U.S. national team midfielders
Shannon BoxxA new face four years ago when she became the first uncapped American player ever to make a World Cup roster, Boxx is now something of a grizzled veteran in a midfield that has just one other holdover from that third-place finish. Although she is coming off surgery last spring to repair a torn ACL, which was preceded by surgery on an injured hip, she appears headed for a starting spot as the holding midfielder in the World Cup after returning to action this spring. One of the most frequently cited example of the value of a women's professional league in terms of the development of the national program, Boxx starred at Notre Dame but truly entered the international mix thanks to her WUSA play with the San Diego Spirit and New York Power. She is a commanding defensive presence who plays even bigger than her 5-foot-8 frame, and for all the defensive accolades, she is a strong two-way presence who has scored 15 goals in her career and gives the United States another good head around goal on set pieces. Carli Lloyd A star in the Big East during a college run at Rutgers that ended in 2004, Lloyd has emerged in somewhat surprising fashion as a rising star on a much bigger stage under Ryan's tutelage with the national team. A regular in the starting lineup for much of 2006 after earning her first start with the national team in last year's Algarve Cup, she enjoyed a breakthrough performance during this spring's edition of the annual Algarve, scoring four goals in four games. Instinctually creative with the ball at her feet, Lloyd was prone in the past to sustained strings of dubious decisions interspersed by flashes of brilliance. She has reversed that trend over the last year and a half, maintaining her aggressive, attacking style while committing fewer careless turnovers, and defenders have proven far less capable of slowing her than she was of slowing herself. She has the strongest shot among the midfielders and is a constant threat to score from outside the box. Lori Chalupny A midfielder at the University of North Carolina, where she helped lead the Tar Heels to a national title in 2003, Chalupny is back in an attacking role after shifting to outside back for the national team. It says something about the success she has enjoyed at her old position, as well as the strong play of Stephanie Lopez at outside back, that Ryan didn't hesitate to leave Chalupny in midfield even after Heather Mitts suffered a torn ACL that kept her off the World Cup roster. As relentless on the field as she can be reserved off the field, Chalupny brings energy and offense to the midfield as one of the fittest players on arguably the fittest team in the world. With the security of a holding midfielder like Shannon Boxx or Leslie Osborne and the strong back line in reserve, Chalupny works well with Lloyd in creating the kind of scoring opportunities Ryan long sought in support of Wambach and Lilly. Leslie Osborne The former Santa Clara star, and self-confessed Cheesehead from Wisconsin, has gone from mere World Cup hopeful at the start of last year, when she was coming off ankle surgery the previous year, to arguably the team's most important substitute if not a potential starter in China. Osborne didn't waste an opportunity to make an impression while Boxx rehabbed her ACL injury last year, going from injury fill-in to a candidate for team MVP honors as a standout holding midfielder. Although Osborne earned her plaudits last year in Boxx's holding midfield position, she's is capable of playing a more attacking role, as she did while starring for Jerry Smith at Santa Clara. She scored 44 goals in her career with the Broncos, winning the Honda Award as the nation's top female player in 2004. Tireless and fearless, she has a tremendous work rate wherever she plays and is valuable both with the ball at her feet in midfield and in the air on set pieces, finishing with her head when opponents worry too much about Wambach. She's not a pure scorer by any means, but the defensive whiz may also be one of Ryan's best bet for an offensive spark off the bench if he chooses to start Boxx, Lloyd and Chalupny. Aly Wagner One of the longest tenured players of the generation which followed Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, et all, with 112 caps since making her first appearance in 1998 (she nearly made the roster for the 1999 World Cup as an 18-year-old), Wagner is also one of the most uncertain commodities for this fall. She has played sparingly this year due to injuries and appears to have fallen behind Lloyd in the race for a starting role in midfield. At full strength, Wagner remains the best passer Ryan has in midfield and one of the best distributors in the world. She has tremendous vision and is constantly looking to create opportunities for others, something that can be a double-edged sword on a team with few proven finishers other than Wambach and Lilly. She has the ability to put unproven players in position to finish easy chances, but she may be more valuable when proven finishers are on the receiving end of those passes. Angela Hucles A star in college at the University of Virginia and with Boston in the first incarnation of the WUSA, Hucles brings a veteran personality to the roster. She was a member of both the 2003 World Cup and 2004 Olympic teams and rallied to secure her spot on this year's team after seemingly falling off the depth chart last year. Although she's been a regular on Ryan's roster since last fall, she hasn't had many opportunities to make an impact on the field, playing just 193 minutes in eight appearances through the end of July this year. Hucles scored three goals in four games during the 2004 Algarve Cup and has both the offensive skills and experience to fill in if injuries strike the midfield in China. Marci Jobson Known during her college career at Wisconsin and later SMU as Marci Miller, the now married Jobson is a role player in whom Ryan appears to have a great deal of faith. Although she had trained with the national team at various points dating back to 1997, she became the oldest player ever to debut for the national team when she took the field against Canada in 2005 at 29 years old. She has been a regular in United States residency throughout Ryan's tenure with the team, and he has a great deal of familiarity with her game after recruiting her at Wisconsin and coaching her for two years at SMU. Currently the head coach of the women's team at Northern Illinois, Jobson is a fundamentally sound, intelligent defensive presence in the midfield. It might be difficult to argue that she's one of the seven most talented midfielders in the United States at the moment, but Ryan isn't looking for an All-Star roster. If Jobson plays in China, it will likely be as a late-game defensive substitute to protect a lead against a physical team. Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's soccer coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.