Intriguing personalities to look for at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup

One of the realities of the Women’s World Cup is that many of these competitors will be looked upon as sex symbols. Although it may present a point of tension among some, the number of web pages devoted to the most attractive female footballers is in significant abundance. Perhaps it is not so wrong to celebrate the beauty of these women, but it is essential to recognize and acknowledge their sporting abilities. Beauty aside, these are truly some of the world’s most talented footballers and could easily hold their own against several men’s teams. Their opportunity to compete on a global scale may lead to a much greater appreciation of their contributions to the Beautiful Game.

Megan Rapinoe

Appearing in the 2014 edition of the ESPN Body Issue

Appearing in the 2014 edition of the ESPN Body Issue

A member of the Seattle Reign, Rapinoe’s soccer resume also includes stints with the Chicago Red Stars, Philadelphia Independence and France’s Olympique Lionnaise. Her breakthrough moment occurred at the 2011 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Trailing against Brazil, her cross to Abby Wambach tied the game, sparking the greatest comeback in US soccer history.

The following year, she would accumulate seven points (including a Goal Olimpico) in a gold medal effort at the 2012 London Summer Games. Such momentum led to a pair of remarkable milestones in 2013. Not only was she recognized as the Best Player of the Algarve Cup, she earned an assist on Abby Wambach’s record-breaking goal in international play with 159. Said assist occurred in a friendly against South Korea on June 20.

Considering that Rapinoe is a strong supporter of several LGBT organizations, having come out in July 2012, she may become the focus of attention for several members of the media looking to write positive pieces about players with same-sex preferences. An ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization determined to end homophobia in sport, her status as world-class soccer player may help increase awareness. Currently in a relationship with musician Sera Cahoone, a World Cup title would be the perfect complement to an outstanding career.

Anouk Hoodendijk (Netherlands)

Taking part in a photoshoot for Nike

Taking part in a photoshoot for Nike

An 11-year veteran of the Dutch national women’s team, her presence shall be one based on leadership. In her international career, scoring the game-winning kick in the penalty shootout against France may have stood as a career highlight. Of note, it helped the Netherlands advance to the semi-finals of the Women’s Euro 2009.

A lifelong supporter of the Dutch powerhouse Ajax Vrouwen, the club established a female team in May 2012. The opportunity to compete for the squad in their inaugural season was a cherished moment in her career. Having also been signed by the Arsenal Ladies (England), she never suited up for the squad.

Julia Simic (Germany)

Julia Simic

Julia Simic

Simic is a product of Germany’s player development, having competed with their U18 and U23 teams. From both German and Crotian descent, she is a competitor with VfL Wolfsburg, a championship team from the Women’s Bundesliga, she is signed through 2017. In anticipation of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Simic was among five female soccer players that appeared in a partial state of undress in the pages of German Playboy.

Jessica Landstrom (Sweden)
JessicaLandstrom

Having scored a goal in her debut for the Swedish national team (November 8, 2007), Landstrom is aiming for another podium finish in Canada. At the 2011 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Sweden earned a bronze medal, one of the highlights in her proud career. Influenced by elite strikers such as Lotta Schelin and Victoria Sandell Svensoon, Landstrom wants to stake her claim as the next of the elites.

Currently, a member of Sky Blue FC, Landstrom has also played in Germany. Ironically, she holds a unique connection with a current member of the US national team. Having established herself as a star in the Swedish league, American-born Christen
Press departed Goteborg FC, only to be replaced by Landstrom.

Back in 2008, Landstrom also came out, expressing her same-sex preference. At a time when many athletes were not comfortable disclosing such information, she helped open the door for other athletes to do so. Also a highly educated individual, Landstrom possesses a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Érika Cristiano dos Santos (Brazil)

CALENDÁRIO DO CENTENÁRIO DO SANTOS FC - Érika,  jogadora do Santos FC, durante lançamento do calendário do centenário e da coleção moda praia do clube. O calendário é um ensaio sensual das jogadoras santistas e é datado de abril de 2011 até abril de 2012, quando o Santos FC completará 100 anos. - Estádio Urbano Caldeira (Vila Belmiro) - Santos - SP - Brasil - 13/04/2011 - Foto: Ricardo Saibun/Gazeta Press

CALENDÁRIO DO CENTENÁRIO DO SANTOS FC – Érika, jogadora do Santos FC, durante lançamento do calendário do centenário e da coleção moda praia do clube. O calendário é um ensaio sensual das jogadoras santistas e é datado de abril de 2011 até abril de 2012, quando o Santos FC completará 100 anos. – Estádio Urbano Caldeira (Vila Belmiro) – Santos – SP – Brasil – 13/04/2011 – Foto: Ricardo Saibun/Gazeta Press

Providing the Brazilian contingent with a talent that can complement those of Marta, de los Santos is a rising star in the game. Competing with Centro Olímpico, she contributed to Brazil capturing the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Possessing the versatility to play both forward and defense, de los Santos will likely log a significant amount of playing time. Her sex appeal with fans may raise her to an unforeseen level of popularity or media interest. A few seasons ago, her club team in Brazil donned a fashion runway wearing tiny swimsuits. With a confidence that could be interpreted as empowering, de los Santos captured the imaginations of those in attendance with her stunning appearance in a black and white number.

Of note, this year’s World Cup does not mark the first time that dos Santos competes in North America. During 2009, she competed in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer with FC Gold Pride.

In World Cup play, dos Santos is looking for redemption. Having faked an injury during an emotional quarterfinal loss against the United States, she was shown the yellow card. It led to a downward spiral in her career, where she missed two years with the Brazilian national team due to injury.

Corine Franco (France)

Featured in the French version of Self Magazine (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Featured in the French version of Self Magazine (Photo credit: Getty Images)

As the veteran leader of the French national team, Corine Franco wants to ensure that France does not endure another fourth place finish which befell them in a loss to Canada at the 2012 London Summer Games. Compounding such a loss was the fact that France also finished in fourth at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The team captain of Olympic Lyon, she has competed in almost 90 international games for the French national team. Serving as the captain for France’s entry into the 2015 World Cup, the determination for a podium finish is stronger than ever. As a side note, she was one of three footballers from the French national team to appear in a complete state of undress for Self Magazine. Photographed by Getty Images, the images showcased the confidence of these athletic women to appear in such a manner.

Sydney Leroux and Lauren Sesselmann
Considering the rivalry that exists between Canada and the United States in women’s soccer, it is an anomaly of sorts to see a pair of players competing for the opposite country. Should these two countries cross paths in the elimination matches at this year’s World Cup, there is no question that their allegiances shall make for an interesting story with members of the media.

Born in British Columbia, Leroux is a competitor for the United States national team. Having captured the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games, it only added to the bitter taste that Canadians felt after a controversial loss to the US in the semi-finals. When Nike revealed the new uniforms for the US team a few weeks ago, Leroux was one of the players who modeled them.

Having been ranked by many sports websites as one of the most beautiful competitors at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Sesselman’s popularity is bound to increase. With a very strong following on social media, the irony of her career with Canada’s national team is that she was born in Wisconsin. Canadian sports fans who were not familiar with soccer quickly became interested after seeing her and fellow teammates Emily Zurrer looking stunning in swimsuits in Sportsnet Magazine’s Beauty of Sport edition.

Hope Solo
HopeSoloESPY

Despite a brilliant career complemented by so many remarkable achievements, the great tragedy of Hope Solo’s career is the controversy that has defined it. Although some criticisms may not be fair comment, the sad reality is that Solo will likely have to tolerate it for the remainder of her career. Considered one of the world’s most beautiful female soccer players, Solo has graced the cover of popular magazines such as ESPN, Newsweek and Vogue. There is no question that the media spotlight shall shine brightly on Solo, who is looking to help the US avenge its second place finish at the 2011 edition of the World Cup.

Marta Vieira da Silva (Brazil)

Photo credit: Paulo Fridman / Corbis. Soccer

Photo credit: Paulo Fridman / Corbis. Soccer

Quite possibly the world’s greatest female soccer player, a World Cup championship would cement Marta’s sterling legacy. Taking into account that Brazil is one of the world superpowers in soccer, fans have been disappointed that its female stars have not been able to emulate their male counterparts on the world’s biggest soccer stages. Having won a champion with the Western New York Flash in WPS play, Marta is accustomed to big game situations. With a much improved supporting cast on the Brazilian squad, it would come as no surprise to see Marta competing in Vancouver.

Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach on 1 of 4 variant covers for Sports Illustrated's 2015 World Cup coverage

Abby Wambach on 1 of 4 variant covers for Sports Illustrated’s 2015 World Cup coverage


If any player may be considered the villain of the World Cup, it might be Abby Wambach. In criticizing the use of artificial turf at all of the Canadian venues for the event, it struck a media firestorm.

Faking into account the rivalry between Canada and the United States, Wambach may be booed in the preliminary matches. The tensions were understandable as the upcoming World Cup shall be the first (including the men’s edition) that shall be played exclusively on artificial turf.

Having scored more goals than any other player in the history of the US women’s program (178), a Women’s World Cup title is the only accolade eluding her. Possessing two Summer Games gold medals, she has also won an ESPY Award for Best Play. This past April, she appeared on American Idol, offering Ryan Seacrest a US jersey and the chance to be a waterboy for the women’s team.

Controversy aside, Wambach is definitely the veteran leader of this United States team and her goal is to lead the US to its first World Cup title since hosting the event in 1999.

Christine Sinclair

A jubilant Sinclair inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2013 (Photo credit: Michelle Siu, Canadian Press)

A jubilant Sinclair inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2013 (Photo credit: Michelle Siu, Canadian Press)

If the 2012 London Summer Games were Christine Sinclair’s coming out party, then the 2015 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup is a remarkable appreciation tour. With the event being hosted in her native Canada, Sinclair has become one of the most influential athletes, male or female, in Canada’s sporting conversation. Since the London Summer Games, female soccer players have started to garner the attention and celebrity status once reserved for Canada’s female hockey heroes. Should Canada claim the World Cup, it would be safe to assume that Sinclair’s strong leadership would make her the choice to claim the Lou Marsh Trophy, honoring the Canadian athlete of the year.

The world catches up to Christine Sinclair

In a rivalry that may mirror the visceral Canadian-American rivalry that has defined the world of women’s ice hockey for several generations, the semi-final of the London 2012 Games set the stage for what may be the turning point in Canadian women’s soccer. With the lead having changed hands four times, the US (led by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan) came back from a 3-2 deficit to prevail by a controversial 4-3 tally.

Contested in Manchester, England, home to some of the greatest soccer matches played in history, the ladies of Canada and the United States ensured that the fans would bear witness to some outstanding women’s soccer. Despite the 4-3 loss to the United States, Sinclair gave one of the greatest performances in Summer Games soccer, in what may have been one of the most exciting and entertaining matches in women’s history. The all-time leader in goals scored for the Canadian national squad, Sinclair scored a hat trick against Hope Solo. It was the first time Solo allowed more than two goals in the London Summer Games. Said hat trick was among six goals scored in overall play at the Games.

Despite the heartbreaking loss: two themes in the game were evidently clear: despite their number one ranking, the United States were humbled, and Christine Sinclair is truly one of the world’s elite soccer players. If the world did not know how great a star she was, the August 6 contest was her coming out party.

The bronze medal game against France was another example of Sinclair displaying the essence of leadership. While she did not score the game winning goal, her presence made all the difference as Diane Matheson scored the goal that helped Canada clinch the historic bronze medal.  It was Canada’s first medal in a team sport at the Summer Games since 1936, when the Canadian men’s basketball squad claimed a silver medal. Sinclair has conducted her game with a quiet dignity that would have made legends like Pele and Maradona proud.

The native of Burnaby, British Columbia, she is a seven-time recipient of the Canada Soccer Player of the Year award, while a five time nominee for FIFA World Player of the Year. Her uncles, Bruce and Brian Gant played in the North American Soccer League. A two-time champion in WPS (once with FC Gold Pride and the second with the Western New York Flash), Brazilian superstar Marta played with her on both championship teams. With the Flash, Sinclair led the WPS in goals scored, and was named MVP of the Final.

A legend at the University of Portland, she scored 23 goals as a freshman, while being named All-American. In 2002, the sophomore led the NCAA with 26 goals, and scored the goal to give Portland the national championship. The Globe and Mail named her one of the 25 most influential people in Canadian sports. The final game of her career with Portland resulted in two goals scored during a 4-0 defeat of UCLA in the national title game. A two-time winner of the Hermann Trophy, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in NCAA soccer, she became the third soccer player to win the Honda-Broderick Cup (awarded to the College Woman of the Year).

Although Sinclair will have other opportunities at Summer Games gold, and at the World Cup (being hosted by Canada in 2015), there is no question that should those goals go unachieved, Sinclair will always be a Canadian sporting legend. As Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were two of the first legends in United States women’s soccer, Sinclair has cemented her legacy as the first Canadian soccer superstar.

The Maria Sharapova of women’s hockey

While professional women’s hockey has never marketed the sex appeal of any of its athletes, it is an area that may be forced to acknowledge quickly. 2012 CWHL Draft prospect, Russian national team member, and part time model Zoya Polunina may quickly become the Maria Sharapova of women’s ice hockey.

While it is unfair to single out any one player, Polunina has a modeling background (something that Cassie Campbell, one of the first popular women’s hockey players of the modern era, also had), and male fans are quick to identify the most attractive athletes. Based on the influence of the internet and the sites that are dedicating to featuring the sexiest athletes (male and female) in sports, it is merely a question of time before Polunina is recognized as one of the most attractive ice hockey players in the world. For many male fans, they would state that she definitely follows in the footsteps of fellow Russian athletes Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova.

Even in the 1920s, sex appeal played a role in women’s ice hockey. An annual ice hockey tournament in Western Canada in which teams competed to win the Alpine Cup had one of its players win a local beauty contest prior to the tournament.

There have been many amateur women’s hockey groups that have used calendars and sex appeal to gain attention for fund raising efforts. A group of ladies in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (home to some of the greatest winter athletes in North America) have done a calendar which featured nudity. The Ice-o-topes in Vancouver have done a calendar in which the players were in bra and panties while on the ice to help raise funds for charity.

In the budding history of professional women’s ice hockey in North America, there has never been any publicized disruption in the locker rooms of its franchises based on ego and/or popularity. While men’s sports belong to thirty team leagues where one player can easily be shipped elsewhere, women’s ice hockey tends to be a close knit community of very few teams. The moment one team is poisoned over a player’s ego; working relationships among players may be fractured beyond repair.

Eventually, the time will come when an attractive player will manipulate fans and media to increase her popularity; while promoting herself to such a degree that will be beyond anyone’s control. The issue is how an organization would handle it.

A harsh reality in women’s sports is that sex sells with male fans. Athletes such as Danica Patrick, Lindsay Vonn, Lolo Jones, Paula Creamer, Sue Bird, and Hope Solo captured the hearts and minds of male fans with more than their talents. While the astute male sports fan would be quick to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that these athletes have undergone to be the best in their sport, the sex appeal of a female athlete has been a key factor in determining if the more average fan will retain interest.

There is no question that the realm of male sports has had their own athletes create an impact on popular culture (while possibly being labeled as sex symbols). Athletes such as Derek Jeter, Tim Tebow and David Beckham have become icons for their athletic skill, fashion sense, good looks, and overall likeability with fans and media alike. The first star in the CWHL that has truly gained similar status is Tessa Bonhomme.

Although looks may definitely help in attracting fans, talent and character are what will keep the real fans. Tessa Bonhomme has handled her growing popularity and girl next door image with grace and dignity. While more male hockey fans will identify Tessa Bonhomme with Battle of the Blades than her time with Ohio State, the class that she exudes results in popularity which appeals to fans of both sexes, and all age groups. An example for elite athletes to follow.

Hope Solo covers the Games

Heading into the London Summer Games, Hope Solo has found her celebrity status enhanced by appearing on the covers of Vogue (with Serena Williams, a rare honor for a female athlete), and on Fitness magazine.  Solo appears in a gold swimsuit on the Vogue cover, while adorning a stars and stripe bikini for Fitness.

While beautiful on both covers, her celebrity status must not be a distraction for the US soccer team. Since the retirement of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain from the US Women’s Soccer program, Solo has become the face of USA Soccer. As a goaltender, Solo is in a pressure packed situation, which only increases when a goal is allowed.

During the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Solo became the media darling of the event for Team USA. She parlayed her popularity by appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, revealing her physique in ESPN’s Body Issue, and displaying her sex appeal as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. Maxim Magazine recently named her the sexiest athlete of the 2012 London Games.

Of note, Alex Morgan also gained popularity after the 2011 World Cup. She was in the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in only body paint. In addition, she was listed as one of Maxim Magazine’s hottest athletes for London 2012. On the soccer pitch, it is of great importance that the newfound celebrity status of Morgan, Solo, and others does not interfere with performance.

London 2012 marks the return of Solo to the world stage since the 2011 World Cup. Any failure on the part of USA Soccer will not only spell disaster for the program, but tarnish Solo’s image as a celebrity. In early July 2012, a warning from the US Anti Doping Agency that Solo tested positive for the banned substance Canrenone in a urine test must not prove to be a harbinger of misfortune. Although Solo may be the most popular player on the team (and she provided full co-operation to the USADA), it is important that said popularity does not lead to resentment in the locker room should struggles emanate early on.

During the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Solo criticized then head coach Greg Ryan for benching her in favor of Brianna Scurry for a semi-final game versus Brazil. After being dismissed from the team and not participating in the post-2007 World Cup tour, Solo could have easily quit the team. Instead, her gold medal performance at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games led to redemption, while her endearing perseverance in 2011 made her an American hero, and an unexpected role as a celebrity.

Should the USA endure any initial struggle, it will be up to Solo to act as a true leader and ensure that the disappointment of 2007 does not repeat itself. As a role model, sex symbol, and world class athlete, the London Games will define Solo’s career as one of greatness, or one of unmet expectations.