Sports Illustrated commemorated the 2015 World Cup champion U.S. Women’s National Soccer team with 25 covers, all to be distributed throughout the country and available for purchase online. Along with the covers, the magazine released a behind-the-scenes video of the shoot, which got us thinking: which ones are the best? Let’s take a look.

Many of the players went with a pretty standard say “cheese” approach, while Tobin Heath and Sydney Leroux decided to kiss their trophies. Christie Rampone held her trophy like a baby and Kelley O’Hara crossed hers between her arms. But there were also some clear standouts, simply as far as “things happening on a Sports Illustrated cover” go.

Honorable Mention: Jill Ellis, head coach

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Jill Ellis will likely go down as the forgotten hero of this tournament. Her time as this team’s coach has been quite remarkable, especially considering she was only given the full-time job a little more than a year ago, after a month as the interim.

As soon as her team started to falter, she was questioned on many fronts from tactics to lineups and substitutions, sometimes by the very people whose footsteps she was following.

The photo says, “I’m happy, and here’s my lovely trophy.” As an aside, it would be cool if you could buy the Nike U.S. Soccer warmups with three stars on them, too, in addition to the jerseys.

#5. Whitney Engen

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Engen is not a superstar compared to some of her teammates, but this photo is fantastic. I imagine that when you win a trophy that is easily handheld and also fun to look at, you probably find yourself constantly showing it off and handing it to people to touch. And since the Women’s World Cup trophy is one of the best we have out there in the global sporting sphere, Engen is proud to show it off.

I get a very share-y feeling from this photo. “Here, look, it’s awesome, right? Yes, you could hold it. No, do not break it. I worked my whole life for it, thank you very much.”

#4 – Megan Rapinoe

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Megan Rapinoe. You know, the awesome soccer player, awesome first pitch thrower and awesome self-describer on the U.S. National team since her U-16 days? Of course you do. Which is exactly what this look on her face, even if in jest, says as she holds the trophy. “I’m awesome, we all know this, nothing new, still rocking.”

Of course, this cover would have been WAY higher if either of a couple outtakes (revealed in the video) actually made the final cut.



The top one is cool, sort of a variation on Engen’s cover. But the second one, my word, is truly incredible (Serena Williams knows this well.) Had it been printed, this would have easily jumped on to the Top 10 list of great Sports Illustrated covers of all time, and every soccer-playing kid in America would have one on their wall. I have no idea how it wasn’t the final image chosen. (UPDATE: It just wouldn’t fit. They tried.)

#3 – Meghan Klingenberg

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The fun part about this photo is that it feels like it could have been taken on the field, after the game and tournament had ended. And since celebrating a winning a World Cup U.S. soccer team with a studio-shot cover image is unprecedented, Klingenberg’s emotion here feels genuine. “We rocked this, and I’m pumped and likely will be for a long time.”

Also, she has an awesome moment when the main photographer on this shoot, Simon Bruty, jokingly asks her if getting her picture taken by him has been the best part of her World Cup celebration week. Dudes gonna dude, I guess.

#2 – Julie Johnston

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This is expert-level. You know when you go to a party, and there’s a photobooth and a bunch of random props, and you want to use the props but you don’t really know how you want to do so? And then you get into that awkward dance of thinking, “Is this too corny? Will all of these, including the ones I hate, be on some website that people can see? Why am I still worried about this stupid photo?” Maybe that’s just me.

Of course, the World Cup is not stupid, and neither was this photo shoot, and Johnston completely nailed it. Using anything as a faux-guitar is always a smart move. More importantly, as a player on the short list for the tournament Golden Ball award at 23, this is likely a face you’ll see again on the world’s stage.

#1 – Abby Wambach

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This cover displays the deepest well of emotions, beyond the unbridled joy of its counterparts.

When I first saw the news of personalized covers, I immediately thought about Wambach. At 35, we knew this would be her last World Cup. Before, she’d also been at the forefront of those fighting to get FIFA to use grass fields at the tournament. She directly called out FIFA for their disrespect of the women’s game, and was part of the lawsuit against the organizing body, along with teammate Alex Morgan and others.

She scored twice in the tournament and in a great scene, Carli Lloyd took off her captain’s armband and gave it to Wambach in her last game at a World Cup as a gesture of respect. For longtime USWNT fans, it was a tad bittersweet watching the all-time international goals scorer relegated to a support role. After the victory, when she went to the crowd to kiss her wife, it felt like a fitting final moment for the woman who’s given so much to that program.

And this cover photo manages to perfectly convey a lot of those emotions not only within herself, potentially, but also in terms of fans’ relationship with her as a star and the team. There’s a smile but not a huge one. She holding the trophy firmly, but not tightly. Her wedding ring is displayed front and center and of all the team’s covers, she’s the only one whose eyes aren’t facing the camera.

It can be hard to say goodbye to yesterday. But it’s certainly not as tough if you go out on top.