NXGN Nine 2023: The elite wonderkids in women's football

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NXGN Nine Women's GFX
The NXGN Awards are back for another year, but in 2023, we're doing things a little differently!

In previous years, GOAL has ranked the world's top teenage talents in women's football, with the likes of Lena Oberdorf, Melchie Dumornay and Hanna Bennison finishing as the eventual winners.

This year, though, instead of there being a sole victor, we've selected an elite group that we believe are the very top of the class: The inaugural NXGN Nine.

So, having named 25 finalists for the women's NXGN Nine, check out our selections for the top teenage talents in the world:

(Note: All players born on or after January 1, 2004.)

  1. Aline Gomes (Ferroviaria)

    Aline Gomes (Ferroviaria)

    When Pia Sundhage, the head coach of Brazil’s senior national team, was interviewed by FIFA last year, she was asked which members of the Selecao’s team had impressed her most at the U20 World Cup. “The youngest one, actually,” she replied.

    Sundhage was referring to Aline, the only player born in 2005 in Brazil’s squad for the tournament in Costa Rica.

    A forward who attacks brilliantly from out wide, last year was a big one for Aline. She caught the eye at the U17 and U20 World Cups, nailed down a regular role as a starter with Ferroviaria in Brazil's top flight, and was selected as the league’s 'Revelation of the Season'.

    “The way that Aline has taken off – the way she takes players on, uses space, is a threat on the flanks – has been really impressive,” Sundhage noted. When asked if she would consider taking her to the senior World Cup in 2023, the coach talked about being careful with young players before adding: "But if she's performing, let her play."

    Aline is certainly not a front-runner for a place on the plane to Australia and New Zealand, but she will get a chance to impress having been named in Brazil's squad to take on European champions England in April's Finalissima.

    Whether she makes it to the World Cup or not, big things can be expected from one of the most talented teenagers in Brazil right now. With her 18th birthday coming in July, it would be a shock should she stay in her homeland beyond the New Year.

  2. Linda Caicedo (Real Madrid)

    Linda Caicedo (Real Madrid)

    Barcelona, Chelsea, Lyon – Caicedo was linked with the biggest clubs in the women’s game as she approached her 18th birthday. However, it was Real Madrid who secured the signature of one of the world’s most exciting young talents in February of this year.

    Caicedo first came to the fore when she debuted for America de Cali at the age of 14. Her first season in senior football saw her not only finish top of the goal-scoring standings in Colombia’s top flight, but also fire the club to its first-ever Championship title.

    The young forward, who also debuted for the senior national team at 14, has gone from strength to strength ever since that breakthrough year. After a controversial switch to rivals Deportivo Cali, Caicedo would win another league title and finish as joint-top scorer in the Copa Libertadores.

    With electric pace and top quality finishing, another incredibly impressive trait of the teenager’s is the way she has handled the hype around her. Watching her play, she does not seem weighed down by it at all, still playing with the wonderful freedom that characterises her game.

    She’s resilient, too. In 2022, Caicedo played at Copa America for Colombia, and was named Player of the Tournament and Player of the Match in the final. That was July. In August, she played for the U20s at the World Cup, scoring twice as they made the quarter-finals. Then, in October, she helped the U17s reach the final of their World Cup, winning the Silver Ball and Bronze Boot.

    Such a demanding schedule is certainly not sustainable if Colombia wants Caicedo to blossom into the top talent she could be, with her having the potential to be a talismanic figure for her national team for years to come, as well as her club.

  3. Aoba Fujino (Tokyo Verdy Beleza)

    Aoba Fujino (Tokyo Verdy Beleza)

    Named one of the most outstanding players in the 2021-22 WE League season, Fujino is the latest top talent to breakthrough in Japan – a country which boasts a really exciting next generation.

    The young forward was part of a brilliant U16 team that won the AFC Championship in 2019, and her and many of her team-mates from that tournament were excellent again in 2022 when Japan reached the final of the U20 World Cup.

    Fujino’s wonderful technical skill, ability to change pace to glide past a defender and awareness of how to find pockets of space where she can hurt an opponent were evident throughout her nation’s run.

    Those traits and her high level also earned the teenager her first call-up to the senior national team in the months that followed, as Fujino debuted for the Nadeshiko in October 2022.

    She’s settled very well onto that big stage and, at club level, continues to be a regular starter, and scorer, since breaking into Tokyo Verdy Beleza’s first-choice line up, which is no mean feat given the amount of top young talent the club has coming through.

    The biggest stage yet looks like it could be in Fujino’s very near future, too, as she is beginning to nail down a role in Japan’s starting XI at a perfect time – right ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

  4. Wieke Kaptein (Twente)

    Wieke Kaptein (Twente)

    In May 2022, Kaptein was facing a dilemma. She could go to the U17 Euros with the Netherlands or she could stay at home and help Twente lift a league title.

    Only 16 years old at the time, the midfielder described it as a “luxury problem”. In the end, her club made the decision that she would stick around, highlighting just how important she has become for the team, at such a young age.

    Kaptein ended the season having played in 20 of the club’s 24 league games as they were crowned Dutch champions, starting 16 of them. She was also named the Eredivisie's Talent of the Year. "[It's] really not normal," the teenager told ESPN. "What I'm going through now, at this age, is so, so, so cool."

    Only 15 years old when she signed her first professional contract, and the same age when she debuted in the Champions League, as time has passed Kaptein has developed, looked more assured and only seen the excitement around what she is capable of grow.

    The young midfielder has great positional awareness, is able to balance the desire to get forward with the need to hold back, has brilliant variety in her passing and, when she gets the chance, a fierce shot.

    Kaptein also has a wise head on her shoulders. She appears to understand what she needs right now in her career and when to take the next step. After all, she won’t be in her homeland forever. This is a player who is destined to become a lynchpin of one of Europe’s biggest and best clubs.

  5. Franziska Kett (Bayern Munich)

    Franziska Kett (Bayern Munich)

    For a young player to break into the first team at one of Europe's premier clubs and make an impact week in, week out, they need to be talented. Kett, in every sense of the word, is exactly that.

    The young winger arrived at Bayern Munich after catching the eye at FC Edenstetten, where she stood out in a very good boys' team. Sadly, a couple of years of injuries followed, but the work done by both the player and the club to overcome those setbacks is certainly paying off now.

    Since making her senior debut for the German giants at the start of the 2022-23 season, Kett has become a player that head coach Alexander Straus looks to on a regular basis to make a difference.

    She marked her first start, against Meppen in October, with her first senior goal, with a second strike coming just a few weeks later. That she was in Bayern's line-up for their away trip to Barcelona in the Champions League in November speaks wonders of how highly rated she is, too.

    Creative, explosive and with an ability to use both feet, Kett is an incredibly dangerous forward and an unpredictable one, too. Add in versatility and the desire to fulfil her defensive responsibilities and she’s a wonderful player for a coach to have at their disposal.

    The experience she’s gaining as a regular substitute for Bayern, and an occasional starter, is massive at just 18 years old. That exposure is only going to help her refine her game to become one of the world’s deadliest wide players.

  6. Vicky Lopez (Barcelona)

    Vicky Lopez (Barcelona)

    It's been known for some time that Lopez is one of the most exciting young talents in world football. That said, 2022 was a year in which she emphasised that point to the absolute maximum.

    On her 16th birthday, the young forward joined Barcelona, the reigning European champions, on a five-year deal. The switch followed a debut season in the Spanish top flight with Madrid CFF in which she made eight appearances, including two starts, all at the age of 15.

    In that game time, onlookers saw plenty that justified the hype that has been building, glimpses of her skill and wonderfully different thinking on the ball. Those traits stole the show at the U17 Euros in May, with Lopez one of the stand-out performers in a tournament that saw Spain reach the final.

    She and her team wouldn’t go home with the trophy that day, losing on penalties to Germany, but they made up it for it in October by winning the U17 Women's World Cup. That wasn't the only trophy Lopez collected in India, either, as she also picked up the tournament's Golden Ball.

    With that competition coming midway through her first season in Catalunya, Lopez hasn't always been available to her new head coach, Jonatan Giraldez, but he was clearly impressed with her early on, choosing to give the youngster her first start for Barca in September.

    With a first goal following in January of this year, the signs are already there to suggest Lopez can become a key contributor for one of the world’s best teams. And she’s still only 16 years old.

  7. Monique Ngock (Reims)

    Monique Ngock (Reims)

    Recipient of Cameroon's own Ballon d'Or award in October 2022, Ngock is not just one of her country’s brightest young players, nor is she one of Africa’s most promising prospects. She’s right up there with the most exciting teenager talents on the planet.

    Ngock was one of the Indomitable Lionesses' most impressive performers at the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations, performing admirably in her first senior international tournament at the age of 17.

    It was shortly after that experience, a couple of months before her 18th birthday, that she signed for Reims, one of the best clubs in the game for developing young talent. Since moving to France, she’s blossomed.

    A deep-lying midfielder, Ngock oozes confidence when her team has the ball, often seen demanding it or being vocal in directing where it should go. Her technical ability is excellent and her awareness impressive, while she also manages to blend together a simple passing game and the desire to go forward very nicely.

    When her team is out of possession, the teenager always has a real hunger to win it back, too. That she tots up a few yellow cards shouldn’t be a concern given her role.

    Oftentimes, players doing Ngock’s job can be overlooked. But Reims have unearthed an absolute gem, one who has the potential to become one of the best in the game in her position.

  8. Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave)

    Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave)

    July 31, 2022, was an historic date in the NWSL. It was the date on which Shaw etched her name into the record books by becoming the youngest player in league history to score on their debut.

    In her next game for the San Diego Wave, she scored again. And the week after that? Again. It made Shaw just the second player ever to score in their first three games in the NWSL. It was an explosion onto the big stage for a player who has always shown the potential to belong there.

    Those who coached this talented teen throughout her formative years, be it with Solar Soccer Club or FC Dallas, could see her creativity, her mesmerising footwork, and her ability to make something out of nothing.

    Those traits have shone through in Shaw’s journey, one which saw her awarded the Golden Ball at the CONCACAF U15 Championship back in 2018. That was around the same time that she flew to France to train with Paris Saint-Germain, a remarkable opportunity for such a young player.

    After finishing her debut season in the NWSL with three goals from seven games, there’s real excitement about what could be next for the 18-year-old. To have such an impact in such a high quality league, despite only coming in midway through the season and missing a good chunk of it due to the U20 World Cup, is impressive.

    What could Shaw do with a full season? Time will tell. Nothing is guaranteed, but it feels safe to expect fireworks from this explosive young star – both now and in the years to come.

  9. Alyssa Thompson (Angel City)

    Alyssa Thompson (Angel City)

    When Thompson first caught the eye of Tracey Kevins, the United States' U20 women’s national team coach, it was while playing with a team four years above her own age group. That she stood out in such a challenging environment is a testament to Thompson and her ability.

    It’s a theme that runs through the young forward’s career to date. She’s always put herself in situations that any ordinary player would find difficult. But Thompson is not ordinary.

    In the years before she became the No.1 overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft - and the youngest pick in its history - she was playing with Total Futbol Academy. In her final year with the club, Thompson was with its U19s in MLS Next. The team is an all boys' - or, at U19s level, we should say men's - team. She was the only girl and was 17 years old.

    These experiences, which demand quicker decisions than playing with her own age group, would have helped to make her an ever better player. Choosing to take such a path is paying off, too.

    Not only is she now in the NWSL with Angel City, ready for her debut season in 2023, she’s also a full international for the U.S. women’s national team, having won her first cap at a sold-out Wembley Stadium in a friendly against England, in October 2022.

    A brave forward who loves to take players on, Thompson is the type that gets people up out of their seats when she is on the ball. She’s lively, she’s creative and she’s got an incredibly bright future ahead of her.