There has rightfully been a very large amount of praise aimed at Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston during this World Cup. The two central defenders have been a brick wall for the USA, allowing just one goal all tournament long thanks to a series of jaw-dropping performances. They're not the only defenders enjoying a strong tournament for the USWNT, though -- both Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg have been incredible out wide at fullback, and they'll be key again when the United States takes on Japan in the Women's World Cup final on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, FOX).
The two women both suffered a rough spell at the start of their first match, with Klingenberg partially at fault for giving up that lone goal in the first half of the opening game against Australia. Ever since halftime of that match, though, the USWNT's wide defenders have taken on all comers and absolutely dominated them, locking down the flanks with an almost contemptuous ease.
Match in and match out, they've faced some very good wingers and just taken them completely out of games. Lina Nilsson, Francisca Ordega, Han Peng, Alexandra Popp, and even Lady Andrade were all left looking for answers after facing down Krieger and Klingenberg. The pair would cut off their opponents' runs, starve them of service, and scrap and harass them into frustration. It was so effective and so much fun to watch. And, oh yeah, it helped the U.S. win a bunch of matches by taking excellent attackers out of them.
Of course, Krieger and Klingenberg weren't just working on one end of the pitch. Both players excelled at supporting the attack, with Klingenberg serving as a constantly available outlet on the left to help out the creative talents of Megan Rapinoe, always there to kick the ball out to when needed and send it back into the box.
Krieger's attacking role has been different, often asked to fill in the space of whoever is ahead of her on the right wing after she cuts in to support the strikers. Krieger was a frequent threat racing forward, running on to balls put into space in front of her and firing in one dangerous cross after another. Several of the USWNT's goals have had her involved in the buildup, and she's constantly been one of the side's greatest attacking threats even when other parts of the team have struggled.
Look out, Japan, because no matter where you are on the pitch, you're not safe from the USWNT's fullbacks. Krieger and Klingenberg are on patrol, and while they're perhaps not getting the same accolades as Johnston and Sauerbrunn, they've made their presence felt in a big way in this year's World Cup.