Four USC women’s soccer players taking over the World (Cup)

The past and present USC athletes will represent their respective countries of Nigeria, Canada, United States and the Philippines.

Awujo, in white, holds off a Stanford defender.

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will begin on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand, and four current and former USC women’s soccer players will feature in the tournament.

Ashleigh Plumptre, playing for Nigeria, helped the Trojans win a national championship during her time in Los Angeles from 2016-19. Dominique Randle, who is on the Philippines’ first-ever Women’s World Cup roster, was a member of the USC program from 2012-17. Savannah DeMelo recently earned her first cap for the United States national team after five splendid seasons with the Trojans from 2016-21. Finally, Simi Awujo, currently a standout junior midfielder for USC, will represent Canada down under.

Talia Grossman, a senior goalkeeper for the Trojans, has played alongside both DeMelo and Awujo. She’s excited and inspired to see these players perform on women’s soccer’s biggest stage.

“[Awujo and DeMelo] are not just strong on the pitch. They’re also great teammates off the field,” Grossman said. “They compete extremely hard and display an enormous amount of grit.”

DeMelo was an All-American and three-time All-Pac-12 selection at USC, as well as the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft for Racing Louisville. So, her chance to feature on the top-ranked USWNT will be particularly exciting for those around the program. Grossman attended the USWNT’s send-off friendly match in San Jose on July 9, when DeMelo made her debut for the squad.

“It was really amazing to see her being announced for the first time in the stadium,” Grossman said. “I was very proud to have been her teammate and also just to see her killing it on the field. Obviously, there are a lot of nerves around it. There’s so many people watching, and she played great.”

Jack Hallinan followed the USC women’s soccer team this past season for the Daily Trojan. He’s also excited to see what DeMelo brings to the USWNT roster.

“I’m excited for the World Cup just as a USWNT fan, but I’m also pumped to see DeMelo in particular,” Hallinan said. “She was great at USC but has really had a breakout season in the NWSL, scoring a bunch from midfield, and she has really earned her place in this World Cup team.”

Already featuring for Canada at just 19 years old, Awujo is coming off of a strong season for USC. She contributed two goals and four assists in 11 games in 2022 to earn herself All-Pac-12 First Team honors. She has made six appearances so far for the Canadian senior team and was named the 2022 Canada Soccer Young Player of the Year.

“Tracking Awujo’s progress for Canada will be great as well, since she’s still at USC and could become one of the best college players in the country in the 2023 season,” Hallinan said.

Randle has made 24 appearances for the Philippines in her international career, including a goal in a 2022 friendly against Fiji. Plumptre, a former England youth national team star, has made 11 appearances since deciding to represent Nigeria instead through her paternal grandfather. Both players should play significant roles for their respective squads in the upcoming weeks.

The USC women’s soccer has already cemented itself as a premier program in the nation through a pair of national championships in 2007 and 2016. Still, the ability to claim four players in the Women’s World Cup means a lot to those around the program.

“It’s always great seeing people who were in your shoes doing what we have all been dreaming about since we were little,” Keely Roy said.

Roy, a graduate forward, transferred to USC this offseason after playing four years at Cal. She was drawn to USC’s program because of its culture of excellence.

“You want to be in an environment where you’re loving the game and you’ll have a chance to win national championships. That’s everyone’s dream,” Roy said.

Grossman shares the same sentiment around the allure of USC thanks to its past and present success. Players have the ability to win during their time as a Trojan, while developing into thriving athletes in their post-college careers.

“USC has one of the best women’s soccer programs in the nation, and that’s been true for many years now. It’s one of the main reasons I chose to come to USC, and I know that’s true for all my teammates,” Grossman said. “It’s great to see that we’re continuing that level of play.”

Looking ahead, Roy hopes that this Women’s World Cup can build more and more excitement around the sport.

“It’s pretty exciting. The women’s game has had so much growth over the last five years … the trajectory is so exciting,” Roy said. “So many countries, including the U.S., have been putting money into women’s soccer … I think this will be a big World Cup to watch.”

The tournament starts early Thursday morning, with co-host New Zealand playing against Norway at midnight PST, followed by other co-host Australia taking on Ireland at 3 a.m. PST. Awujo’s Canada and Plumptre’s Nigeria will then face off on Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. PST — a must-watch match for all Trojan fans.

If you’re still on the fence about tuning into the Women’s World Cup even after these intriguing USC storylines, Roy has one more reason to watch.

“If you supported the U.S. men’s team, you should go and support the women’s U.S. team,” Roy said. “We’re the reigning champions, and some people don’t even know that. They can’t brag because they just don’t know.”

DeMelo and the USWNT debut on Friday at 6 p.m. PST against Vietnam, as they seek to win a third straight Women’s World Cup.