As we exit the first month of NWSL play and head into the Women's World Cup roster drop extravaganza, here is a look at who has made the biggest impact on their sides at the beginning of the season.
Orlando Pride - Alanna Kennedy (D)
There haven't been a lot of bright spots for the Pride so far this season, and the bulk of their marquee names will be departing soon to prepare for the World Cup. Alanna Kennedy did give us one of the first contenders for Goal of the Season though, and it’s a gravity-defying beaut.
Honorable Mention - The Fans: Okay, this is maybe a cop-out, but despite a messy start to the Pride's 2019 campaign, they still boasted the highest attendance in the league this weekend. Unfortunately, that attendance was still below last year's league average. Sigh.
Sky Blue FC - Kailen Sheridan (GK)
We have found the rock upon which Sky Blue shall be rebuilt, and her name is Kailen Sheridan. Even with losing scorelines, the Canadian international has been impressive, and her tenacious saves against a resurgent Thorns midfield over the weekend helped Sky Blue hold on to their first point of the season. She's held her own in goal against some tough, crafty attacking sides like Portland and Houston, and netted (ba-dum-tishh) 16 saves so far, a statistic that makes us sweat just looking at it, but Sheridan keeps her cool.
Honorable Mention - Carli Lloyd (MF): After a pair of frustrating, goalless losses for Sky Blue, they're finally on the board and scored a much-needed point thanks to a well-run brace from the cap'n, giving the Jersey gals the lead for the first time all season. Will there be joy in Piscataway again?
Reign FC - Bethany Balcer (F)
The Reign have had to take a hard look at squad depth in a lineup sans Steph Catley, JESSICA FISHLOCK MBE, and Megan Rapinoe. One player who has stepped up in the midst of the roster chaos is Bethany Balcer, who scored the first goal in the Reign's new stadium on her first NWSL start. She showed that this was more than a one-off appearance with some dangerous shots against Chicago, putting Uncle Naeher to work within just a few minutes. If she can stay consistent, she’ll be one to watch.
Honorable Mention - Michelle Betos (GK): We didn't see Betos in the XI last week in Chicago, but she was instrumental in the Reign earning points on their first two outings, staving off a hungry Dash attack and making some brilliant saves against Orlando in the home opener.
Washington Spirit - The New Kids on the Back Line, But Especially Sam Staab and Megan Crosson (D)
It was clear from the first night in Boyds that this is not the same Washington Spirit that limped the finish line last season. The influx of new talent, especially on the back line, is already making a difference, with Sam Staab and Megan Crosson scoring on their club debuts and holding it together for the clean sheet. Could it be that the Spirit will be fun to watch this season? From these first minutes from these new faces, looks like it?
Honorable Mention - Mallory Pugh (F): Who doesn’t love Mallory Pugh? Not loving Mallory Pugh is like saying you hate music or dogs on Instagram. Pugh has yet to open up her goal account this season, but did help set up both defender goals in the first match with beautiful, measured balls in and had some close calls against Nicole Barnhart.
Houston Dash - Jane Campbell (GK)
Counting on reliable coverage when your squad concedes a penalty and you're sweating? Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Jane Campbell.
The keeper has had to run more desperate damage control than Lena Dunham's PR team, successfully blocking a penalty shot in each of Houston's matches so far. More cohesion between her and the Dash defense will be essential going forward (as well as not giving away penalties), but for now, Campbell has demonstrated nerve and talent at the start of the season.
Honorable Mention - Sofia Huerta (MF): This was a tough call with plenty of Dash players showing flashes of brilliance in the first few weeks – Rachel Daly demonstrating versatility with success on attack and defense; Nichelle Prince being quick on her feet to match her quick thinking. But Huerta's tenacious attack had the Reign (and the post) on the ropes in Week 1 and netted the Dash a win in Week 2, and reminded fans what a difference-maker having a Sofia Huerta can be. I could watch her score goals forever. It's my ASMR.
Portland Thorns - Tobin Heath (MF) and Christine Sinclair (F)
Look, it was hard to relegate either to the Honorable Mention spot. When these two connect and direct the attack, it's like watching Lennon and McCartney write a song or Virtue and Moir perform a perfectly-executed lift; and no, I am not just using this as a crass excuse to write about ice dance! And from Sinc's hat trick against Chicago to Heath's cheeky backheel against Sky Blue, they make the goals look easy! Heath and Sinc are leaders on and off the pitch who have piloted the Thorns to a strong start.
Chicago Red Stars - Yuki Nagasato (F)
When we talk about strengths the Red Stars' attack, we tend to talk about the energetic, goofy, Golden-Boot-earning powerhouse that is Sam Kerr. But we need to talk about Yuki. Oh, how we need to talk about Yuki. The veteran striker has contributed to at least one goal in every outing for the Red Stars so far this season, including Casey Short's stunner to open scoring against the Reign. And it's not just her scoring consistency, either – Nagasato boasts an impressive 77% passing success rate. We stan a team player. Also, her band is better than your band.
Honorable Mentions - Alyssa Naeher (GK), Casey Short (D): Perennial Save of the Week contender "Uncle" Naeher's strong start comes as no surprise. After missing the first week of the season with an injury, Short made her presence on the backline known against Portland, keeping Tobin Heath at bay and inspiring a flurry of "ARE YOU WATCHING, JILL ELLIS" capslocking from WoSo Twitter. She encored that with a stunner of a goal that flew past Lydia Williams like a shockingly humanoid Sonic the Hedgehog blisters past highway patrol. No, I'm not deeply haunted by the Sonic trailer. Why do you ask?
Utah Royals - Becky Sauerbrunn (D)
Being a defender is usually thankless – people tend to mostly notice when you're not doing your job. And then there's Becky Sauerbrunn, the greatest thing to come out of St. Louis since gooey butter cake, who should be praised loudly and often. In just 180 minutes, she's already boasting an enviable passing success rate and a 100% tackle success rate.
Honorable Mentions - Christen Press (F), Verónica Boquete (MF): Press has had a hand (er, foot) in both the Royals' goals. And it's still early yet to see the impact of the Royals' most hyped offseason addition in Vero Boquete, but we got to see some previews of her fluid passing and creativity. Also, she has a stadium named after her, the first woman in footy-mad Spain to have such an honor. When will your fave???
(Also, one more honorable mention to Nicole Barnhart (GK) on 10,000 minutes in the NWSL. Wow.)
North Carolina Courage - Crystal Dunn (F)
Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping, spectacular, never the same. The Courage's attack made mincemeat of Orlando and Houston, and in the first three weeks of the season, Dunn has been a juggernaut, netting four goals and an assist. She can do it all – right-footed, left-footed, converting set pieces, whatever this physics-defying sorcery is. I'd say other teams should be relieved to see her depart for the World Cup, but with Lynn Williams in form and Debinha on the board, the Courage won't be hurting for goal-scorers without her. Your defense is terrified.
Honorable Mention - Lynn Williams (F): It was difficult to choose an honorable mention because the Courage are like the Avengers with Carol Danvers – a pretty complete team (or maybe they're Thanos with the gauntlet if you support another team). But what's amazing about Lynn Williams is that she only has a 14% conversion rate, but takes so many shots, she's still already a Golden Boot contender. She's got speed, tenacity and a keen eye for where to capitalize on defensive mistakes, and as Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott taught us, "you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."
(Photo: Hmlarson/Wikimedia Commons)