Women's World Cup 2023: The rise of United States teenage forward Alyssa Thompson

Alyssa Thompson in action for the United States against Vietnam at the Women's World Cup
Alyssa Thompson has made five appearances for the United States
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington Date: Thursday, 27 July Kick-off: 02:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website & app. Follow live text on the BBC Sport website. Full coverage details; Latest news

Shortly before the start of the Women’s World Cup, Karen Thompson recorded a message for her 18-year-old daughter.

“As a parent, I would think that I was here to teach you about life,” she said. “But honey you have taught me so much more than you’ll ever know.”

The past four years have been a whirlwind for Alyssa Thompson.

In 2019, aged 14, she watched in excitement on television at her aunt’s house as United States captain Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle scored to secure a fourth World Cup for the Stars and Stripes.

Now Thompson is playing for the defending champions on the World Cup stage, having only won her first cap last October against England in front of 76,891 at Wembley.

After coming on as a 75th-minute substitute in the United States’ opening group game against Vietnam in Auckland – aged 18 years and 257 days – Thompson became the second-youngest player to appear for her country at a World Cup.

On Thursday in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, she is set to feature against the Netherlands in Group E – the team she watched the United States beat in the final four years ago.

United States 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson (seated) surrounded by the world's media at a news conference in Auckland at the Fifa Women's World Cup
Alyssa Thompson (seated) surrounded by the world’s media at a news conference in Auckland this week

Having got her first taste of the World Cup, albeit a small one, Los Angeles-born forward Thompson, whose pace and tenacity are stand-out features, is eager for more.

She was all smiles as she recalled her memories of the last time the United States faced the Netherlands on the World Cup stage.

“I was at my aunt’s house and I was watching the final there because we didn’t have TV at home,” said Thompson, whose hard work has paid off after missing her high school graduation because her club Angel City played on the same night.

“I was surrounded by my whole family, we were watching the game and I just remember how intense it was, how back and forth it was, and I was really nervous for the team.

“In that moment I wasn’t really thinking ‘I’m going to be at the next World Cup’ because I felt so young and it felt so far away.

“But being here now, it’s crazy for me because I didn’t think about it in the moment.”

According to her mother, it is Thompson’s “grit” and “determination” that got her a ticket to this World Cup as the only teenager in the USA squad.

“That fierce and fearless personality is what got you to your dream, the World Cup,” she told the Players’ Tribune.external-link

Alyssa Thompson being flipped over by her team-mate Lynn Williams
Alyssa Thompson, being carried here by her team-mate Lynn Williams, is being looked after by her more experience team-mates at this tournament

Thompson is part of a new generation of talent on display for the Stars and Stripes, with 14 of the 23 players in New Zealand making their debuts at a World Cup.

Her more experienced team-mates including defender Kelley O’Hara and forwards Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe – who are all appearing at their fourth World Cups – have thrown a protective shield around the younger players.

Thompson, however, was confident enough to face the world’s media earlier this week.

The United States have been putting players up for interview on an almost daily basis at this tournament and Thompson’s turn came on Monday.

With defender Naomi Girma, who is also at her first World Cup, sat next to her, she was as calm and composed as she was when she replaced Trinity Rodman at Eden Park.

“I couldn’t help but smile,” she said of the moment she was on the side of the pitch waiting to go on. “I was overcome with happiness because I was about to go into my first World Cup game.”

United States boss Vlatko Andonovski believes Thompson is well-equipped to handle the pressure of a World Cup after the way she equipped herself at Wembley nine months ago.

“She got a call-up against England in one of the most intimidating environments,” he said. “She got to step on the field in front of 80,000 fans for the last 10 or 15 minutes.

“We won big at that moment by starting the development of the player. Every time I think of Alyssa, it brings a smile to my face.

“When you look back a few months what her life was like and compare it to now, it’s like two different people, two different players, two different personalities.”

Lindsey Horan, who captained the United States in their first game in New Zealand, is among those who have been acting as a “mother figure” towards Thompson.

“She called to ask me to what to pack for the World Cup,” said midfielder Horan. “It was so cute. I was like ‘you don’t want to ask me because I pack everything’.”


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