where few strikers were truly excellent, she was the one exception. She consistently scored, and consistently put herself in position to make trouble for the defense. It was hardly a surprise–we already knew she was great–but it was still a revelation to put it all together on this stage.
I’ve paired her with Alex Morgan. But not because Morgan also tied for the joint lead in goals. Five of her six came against Thailand in that crazy game, and should be heavily discounted. But Morgan was an immense physical presence, holding the line for the US game after game, making runs, putting defenses under pressure. That sort of work produced several of the key penalties, without which the US would not have progressed. I was a bit of a late convert on this point, but enough smart people kept telling me where to pay attention to what Morgan was doing that I came around. In a different tournament–where Australia progressed and gave Sam Kerr more chances, where Barbara Bonansea maintained her form, where Caroline Graham Hansen had one more great game–she wouldn’t have done enough. But given a limited field, she provided enough critical interventions to deserve the nod.
Midfielders: Lavelle, Asllani, Henry, Scott
Rose Lavelle had a truly awful game against France. But she was just that good in her other matches that it overwhelmed that game. She was creative with the ball, unstoppable on the dribble, active in defense, and generally dominated the midfield. It was a true coming out party for a player that we’ve spent so long calling ‘the future of the team’ that it feels almost predetermined.
Asllani started strong and only got better as the tournament progressed. She was absolutely immense in the knockout rounds, orchestrating a Swedish symphony from the number 10 position. Even in her worst game of the tournament against Canada, she unleashed an all-time great pass to produce the game’s only goal and take her team through. Asllani has long been a great player. For the last month, she has been transcendent.
Henry exited the tournament in the quarterfinals, but not through any fault of her own. While she wasn’t the dominant midfield force against the US that France might have hoped, she was one of the few players on that team that didn’t shrink from the occasion. She also scored the winner in the octofinals, and was one of the only reasons France held together as well as they did.
Scott had a relatively quiet tournament, in precisely the way that the very best midfielders will hope for. She was rock solid and absolutely consistent, controlling the midfield, regulating play, stepping forward in the attack when needed but also holding the line. Many other England players got more attention during the tournament, but possibly none were so essential to their ability to control the game.
Defenders: O’Hara, Fischer, Dahlkemper, Bronze
I’ve cheated a bit here by picking two right backs, but it just feels ridiculous to pick a left back, when so few had even decent tournaments. Crystal Dunn struggled mightily for several games, though she certainly grew into things in the later knockout games, but probably ended up the best of the pack. But Kelley O’Hara can obviously play left back, and had a far more successful tournament than her counterpart on the left. So I’m going with her. She didn’t contribute a huge amount to the attack, but was useful in small doses and provided some absolutely essential defensive cover.
On the other side, the obvious choice is Lucy Bronze. We already knew how good she was, but if anyone wasn’t previously aware, they surely are now. She was absolutely dominant in several games, including probably having the single most impressive game of any player in the whole tournament when she single-handedly dismantled Norway in the quarterfinals.
In the middle, I’ve gone with Nilla Fischer and Abby Dahlkemper. Both provided calm, precisely measured defending game after game. Fischer is a longtime veteran who showed her intelligence and experience, playing a huge role in driving Sweden toward the 3rd place trophy. As for Dahlkemper, this was a truly massive tournament. For several years she’s been the apparent partner for Becky Sauerbrunn, but more by default than any ringing endorsement. And yet once they actually arrived in France, it was Dahlkemper that was the steadier player. Finally, the rest of the world got to see the player that has been so good for North Carolina in the NWSL.
Goalkeeper: Van Veenendaal
On a per-game basis, I don’t see how you could beat Christiane Endler or Vanina Correa, who single-handedly kept their teams in the tournament. But over the course of seven games, Van Veenendaal was able to generate enough bulk to take the award. She pulled off several absolutely critical saves, without which her team very likely would have gone home far earlier, and also served as a calming presence for a backline comprised of quite a few converted defenders.