As quickly as women's soccer tends to grow year over year, 2023 felt like a giant leap forward.
The Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was the most competitive iteration in the tournament's history by many measures. Traditional powerhouses such as Germany, Brazil and the U.S. all stumbled out early, while Colombia, Jamaica, South Africa and debutante Morocco made it further than they ever have, causing upsets along the way. We even got a first-time winner in Spain, a team that previously had only ever reached the round of 16.
On the club side, there was just as much growth. In the UEFA Women's Champions League, Barcelona claimed their second title for the 2023-24 campaign, while eight-time winners and perennial favorites Lyon were ousted in the quarterfinals. Stateside in the NWSL, NJ/NY Gotham FC became first-time champions and the San Diego Wave became first-time Shield winners with the best regular-season record. In England's WSL, Chelsea again won the league, but it was more competitive as new teams emerged as contenders, like Manchester United (No. 2) and Aston Villa (No. 5), who had their highest-ever finishes in the league.
The women's game, long marked by the haves and have-nots, saw the gaps close between teams at both the club and international levels in 2023. This was the year when historical precedent didn't count for much on the field.
At the end of such a monumental 12 months, it's only fitting that ESPN FC Women's Rank, our ranking of the top 50 women footballers in the world, returns. As much as we saw power balances upended within teams, we saw a whole lot of movement on our top 50 player list as well.
How influential was the World Cup in deciding the Women's Rank?
Sophie Lawson and Sam Marsden react to the high number of Spanish and English players in the top 50.
We've conducted this ranking since 2021, and we've never had so few Americans. Our first list had 11, and then six last year. This year, just four Americans made the top 50 -- and for the first time, none made the top 10. Unsurprisingly, World Cup finalists England and Spain took up a lot of the spots that Americans vacated as the two most represented nations of the list. Ten from England made it -- seven of whom missed last year's list -- and nine Spanish players made it, four of them appearing for the first time.
The talent pool in the women's game is deeper than it has ever been, which made picking only 50 players tougher than ever.
How ESPN FC Women's Rank works
This fall, we polled 32 women's soccer experts from around the world. Current and former coaches for top-tier clubs teams or national teams, general managers, administrators, players and journalists were asked to anonymously pick their top 50 players of 2023. Using a ranked ballot, each No. 1 vote was worth 50 points, and each No. 50 vote was worth one point. At the end, we tallied up the points to get our list.
This list covers the 2023 calendar year, which means you might not see some players who started the year strong only to spend most of the year sidelined. For instance, Mallory Swanson was statistically and stylistically the best player for the U.S. until an injury in early April kept her out for the rest of the year, which made her ineligible for this ranking.
In fact, injuries loom large over this list -- even if the rapid growth and evolution of the women's game explains why a lot of the debutantes are on this list, injuries are the other part of the explanation. Consider that Alexia Putellas (No. 1 on our 2022 list) spent most of 2023 injured or still not at her sharpest as she worked back to full fitness. Also, Samantha Mewis -- No. 1 on our 2021 list -- didn't play a single minute in 2023.
Our No. 3 on last year's list, Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands, was sidelined for all of 2023 with an ACL tear. Last year's highest-ranked American -- Catarina Macario, who came in at No. 6 -- also didn't play at all in 2023 because of an ACL injury, and the list of absentees continues from there. One of the biggest storylines going into the Women's World Cup was just how many top players would miss the tournament because of ACL tears. Without those stars, new stars came and filled the void.
Even if our panelists wanted to phone it in and vote for on name recognition alone, it would've been difficult. Luckily, our selection panel is savvier than that.
Here is this year's list of voters: San Diego Wave president and ex-USWNT coach Jill Ellis, ex-Netherlands and ex-Washington Spirit coach Mark Parsons, Gotham FC general manager Yael Averbuch, Feyenoord head coach Jessica Torny, Angel City FC head coach Becki Tweed, Nigeria head coach Randy Waldrum, ex-New Zealand and ex-USWNT head coach Tom Sermanni, Liga MX Femenil director Mariana Gutierrez Bernardez, ex-Barcelona and ex-Ukraine head coach Lluis Cortes, analyst and ex-USWNT player Heather O'Reilly, ex-FIFA executive committee member Moya Dodd, UK journalist Rich Laverty, UK journalist Tom Garry, Portuguese journalist Ines Braga Sampaio, Swedish journalist Amanda Zaza, Australian journalist Samantha Lewis, U.S. journalist and ESPN contributor Jeff Kassouf, ESPN U.S. editor Caitlin Murray, ESPN UK writer Sophie Lawson, ESPN U.S. editor James Tyler, ESPN Africa contributor Leonard Solms, ESPN Africa editor Lindsay du Plessis, ESPN UK writer Tom Hamilton, ESPN France contributor Julien Laurens, ESPN Netherlands editor Audrey de Ridder, ESPN Netherlands presenter Sanne van Dongen, ESPN Netherlands presenter Fresia Cousiño Arias, ESPN Netherlands commentator Mark van Rijswijk, ESPN Spain writer Sam Marsden, ESPN U.S. and Mexico writer Cesar Hernandez, ESPN Australia contributor Joey Lynch, ESPN Australia editor Michael Wise.
Now that you know how we arrived at our top 50 players, it's time to go through them all one by one. We present to you: ESPN FC Women's Rank for 2023.
Are the USWNT underrepresented in the 2023 Women's rank?
Sophie Lawson and Sam Marsden discuss why only four USWNT stars made the top 50 of the Women's Rank.
Country: EnglandClub: Manchester CityAge: 30Position: Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
Greenwood was one of the standout players at the 2023 World Cup as England reached the final (where she played on with a bandaged bloody forehead), and she is likewise a valuable contributor for Manchester City as a left-footed defender. Greenwood has played top-tier football virtually all her life, starting at Everton's academy at age 6 followed by making her professional debut at 16, and her experience has been crucial to England's rise in recent years.
With Man City starting the 2023-24 WSL season conceding only a handful of goals, could she help lead them past habitual winners Chelsea? -- Lindsay du Plessis
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 32Position: Defender2022 Rank: 18
Surrounded by so many incredible players at Barca, Paredes can often go unnoticed, but she was the undisputed leader of Spain's World Cup-winning defense this summer. Whether starting attacks from the back or making one of the tackles of the tournament after chasing down Zambia's Barbra Banda during the group stage, Paredes was there time and time again.
In a testament to her consistency and reliability, she earned her 100th cap for La Roja earlier this month, even after a computer glitch forced her to wait in October to reach the milestone. -- Sam Marsden
Country: AustraliaClub: LyonAge: 23Position: Defender2022 Rank: 27
Carpenter spent large parts of 2023 recovering from an ACL injury and had a down World Cup by her standards, with teammates rallying to her support following a torrent of online abuse over her performances. Despite such setbacks, the speedy wingback remains one of the most dangerous players an opponent will ever see running at them down a right flank.
The grizzled young vet -- she's approaching 75 Matildas caps despite only being 23 years old -- won a league and cup double with Lyon in 2022-23 and has won many fans for her eager immersion into life in France. -- Joey Lynch
Country: USAClub: OL ReignAge: 28Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: 19
Lavelle couldn't reach the heights of previous years -- her ESPN FC Women's Rank for 2021 was No. 15 and in 2022 No. 19 -- in large part because of injuries that dogged her in 2023. She played just 552 minutes of the NWSL regular season and had to make her return from injury during the summer's World Cup, only being fit enough to start and play a full 90-minute game once in the tournament.
When she did get on the field, it was clear why the hopes of the U.S. women's national team were, to some extent, hitched to Lavelle. Her creative progressive passing and her ability to find seams are among the best the U.S. has ever had, and she assisted the USWNT's most important goal of the World Cup against the Netherlands. Without her defense-splitting passes and through balls -- she played less than half of the available minutes for the USWNT during the tournament -- the Americans couldn't quite find the scoring chances they needed. -- Caitlin Murray
Country: SwedenClub: ArsenalAge: 27Position: Forward2022 Rank: 23
Arsenal striker Blackstenius has been part of the Swedish women's national team since her teens and has featured at two World Cups and two Olympics, leading her side in goals as they won silver at Tokyo 2020.
Her 2023 World Cup was less spectacular as she scored once before Sweden exited in the semifinals to eventual winners Spain. Still, her club year has been a good one, with the Gunners winning the League Cup and Arsenal leading almost every stat line for the 2023-24 season so far -- with Blackstenius among the scoring leaders. -- Du Plessis
Country: SwedenClub: Bayern MunichAge: 30Position: Defender2022 Rank: 13
Chelsea won six league titles in the seven seasons that Eriksson played in the heart of their defense. Coincidence? Probably not. The Sweden stalwart now plays at Bayern Munich with teammate and partner Pernille Harder, the duo having moved to Germany ahead of the 2023-24 season, and she similarly has had an influence there.
Eriksson has racked up more than 100 appearances each for Chelsea and Sweden, creating crucial stability for her teams. A defender who also has a nose for goal, she has an impressive 12 international goals, and she has already netted twice for Bayern in this new season. -- Du Plessis
Country: JapanClub: Manchester CityAge: 26Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
Everywhere she goes, good things happen. Despite moving to a more defensive midfield role after an offseason transfer from West Ham to Manchester City, Hasegawa still manages to impact games thanks to her range of passing and exceptional vision, the two biggest weapons in her armory. Similarly, Hasegawa further stepped up for Japan at the World Cup this year, running much of the show from midfield and helping to set the pace for her national team as it impressed on its way to the quarterfinals. -- Sophie Lawson
Country: NetherlandsClub: BarcelonaAge: 20Position: Forward/Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
Two years ago, Brugts was playing for PSV as a fairly unknown attacker from Heinenoord, a village with fewer than 4,000 inhabitants. In February 2022, she debuted for the Dutch Lionesses and quickly solidified herself as a key player for the national team. At the 2023 World Cup, she seamlessly adjusted to her new role as a wing-back and scored beautiful goals, helping the Dutch side reach the quarterfinals.
She has worked hard for it, too. The goals she scored for the Netherlands from outside the box are anything but coincidental, as she refined her shot with a personal trainer. Now, the 20-year-old has already amassed 20 caps for the Dutch national team. With a first touch that is spellbinding, she'll be a player to watch for years to come. -- Audrey de Ridder
Country: PolandClub: WolfsburgAge: 26Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
Pajor is a player whose value is measured in goals, but also in how much her teams struggle without her. Having battled through injuries in 2022-23 to return to the field for club and country, Wolfsburg's familiar No. 9 soon found herself among the scoring once again, tallying 12 goals and seven assists in the Bundesliga. To that end, she was also showing off her virtuosity in front of goal as the She Wolves romped to the UEFA Women's Champions League final, where Pajor scored inside three minutes.
It's a shame we didn't get to see Pajor or her native Poland at the World Cup this summer, but she has continued her form (five goals, one assist) into this season. -- Lawson
Country: AustraliaClub: ArsenalAge: 29Position: Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
Being an elite defender is about dealing with pressure, usually in anticipating danger and preventing goals. But Catley had the weight of an entire nation on her shoulders when she stepped up to the penalty spot for co-host Australia's opening game of the World Cup against Ireland. Not that you'd have guessed it, given how she promptly fired home one of the best penalties you'll ever see, rescuing a crucial 1-0 win for the Matildas.
She's an unflappable leader who was trusted with the captain's armband when Sam Kerr went down with a calf injury at the beginning of the tournament, and she steered the Matildas' ship through a challenging group stage. Her versatility across the back line, special set piece delivery and ability to contribute higher up the piece make her an integral player for both club and country. -- Lynch
Country: EnglandClub: ArsenalAge: 24Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
Russo, who sprung to prominence during England's successful Euro 2022 campaign, created headlines at the start of 2023 because of a transfer that didn't happen. Arsenal attempted to pay the highest transfer fee in women's soccer when offering £450,000 for the Manchester United player in January, but that was rejected. In the end, Russo signed with the Gunners as a free agent in the summer.
She endured a somewhat frustrating World Cup campaign, scoring three times but finding little opportunity in the final against Spain, but she is now Arsenal's leading goal producer for the 2023-24 season, with two goals each in the Champions League and WSL, plus a pair of assists in the WSL. -- Mark Ogden
Alessia Russo plays You Have To Answer
Would Alessia Russo rather win WSL with Manchester United or win the World Cup with England? Find out in 'You Have to Answer'.
Country: NetherlandsClub: Manchester CityAge: 26Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: 50
You'll know Roord as an attacking midfielder with a great physicality, technique and efficiency in front of the goal, as demonstrated by her four goals at the 2023 World Cup. Starting with FC Twente, where she made her senior debut at age 16, her career has taken her to the Manchester City first team as she established herself as a Dutch international. She can contribute on both sides of the ball and, at 26, several more appearances on ESPN FC Women's Rank appear likely. -- De Ridder
Country: FranceClub: Paris Saint-GermainAge: 26Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
Geyoro is playing the best football of her career, even as 2023 will cruelly end with no trophies added to her collection. With PSG, she came close again as they were runners-up in the league and suffered a narrow loss in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women's Champions League; with France, her World Cup ended in a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss on penalties against co-hosts Australia. Through it all, she continues to be one of the most elegant and intelligent players in world football. -- Julien Laurens
Country: HaitiClub: LyonAge: 20Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
Dumornay was the one who sent Haiti to the nation's first-ever Women's World Cup with her winning strike against Chile in the qualification playoffs, and 2023 marked the year that the 20-year-old made her own major tournament debut with Les Grenadières in Australia and New Zealand. Once there, she was a bright spark for Haiti and, despite the team's inability to score, the young attacker impressed with her guile in each of their three group stage games.
Following Haiti's early exit, Dumornay promptly started the next chapter of her career, joining European heavyweights Olympique Lyonnais during the summer transfer window. -- Lawson
Country: NorwayClub: ChelseaAge: 29Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
Reiten's quality for club and country is well-known now, but that wasn't always the case. After joining Chelsea in 2019, the Norwegian was shuffled around for years in manager Emma Hayes' system, finally earning a role -- and a reputation -- for being an all-action midfielder in the 2021-22 season. Since then, she's become a key part of how Chelsea attack, not just pitching in nine goals last season with late box-crashing runs, but 11 assists. Her deft range of passing has also proved vital for the Blues as they claimed the domestic double last year.
Norway's time at the World Cup was all too brief, with Reiten scoring just once as they were bounced in the round of 16, but her utility at the heart of Chelsea's brilliance keeps her on the list. -- Lawson
Country: FranceClub: LyonAge: 33Position: Defender2022 Rank: 11
Unlike Grace Geyoro and Kadidiatou Diani, her two France teammates in this ranking, Renard is much older (33 years old against 26 and 28), and the end of her career is coming sooner rather than later. Regardless, her longevity at the top of the of the game is remarkable and a credit to her talent and mentality. She showed her class in 2023, proving once more that she's one of the best defenders in the world.
Renard was unbeatable during the World Cup despite France reaching only the last eight -- her team conceded just once when she was on the pitch. On the club side, she was unlucky to lose on penalties with Lyon against Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinal to close out last season. But the 2023-24 season has started great for her and Lyon, and she has high ambitions again. -- Laurens
Country: SwedenClub: ArsenalAge: 30Position: Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
For Arsenal and the Swedish national team, Ilestedt has quietly been an excellent defender, as is often the case for center-backs. Her defensive interventions at this summer's World Cup put her among the top six defensive players at the tournament. Through Sweden's seven games -- with Ilestedt starting each -- the Blågult conceded only four goals, finishing with the sixth-best per-game defense of the tournament's 32-team field.
But it has been Ilestedt's surprising goal-scoring exploits that earned her a spot on this list. She finished the World Cup with four goals, one behind Golden Boot winner Hinata Miyazawa. One of those ended up being a game-winner for Sweden in the group stage. Before her scoring spree this summer, Ilestedt had found the net just eight times over a decade with Sweden, making 2023 a year to remember for her. -- Murray
Country: EnglandClub: Bayern MunichAge: 24Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
Stanway had proved herself at Bayern Munich in 2023 as a go-to starter, with her progressive passes and pass completion putting her in the upper echelon of midfielders. But her work at this summer's World Cup, when she helped England reach the final in Sydney following a string of gritty, lung-bursting performances, has confirmed her status as one of the world's best.
Stanway got Sarina Wiegman's England team off to the start they needed, scoring the only goal in their opening fixture against Haiti, and she remained a key figure throughout. Despite the Lionesses falling short in the Nations League, there's every reason to believe Stanway will remain central to Wiegman's plans heading into Euro 2025 in Switzerland. -- Ogden
Country: JamaicaClub: Manchester CityAge: 26Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
Shaw is very good at scoring goals, particularly with her head, which isn't a surprise for a 6-foot attacker. And yet, her game isn't simply built around physicality, but rather her anticipation and understanding. Not only does Shaw finish at a rate of nearly a goal per game, but she knows where and when to be in order to show off her skills. A handful for any opponent, she came into her own for Manchester City last season (20 goals in 22 league games), building important partnerships with her teammates that have allowed the Jamaican to know where to be in order to get a shot off. -- Lawson
Country: BrazilClub: North Carolina CourageAge: 23Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
While the World Cup was a driving factor behind where many players landed on this list, that's not quite the case for Kerolin, who was part of a Brazil side that shockingly crashed out of the group stage. Instead, she has sparkled for her club team, scoring 10 goals in the 2023 NWSL season, finishing No. 2 in the league's Golden Boot race.
It's not just her goal-scoring that makes her so good, either. Her incisive dribbling, pace and confidence-brimmed trickery make her a nightmare to defend against and a thrill to watch. As such, she was named the NWSL's Most Valuable Player for 2023, and she was a big part of the beautiful, methodical soccer that the North Carolina Courage played this season, even if the NWSL Shield and the NWSL Championship evaded them.
Her 2023 ended on a sour note when she tore her ACL in October, which will keep her sidelined for several months, but fans of saucy soccer will be counting down to her return. -- Murray
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 26Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
Equally adept playing on the wing, as an attacking midfielder or as a false nine, Caldentey is one of the most important players for both Barca and Spain. Her steady tempo and high work rate make her valuable whether her teams are chasing a game or defending a lead. But she has so much in her locker: she can control games with the ball, dribble past opponents, create goals and score them. With such a cool head, she is often tasked with taking penalties, too. While she doesn't always grab headlines, her role in Barca's and Spain's success this year cannot be underestimated. -- Marsden
Country: USAClub: LyonAge: 29Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: 22
In a World Cup where the U.S. women's national team struggled to score goals, Horan was the lone bright spot. Her header against the Netherlands in the group stage saved the USWNT's tournament, and she was excellent against Sweden, forcing world-class saves out of goalkeeper Zećira Mušović, who had arguably the best game (and tournament) of her career to knock the Americans out.
Horan can do a bit of everything: score goals, dish line-breaking passes to set up her teammates, stamp out oncoming attacks, win 50-50 balls, and pretty much anything you want to have happen in the midfield. That she's not higher on the list compared to other Americans might reflect the high standards she's set for herself, with her five goals for Lyon this 2023-24 campaign perhaps seeming routine. But make no mistake, when the USWNT looked like a team that could compete -- as infrequent as it was in 2023 -- it's because Horan was able to cook. -- Murray
Country: NigeriaClub: BarcelonaAge: 29Position: Forward2022 Rank: 43
Oshoala is Africa's premier women's footballer, something that was evident at the World Cup as Nigeria reached the knockout stage. She's been with Spanish giants Barcelona since 2019, where she has won the league title four times and the UEFA Women's Champions League twice. Her height, speed and technical ability make her a nightmare to defend, and even in a team lined with stars such as Caroline Graham Hansen and Ballon d'Or winner Aitana Bonmati, Oshoala always looks poised to claim the Pichichi Trophy, awarded to the league's top scorer, like she did in 2022. -- Du Plessis
Country: JapanClub: Manchester UnitedAge: 23Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
You would be forgiven if Miyazawa wasn't on your radar coming into 2023. She was playing for WE League club Mynavi Sendai in Japan, where she had scored only four times in 39 appearances, and she had scored only four times in her international career.
But when she arrived at the World Cup, something clearly clicked -- she won the tournament's Golden Boot, scoring five times, including twice in the group stage against eventual winners Spain. Add in her lone assist, and she averaged a goal involvement every 56 minutes -- a remarkable pace at any level, let alone the biggest tournament in the sport.
Manchester United signed her as soon as the tournament ended, and she notched her first goal for the Red Devils on Nov. 26. -- Murray
Country: BrazilClub: Kansas City CurrentAge: 32Position: Forward2022 Rank: 21
This year, Debinha had neither the World Cup with Brazil nor the club season with the Kansas City Current that she wanted. Brazil had their worst finish in a Women's World Cup, and the Current finished one spot from the floor of the NWSL standings. And yet, Debinha's quality remains undeniable.
Her progressive carries and ability to dribble at (and through!) defenders rank among the world's best. Her nine goals in 18 games played for the Current in 2023 are nothing to dismiss either. She can't do everything -- her lone goal against France in the group stage wasn't enough to save Brazil's World Cup -- and the failures of her club team and national team aren't a reflection of how good she still was in 2023. -- Murray
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 24Position: Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
It has been a memorable few months for Batlle, who returned to former club Barca from Manchester United in July, won the World Cup with Spain in August and has started the season in great form in both Liga F and the UEFA Women's Champions League.
The beauty of Batlle, who is speedy, tenacious and talented, is that she is a full-back who is as comfortable on both the left and right flank. She would primarily be considered a right-back, but is playing on the left to great effect for her club due to Fridolina Rolfo's injury. -- Marsden
Country: IrelandClub: ArsenalAge: 28Position: Defender/midfielder/forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
McCabe is fond of scoring a goal from outside the box. The attacker, who has so frequently popped up at full-back for Arsenal -- a sign of her versatile skill set -- has a habit of putting her boot through the ball from range, but with unwavering accuracy.
Yet, for all her memorable goals, McCabe is a worker bee first and foremost. She's not fussed where she plays on the pitch, giving it her all regardless, and her tireless running to chase down balls has been key to both club and country over her career. Whether in defense or attack, she is the epitome of leaving it all out on the pitch. -- Lawson
Country: EnglandClub: BarcelonaAge: 32Position: Defender2022 Rank: 31
Bronze has enjoyed another year of being indispensable. When fit, would you really pick someone else? The veteran full-back has been undroppable for both Barcelona and England. At the club level, she played the full 90 in Barcelona's 3-2 Champions League final win over Wolfsburg and started each of England's matches in the 2023 World Cup, missing just 20 minutes in the latter stages of their commanding win over China.
Despite having played at the top level for over a decade, she continues to set standards at right-back. "I'm proud of what we achieved," she said after the World Cup final. "But I only like gold medals." -- Hamilton
Country: EnglandClub: Manchester CityAge: 23Position: Forward2022 Rank: 16
Hemp had a superb year with Manchester City, although it was in the World Cup semifinal against Australia where she shone brightest. Hemp gave an outstanding performance that showed all her strengths -- her pace, power and ball-carrying ability -- in order to help the Lionesses navigate a ferocious atmosphere and unyielding pressure against the tournament co-hosts.
Her finest moment came with the game on a knife edge, after a pair of Ella Toone and Sam Kerr world-beating goals had the match poised at 1-1. The stage was set: Hemp ran in behind to receive a through ball from defender Millie Bright, and showed great strength to shrug off a defender and slot home. Later, she picked up the ball at the halfway line, drove up the pitch and delicately threaded a pass to teammate Alessia Russo, who netted the side's third. -- Connor O'Halloran
Country: USAClub: San Diego WaveAge: 23Position: Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
Most U.S. women's national team players were left to rue what transpired at the 2023 World Cup. Not Girma, whose performances were lights out. Despite the early exit, the U.S. conceded once in the entire tournament thanks to Girma's awareness, speed and passing ability, providing the sturdiest of foundations for the U.S. women.
At club level, Girma was just as stellar. She led the San Diego Wave to the NWSL Shield, backstopped a defense whose 22 goals conceded tied for the second-fewest in the NWSL and earned her the league's Defender of the Year award. Her excellent 2023 proved that the voters got it right in naming her the NWSL's 2022 Rookie of the Year. While there are lots of questions surrounding the USWNT, Girma is set to be a fixture in the backline for years to come. -- Jeff Carlisle
Country: EnglandClub: Aston VillaAge: 31Position: Defender/forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
There are few players in world football as versatile as Daly. She finished the 2022-23 WSL campaign as Player of the Season and top scorer with 22 for Aston Villa where she played up front. For England, she's played just about everywhere other than in goal. Take the 2023 World Cup, where Daly was indispensable: she started up front, on the left-wing, at left-back and -- when England moved to a 3-5-2 formation -- played left wing-back. It's an incredibly versatile skill set that's gotten her some much-deserved acclaim. -- Hamilton
Nothing But Net: Rachel Daly
England's Rachel Daly faces off with ESPN's Ralph Karumazondo in a game of Nothing But Net.
Country: AustraliaClub: ArsenalAge: 28Position: Forward2022 Rank: 48
Perhaps the greatest indicator of the talent that Foord possesses is that the Matildas only really began to click into gear ahead of the World Cup when coach Tony Gustavsson adjusted his approach by bringing her into a more prominent role alongside Sam Kerr.
When Kerr subsequently went down with a calf injury early in the tournament, Foord effectively had the entire Australian attack flowing through her, leading the team in both progressive carries and receptions as she provided a much-needed outlet when Australia looked to burst forward. She's been able to carry that same form to Arsenal as an ongoing key to their attack. -- Lynch
Country: EnglandClub: ChelseaAge: 30Position: Defender2022 Rank: 38
Disaster struck for England before the Women's World Cup when defender and captain Leah Williamson went down with a ruptured ACL. Who would lead the Euro 2022 champions? Millie Bright confidently stepped forward and took the job. The tournament will count as a highlight in a great year for Bright, who was herself an injury doubt for the World Cup before starring at the heart of England's defense as the team conceded four goals in their seven games.
Bright's leadership skills have not gone unnoticed at club level, either. Chelsea boss Emma Hayes handed her the captain's armband for this season as they chase a fourth straight WSL title. Bright's leadership and defensive strength will be key to Hayes' plans to bid farewell to Chelsea on a high note before the manager joins the U.S. women's national team next summer. -- O'Halloran
Country: EnglandClub: BarcelonaAge: 26Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
It's almost inconceivable to think Walsh missed out on the 2022 version of this ranking as the soccer world struggled to quantify her contributions, but since then, her career has been on a rocket-like trajectory. She moved to Barcelona for a world-record fee of more than £350,000 and remains the irreplaceable linchpin at the heart of England's midfield.
When she suffered a knee injury in the group stage win vs. Denmark that threatened to prematurely end her World Cup, a sense of dread spread throughout the Lionesses' camp. England's game runs through Walsh: She is an excellent creator from the defensive midfielder position, with an outstanding range of passing that helps her teams dictate games. Her return later in the round of 16 brought relief -- Walsh played the full 120 minutes before the Lionesses advanced on penalties -- although her flat performance in the final defeat to Spain was a rare sour note in a fantastic year.
Regardless, 2023 brought Walsh plenty of other successes: She lifted the Champions League and Spanish title with Barca, was a nominee for the FIFA Best Women's Player of the Year in their annual awards and was named to another Best XI by FIFPRO, the sport's worldwide player organization. -- O'Halloran
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 25Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: 24
Playing alongside the likes of Alexia Putellas, who topped ESPN FC Women's Rank in 2022, and Aitana Bonmatí, Guijarro has often been kept out of the spotlight, but she took center stage with two goals in Barcelona's Champions League final win over Wolfsburg. The arrival of Keira Walsh has also granted her a bit more freedom at Barca, pushing her slightly forward to accommodate the England midfielder. No doubt Guijarro would have been higher up this list if she had gone to the World Cup with Spain, but she opted out to protest the Spanish federation's treatment of the women's team. -- Marsden
Country: NorwayClub: BarcelonaAge: 28Position: Forward2022 Rank: 4
It is remarkable that Graham Hansen does not receive more individual recognition. She is right up there in terms of importance at Barca. There are few players in the game capable of beating a player and conjuring something from nothing like she does. The Norway winger also chips in with goals and, after a frustrating World Cup with her country, has enjoyed a blistering start to the new campaign, recording seven goals and 11 assists in her first 10 appearances. -- Marsden
Country: GermanyClub: WolfsburgAge: 21Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: Not ranked
Capable of playing further forward as a No. 10 or dropping back as a No. 6, Oberdorf is a marauding midfielder with a knack for reading the game and disrupting the opposition with her sixth sense-like ability to anticipate danger.
Tall and strong, she isn't afraid of getting stuck into a challenge, but thanks to her balance and sense of timing, she rarely miscues her tackles. Indeed, some players beat their chests and cheer when they score goals, but Oberdorf does it after her well-timed crunching tackles to end promising opposition attacks.
Oberdorf's debut entry onto the 2023 edition of ESPN FC Women's Rank can be best explained by the fact that the 2022 edition came out before last year's Euros, where she was sensational. Germany's 2023 World Cup was far more disappointing, but Oberdorf has continued to play well for Wolfsburg, winning the German Cup for 2022-23. -- Lawson
Country: USAClub: Portland ThornsAge: 23Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
To put it mildly, not everything went Smith's way in 2023. Her performances at the World Cup were disappointing, and she wasn't helped by the choice of former U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski to play her on the wing, even though she has always played her best soccer as a central striker. Then there was the MCL sprain that kept her out of NWSL action for six weeks.
And yet Smith still managed to lead the NWSL in goals with 11 tallies in 18 games played, 14 of them starts, all while leading the Portland Thorns within a whisker of the NWSL Shield. She was a finalist for the league's MVP award too.
Simply put, a less-than-100% Smith is still pretty epic given her movement, pace and finishing ability. -- Carlisle
Country: FranceClub: LyonAge: 28Position: Forward2022 Rank: 35
Before leaving PSG for Lyon last summer, Diani had a stellar first six months of 2023. Repositioned as a No. 9 instead of her usual winger role, she was impossible to stop, scoring for fun in the domestic league (17 goals in 17 games) while also being decisive in Europe.
The World Cup confirmed the 28-year-old's great form. Despite a slow start, she finished the tournament with three goals and three assists in five matches through the quarterfinals, where France got knocked out, confirming her place as one of the leaders for Les Bleues.
Her start to the 2023-24 season for her new team has been superb, too -- she has hit the ground running straight away. -- Laurens
Country: EnglandClub: ChelseaAge: 22Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
Having won the PFA Young Player of the Year Award following her breakout 2022-23 season with Chelsea, James was tipped to be one of the players of the World Cup, and she duly delivered with a spectacular hat trick against China in the group stages. But her World Cup was halted by a rash red card against Nigeria, though she did return in time for England's 1-0 defeat to Spain in the final.
At 22, James continues to shine for both club and country and is already one of the world's most lethal forwards. Her England teammates call her a "cheat code" because of her ability to unlock any opponent's defense. After a hat trick for Chelsea against Liverpool, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes called her "the most naturally gifted player in the country." -- Hamilton
Why Lauren James is England's new superstar
Tom Hamilton explains what makes Lauren James such an exceptional talent for England.
Country: SpainClub: Real MadridAge: 23Position: Defender2022 Rank: Not ranked
Few would have tipped Carmona to be one of the stars of the World Cup when she was taken off at halftime in Spain's group-stage capitulation against Japan and dropped completely for the round-of-16 game against Switzerland. However, the Real Madrid left-back is made of strong stuff. She fought her way back into the starting XI and made history with two stunning goals.
Carmona struck a brilliant 89th-minute winner against Sweden in the semifinal and repeated the trick with the game-deciding goal of the final against England. That form has translated into her club football this season, too, with three goals and six assists in her opening 11 matches. -- Marsden
Country: SpainClub: PachucaAge: 33Position: Forward/midfielder2022 Rank: 8
Many wrote Hermoso off when she left Barca for Mexican side CF Pachuca, a move perceived to be a step down in terms of competitive edge, but she reinvented herself as a midfielder to lead Spain, at the age of 33, to a first-ever Women's World Cup triumph.
She scored three times as La Roja won the tournament and has also provided a regular supply of goals for her club, but she may have made a bigger impact off the pitch. She became the symbol of the national team's fight against sexism after standing up to since-ousted Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales following the World Cup final, and her triumphant 2023 will be an enduring part of her legacy in many ways. -- Marsden
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 28Position: Defender2022 Rank: 17
In a year dominated by the World Cup, it tells you how good Mapi Leon is that she can voluntarily forgo the game's biggest competition and still rank so highly. That is because her performances for Barca, as a central defender, are the stuff of top-10 lists.
She defends well but often serves as an attacker, both in open play and taking set pieces. In fact, a statistic went viral on social media in November revealing she had been involved in the most attacking sequences in Liga F this season: 71. That is Mapi Leon for you.
However, her 2023 ended on a harsh note: News of a torn meniscus on Dec. 8 means it'll be some time until we get to see the brilliant center-back in action again. -- Marsden
Country: SwedenClub: BarcelonaAge: 29Position: Forward/defender2022 Rank: 32
Rolfo struck the winning goal in the Champions League final and scored three times at the World Cup in the summer on the way to a third-place finish with Sweden. When she gets going, there is no stopping her pace, strength and directness down the left flank. A left-back for Barca and a left-winger for Sweden -- there is not that much difference in the two roles -- she will be itching to build on her success when she returns from a long-term injury in 2024. -- Marsden
Country: GermanyClub: WolfsburgAge: 32Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
Germany certainly didn't have the 2023 World Cup that Popp or her teammates wanted with a shocking group-stage exit, but Popp was hardly to blame: she scored half of Germany's eight goals, and she scored in all three games of the group stage.
That at 32 years old Popp remains one of the best and most reliable players for a powerhouse such as Germany is a testament to her irreplaceable talents. In sport that often looks to move onto the "next big thing," Popp has deservedly stayed on everyone's radar with a strong 2023.
A veteran leader who has matured into Germany's captain, Popp is exceptional at finding ways to elevate those around her, which in turn makes her essential for club and country. After a successful 2022 -- when Popp rolled back the years at her first Women's European Championship to help Germany finish runners-up -- she has carried her fine form through to this year. -- Lawson
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 19Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
On Oct. 31, 2022, former 400m runner Paralluelo made her debut for Barca after signing from Villarreal. Two weeks later, she scored a hat trick on her Spain debut. The accolades have not stopped rolling in since.
The quick young forward, who can play wide or through the middle, ended her first full season with Barca with 14 goals, a Liga F winners' medal and as a starter in the Champions League final win over Wolfsburg. She then won the World Cup with Spain, where she was one of the revelations of the tournament. She struck the extra-time winner against the Netherlands in the quarterfinal and then opened the scoring in the semifinal victory over Sweden. Now she can't stop scoring -- including four in one half against Sevilla recently. -- Marsden
Country: ColombiaClub: Real MadridAge: 18Position: Forward2022 Rank: Not ranked
The level of hype around Caicedo coming into the World Cup was formidable. After competing for Colombia in both the U20 World Cup and the U17 World Cup in the months prior, everyone was waiting to see how the 18-year-old would do in her first senior World Cup.
No one had to wait too long -- Caicedo scored in Colombia's tournament opener in the 39th minute to beat South Korea. Then, en route to another group-stage win, she scored again with an audacious and gorgeous solo effort against powerhouse Germany. Eventually Colombia reached the quarterfinals, their best Women's World Cup in history, and Caicedo became one of the tournament's breakout stars.
Caicedo's dribbling skills are otherworldly, and the young prodigy has a highlight-filled career ahead of her. That she has also already overcome a bout with ovarian cancer and a public spat with the Colombian federation over poor conditions for the women's national team makes Caicedo's rise even more impressive. -- Murray
Country: EnglandClub: Manchester UnitedAge: 30Position: Goalkeeper2022 Rank: Not ranked
The Manchester United and England goalkeeper had a big year on and off the pitch -- remember how fans were clamoring to buy her goalkeeper jersey? -- and has ended it as one of the most recognizable faces in the women's game.
Earps was a key figure in England's run to the World Cup final, where she saved a Jenni Hermoso penalty before the Lionesses eventually went down 1-0 to Spain in Sydney. The vocal personality of the World Cup Golden Glove winner saw her emerge as one of the leaders of manager Sarina Wiegman's team, but Earps' outspoken comments about kit supplier Nike's failure to market the England goalkeeper shirt ahead of the World Cup led to the England FA and Nike agreeing to stock the jersey for supporters, albeit in small numbers.
That moment with Nike was another triumph for Earps, using her platform to make a change -- a platform she has created with her performances in recent years for England. -- Ogden
Country: AustraliaClub: ChelseaAge: 30Position: Forward2022 Rank: 2
It says a lot about just how dominant Kerr is as a striker that even after a year in which she didn't reach the otherworldly levels she had done previously, she can still be ranked as the second-best player in the world. She has now come in at No. 2 of ESPN FC Women's Rank in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Last season, the 30-year-old found the net 29 times across 38 games in all competitions as Chelsea continued their domination of English football with another league and cup double, backflipping away after scoring the only goal in the FA Cup final in front of a record crowd of 77,390 at Wembley. Barcelona again proved to be her and Chelsea's foil in the Champions League, but she was still the competition's second-top scorer, tied with stars such as Asisat Oshoala, Stina Blackstenius and Aitana Bonmati, with five goals.
A persistent calf injury spoiled what was expected to be her World Cup showcase on home soil this summer, keeping her out of action until the quarterfinals, but she still managed to produce a strike against England that earned her a Puskas Award nomination. -- Lynch
Country: SpainClub: BarcelonaAge: 25Position: Midfielder2022 Rank: 9
While there is plenty of room to debate the previous 49 names on this list, the game has been almost universally in agreement on one thing this year: Bonmati has been the best player in the world.
The talented midfielder dictates games, rarely loses the ball, can twist and turn her way out of the biggest problems and contributes goals and assists. She was the best player in the Barca side that won Liga F and the Champions League. She was the best player in the Spain side that won the World Cup. She was voted the player of the tournament in the Champions League and at the World Cup. She was UEFA's Women's Player of the Year, and she is the current holder of the Women's Ballon d'Or.
Marsden: Bonmati the obvious Women's Rank winner
Sam Marsden discusses how Aitana Bonmati's success this year led her to top the 2023 Women's Rank.
It has been an unprecedented year of success -- no other player, man or woman, has ever won the Champions League, World Cup and Ballon d'Or in the same calendar year -- and there is no debate about her place at the top of the ESPN FC Women's Rank. Of the 32 ballots we collected for this ranking, 30 of them put Bonmati at No. 1 and no one put her lower than No. 2, a resounding testament to the incredible year she has had.
We asked our voters to anonymously share why they selected their No. 1s, and as one voter put it in choosing Bonmati: "Her quality on and off the ball is virtually unmatched and she shone brighter than anyone else this year, doing both the invisible work and creating plays and goals worth the entry price." Another voter wrote: "Bonmati's been at the heart of everything good that has come to Barcelona and Spain, and her composure amid bigger off-field issues has also earned her the respect and admiration of the entire sporting world." It's hard to argue with that. -- Marsden