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What Is This USWNT Player’s Deal: Alyssa Thompson

Alyssa Thompson #7 of the United States dribbles the ball during the first half of an international friendly against Wales at PayPal Park on July 09, 2023 in San Jose, California.
Lachlan Cunningham/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

Welcome to What Is This USWNT Player's Deal, a recurring series in which Defector selects a name from the American players most likely to go to the Women's World Cup this summer and answers the question: What is this USWNT player’s deal?

If you’re not sick of hearing about this yet, you will be by the end of the World Cup, but it’s really cool so we’re going to get it out of the way up front: Alyssa Thompson played youth soccer against elite boys and whooped their asses. At the age of 17, Thompson was the only girl playing in the MLS Next league, which is one of American soccer’s most competitive talent incubators. Thompson did more than hold her own in competitive games. As one of her teammates put it to Sports Illustrated, Thompson was known to “body kids” who got in her way.

She also ran a 100-meter dash in 11.74 seconds last year, and could have easily been an NCAA Division I sprinter if she didn’t feel like going pro in soccer. Oh, and she’s 18 years old, and was still finishing up high school while playing in her first pro games. She’s got every ingredient you need to feed a hype machine.

The legends of Thompson nutmegging future MLS players started spreading in 2020. She took the opportunity to get some training experience with NWSL teams a year later, and she’d been presumed to be the no. 1 overall pick in the NWSL Draft if she chose to enter it, whenever that happened, for several years before she was selected. Thompson made her USWNT debut in September of 2022, before she’d made her final decision to turn pro and enter the NWSL. 

But despite her pedigree, and all the hype around her, Thompson was far from a lock to make this World Cup squad. Injuries to Mallory Swanson and Christen Press opened the door, and now the tricky dribbling machine looks set to play a key role for the USWNT. 

Who Does She Play For?

Angel City FC, in her hometown of Los Angeles. She wanted to stay home if she turned pro, and Angel City certainly didn’t want to see her go somewhere else, so they engineered a wild three-way trade to get her. After all the exchanges with the Portland Thorns and Gotham FC, Angel City ended up paying $450,000 for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Thompson has met expectations, looking like Angel City’s most dangerous attacking player all year. But there’s an opportunity cost to blowing a huge chunk of your budget on one teenager: The rest of the team isn’t very good, and former head coach Freya Coombe was fired mid-season. But Angel City is undefeated in its last four games, so if you want to follow Thompson post-World Cup, she might be returning to a better team than she left.

The Lindsey Horan Magnifique Test

The Lindsey Horan Magnifique Test refers to the following foolproof heuristic for determining whether or not a U.S. player is actually good or just good by our rosy American standards: Do fans tweet lovingly about them in their local language?

How Does She Play?

Thompson is a generational talent as a dribbler. Among NWSL players who have played at least 500 minutes this season, only Sophia Smith averages more carries of 10 yards or more per 90 minutes. Her combination of speed, touch, and willingness to take on anyone is going to scare the crap out of any defender who has to face her down one-on-one.

When Thompson gets into games, you’re going to see her run at people. Over and over and over again. She gets the ball, she runs with it, leaving helpless defenders in her wake. Sometimes she stops and lets the defender catch up just so she can beat her again and create even more separation than she did the first time. It rules.

At this point in her career, Thompson probably doesn’t have the defensive output or requisite decision-making around the box to be the starter in big knockout-stage games for the USWNT. This is the very mildest of criticisms; she is one of the best 18-year-old talents women’s soccer has ever seen and she’s pretty much nailed on to be a world class player by the time the next World Cup rolls around.

The Parental Recognition Index

The Parental Recognition Index is a holistic, objective metric that analyzes a player’s full array of skills and talents, distilling it all into a single number that corresponds to their ultimate potential and the likelihood that they will become a big enough star at the World Cup that one of your parents will send you a text message about them.

If your mom watches a game there is a 1,000 percent chance, she will text you to ask if you have heard about Alyssa Thompson. Not even the leeches at the sportsbook apps would let you bet against this.

Show To Me A Cool Highlight

This goal is bonkers. Even if she didn’t score, this would make her career highlight reel, but then the narrow angle finish at the end? Good lord.

How Does She Fit In With The U.S. Team?

Really well, which is why she made the squad. With Swanson and Press unavailable, coach Vlatko Andonovski doesn’t really have an ideal starter to go along with Alex Morgan and Sophia Smith on the front line, so he’s probably going to rotate the rest of the players situationally. Thompson doesn’t need to be the total package yet, because she has the specific role of Dribble Monster.

Megan Rapinoe isn’t quick or able to give her best for 90 minutes these days, but she’s still the best set-piece taker and finisher on the team. Lynn Williams is the team’s best defensive forward. Trinity Rodman is a solid balanced option, who gives you more defense than Rapinoe and more ability to assist than Williams.. 

And then there’s Thompson, who can come in when opposition defenders are tired and the FINISH HER text from Mortal Kombat is floating above their heads.

How Close Is She To The Hypothetical Best XI?

Unfortunately, I think her lack of defensive aptitude and frequency of turnovers means you can’t start her over Rodman or Williams in a big game. But not having the pressure of needing to be that all-around starter and just having a specific role that’s suited to what she’s currently good at is going to allow her to thrive. And even if she’s not the starter, the chances of her having a highlight off the bench that makes her an overnight star are extremely high.

In any event, pay attention now, because she’ll be the front-and-center superstar in four years.

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