Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The top players to watch at the Olympic men’s and women’s soccer tournaments

American soccer fans who watch the world's game will see plenty of familiar faces from MLS, the NWSL, and big teams across the globe.

Former Philadelphia Independence forward Caroline Seger (center) has played 215 times for Sweden, the appearances record for any European national team player.
Former Philadelphia Independence forward Caroline Seger (center) has played 215 times for Sweden, the appearances record for any European national team player.Read moreClaudo Bresciani / TT via AP

With the Olympic soccer tournaments soon to kick off, here’s a look at some of the top players to know in the women’s and men’s events.

Women’s teams

Formiga, midfielder, Brazil

Most eyes on Brazil will watch the all-world playmaker duo of Marta and Debinha. But longtime fans know Formiga has a special story. The 43-year-old has played in every Olympics since the Games added women’s soccer in 1996, and a record seven World Cups. This tournament will be her national team swansong.

Mana Iwabuchi, forward, Japan

The home team has potential to be the tournament’s dark horse. Iwabuchi, a forward who recently moved up the English league ranks from Aston Villa to Arsenal, brings veteran firepower to a team with many intriguing young players.

Sam Kerr, forward, Australia

A fan favorite in the U.S. from her many years in the NWSL, Kerr will try to lead the Matildas to a win over her old American teammates and rivals. Australia hosts the next women’s World Cup in 2023, and fans will hope for a big performance here to build momentum.

» READ MORE: NBC’s Peacock to live-stream Olympics gymnastics, track & field, and U.S. men’s basketball in Tokyo

Kim Little, midfielder, Britain

The Olympics are the only tournament in which Britain competes as its whole self instead of separately as England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So Little, a Scot, will get to play alongside many of the English players who reached the 2019 World Cup semifinals. The 31-year-old midfield dynamo is another U.S. fan favorite, as she spent three seasons in the NWSL.

Vivianne Miedema, forward, Netherlands

It won’t surprise anyone if the gold medal game is a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final. If the Dutch are to beat the U.S. this time, Miedema’s prolific goal-scoring ability will be why.

Hellen Mubanga, forward, Zambia

She scored the decisive goal in Zambia’s upset of Cameroon in Africa’s Olympic qualifying final, earning the Copper Queens their first berth in a major tournament.

Caroline Seger, forward, Sweden

This summer, the former Philadelphia Independence stalwart became the most-capped player in European women’s national team history when she played her 215th game for Sweden. If she plays against the U.S. on the tournament’s first day, it will be her 16th career contest against the Americans.

» READ MORE: Carli Lloyd, Kristie Mewis make U.S. Olympic women’s soccer team

Évelyne Viens, forward, Canada

Canada won bronze medals at the last two Olympics. It won’t be able to win a third by just relying on superstar captain Christine Sinclair, or promising young Europe-based players like Jordyn Huitema (Paris Saint-Germain) and Jessie Fleming (Chelsea). Viens has packed some real punch as a striker for Gotham FC, and this tournament could be the 24-year-old’s breakout stage.

Men’s teams

Esequiel Barco, midfielder, Argentina

Too often underwhelming for Atlanta United, the 22-year-old playmaker has a huge opportunity on this stage. Argentina hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 2008, when a 21-year-old Lionel Messi and 20-year-olds Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María won gold.

Amad Diallo, winger, Ivory Coast

Manchester United paid $23 million to buy him in January from Italy’s Atalanta, one of Europe’s best clubs at developing young players. He has played eight games for the Red Devils, and scored a goal against Milan in the Europa League round of 16.

» READ MORE: Andrés Cantor will call Olympics soccer in English on NBC, 21 years after he first did it

Takefusa Kubo, winger, Japan

The 20-year-old spent part of his childhood in Barcelona’s academy, then returned to Japan and signed for Real Madrid two years ago. He has yet to play for the club, but he has stayed in Spain on loan to other La Liga clubs.

Diego Lainez, winger, Mexico

A stacked Mexican squad has a good shot at a medal, and Lainez is a big reason. The 21-year-old winger has been outstanding for El Tri and his Spanish club, Real Betis.

» READ MORE: The Concacaf Nations League final was an epic chapter in the U.S.-Mexico rivalry

Gabriel Martinelli, forward, Brazil

Fans of English club Arsenal have high hopes for this 20-year-old. He scored 10 goals in 26 appearances in the 2019-20 season but just two in 22 in the 2020-21 campaign.

Douglas Martínez, forward, Honduras

U.S. fans need no reminding that Honduras has qualified for four of the last five Olympics, and reached the semis in 2016. Martínez, of MLS’ Real Salt Lake, will hope to help the Catrachos make another deep run.

Pedri, midfielder, Spain

La Roja looks to be the gold medal favorite, with a star-studded squad that features this Barcelona phenom. Marquee teammates include Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio, Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, and RB Lepizig’s Dani Olmo.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia ramps up its 2026 World Cup hosting bid

Florian Thauvin, winger, France

The men’s tournament is an under-23 event, but each team is allowed three overage players to get more attention from fans. One of France’s picks is Thauvin, a veteran of Marseille and the 2018 World Cup team who recently moved to Mexican club Tigres. His new teammates include a fellow Frenchman, prolific striker André-Pierre Gignac, who’s also on the Olympic squad.