This column was going to wait, but in light of Jill Ellis’s recent comments to Graham Hays, it seemed like a good idea to fast-track things. We already know that Whitney Engen has been told her services are no longer needed by the national team and reading Hays’ article, other contracted players may have been told the same. Below are XI current NWSL players that warrant call-ups sooner than later. Before I start though, a few notes:
— This is an NWSL column so this is an NWSL list. I am well aware of Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez, Jane Campbell, and others, all of whom will likely be in sooner than later, but this space is for current NWSL players.
— I intentionally stopped the list at 11. That does not mean there are only 11 who deserve a look, and it certainly does not mean that a player not mentioned here does not deserve one. Three months ago I never though I would do this column without including Megan Oyster, but she seems to have lost her way in Washington since the Olympic break. Abby Dahlkemper has a bright future at center back, but I found others I’d rather see go first. Shea Groom nearly made it, but I believe she needs some refining in her game before making the jump. All three, and others, would be excellent additions to a camp in the near future.
— Feel free to tweet me your gripes @thedanlauletta but as always please keep them civil and respectful.
Danielle Colaprico, Chicago Red Stars
Two seasons into her professional career, Colaprico is firmly in the conversation about the best defensive midfielder in the United States. She has controlled many a match for the Red Stars with her ability to win balls clean off opposing attackers thanks to her incredible lower-body strength. Once she gets the ball, Colaprico makes correct and accurate passes more often than most, and she will spring the offense with something spectacular more than just occasionally.
The Red Stars’ diamond midfield is not likely to ever be employed by the national team, but there is nothing in her game that suggests anything but being ready for the next level. Colaprico did not have her best game against the Spirit in last week’s semifinal with Jill Ellis watching from the stands, so hopefully the U.S. coach already has a positive book on the 2015 NWSL Rookie of the Year.
Lynn Williams, Western New York Flash
Had Williams done nothing in this year’s playoffs, 2016 still would have been a memorable season for her emergence as an elite goal-scorer in NWSL. But she validated her 11-goal season by scoring an extra-time brace against the Thorns and will now ply her trade in Sunday’s NWSL Championship. The two goals showed off her versatility, one calmly rolled in for placement, the other a one-time blast off a fabulous Samantha Mewis pass.
As a rookie Williams was mostly known for her speed, but she showed an ability this season to use her strength to fight her way through defenders to make her own space and quiet has 9 assists in two NWSL seasons. Nothing not to like here.
[LAULETTA: How the rebuilt Flash arrived ahead of schedule]
Kealia Ohai, Houston Dash
Ohai is an interesting case. Two years ago, I thought she was on the fast-track to the national team, but 2015 was a step backward. So too was 2016, at least through July 9. That was the date of the Dash’s sixth straight loss, all by 1-0. Ohai spoke out that night about the team’s need to win its next game. And then she scored 11 goals over the final 10 games of the season.
Not many players have ever had that sort of run on the professional level, and Ohai deserves every chance to take it to the international level. She is also a tenacious defender when she tracks back on the flanks, a trait the national team covets. The inconsistency is a factor and the broader question for Ohai will be how she levels off since the end of her phenomenal run is inevitable.
Emily Menges, Portland Thorns FC
Was there a better center back in NWSL this year than Menges? Originally the Thorns’ right back, she shifted central after Kat Williamson hurt her knee — and Menges never looked back. All Menges did was anchor a defense that allowed fewer goals than games played, and fewer goals than any other team in NWSL. While the rest of the Thorns’ back line saw players shuttling in and out, Menges was the constant and she played with remarkable composure to help the club win the NWSL Shield for the first time.
Casey Short, Chicago Red Stars
As recently chronicled by Jennifer Gordon, it took Short three seasons to reach NWSL after being a 1st round pick in 2013. Now that she has arrived, a call-up to the national team should be imminent. An outside back with attacking instincts, Short is also defensively responsible and one of the most difficult fullbacks to beat one-on-one down the flank.
Arin Gilliland, Chicago Red Stars
The right-sided foil to Short, Gilliland is probably a bit better than her Red Stars teammate at getting into the attack but maybe a touch behind in terms of individual defending. For as much time as Gilliland spends in advanced positions, she very rarely leaves her flank exposed and more impressively she and Short have developed a solid chemistry in regards to who goes forward when.
Haley Kopmeyer, Seattle Reign FC
Hope Solo’s backup has been so good, the Reign have hardly missed a beat in the last two years when Solo has missed time for various reasons. Solo even referenced Kopmeyer’s ability when announcing she was taking the rest of 2016 off following her suspension from the national team. Kopmeyer controls her box well, has good hands, and has impressive shot-stopping abilities. She should be soon be a starter at the league level and is certainly good enough to warrant a look from Ellis.
Michelle Betos, Portland Thorns FC
This one will draw some rolled eyes, but hear me out: Over the last five seasons, Betos has lifted herself from WPSL Elite keeper to NWSL backup to NWSL starter. This season, the Thorns brought in Adrianna Franch but Betos won out and Franch never saw the net after the Olympic break. Now, do I think Betos is an international level keeper? No, I don’t. So why call her in?
It might not always look pretty, but Betos has answered every challenge thrown at her over the years. Who is to say she won’t handle the next one? For a player like Betos, I’d rather see for myself that she won’t make the jump than just assume it. That’s why I would call her in and take a look.
Erica Skroski, Sky Blue FC
Her switch to right back probably cost Skroski my Rookie of the Year vote. While she managed the new position well, her half-season playing center back next to Christie Rampone showed a young defender with a calming presence and a nose for the ball. Rutgers insiders say Skroski was the key cog in the stingy defense that helped Rutgers to its first College Cup in 2015. She is neither the quickest nor the most physically imposing player, but all she does is get the job done.
Vanessa DiBernardo, Chicago Red Stars
DiBerardo has been in Chicago for three seasons, had her role tweaked every time, and has pretty much continued to get better to the point where she was (or should be) Best XI quality in 2016. DiBernardo can unlock a defense with her dribbling and vision and she is not averse to pressing on defense either. Her variety of roles as a Red Star should only bolster her case to get a look from the U.S.
Kassey Kallman, Boston Breakers
It is easy to forget about Kallman considering how utterly bad the Breakers have been during her two seasons in Beantown. But remember that as a rookie Kallman slotted into the left back slot for FC Kansas City soon after the start of the season and never relinquished the role, helping the club to the NWSL Championship. Her 2016 season, as a center back, was not the strongest, but the Breakers had all sorts of issues in midfield and building up an attack, so it stands to reason that Kallman’s form would move up with the quality of her team. Kallman’s career arc could still trend either way, but she is one I would want to see perform around better players. Why not now?