Way back in January I made a run at predicting the success of each team’s 2017 draft class. Halfway through this season, I checked back in with the draftees, highlighting the most successful ones. So it seems only appropriate that as we wrap up another year of soccer and begin discussing end of season awards, I begin my team-by-team award picks with the rookies.
Please note that some teams do not have a runner up due to only having one draftee on their roster at this time.
Rose Lavelle burst out of the box, earning player of the month in April and looking every bit like the clear frontrunner for the 2017 Rookie of the Year. And then she returned from USWNT camp in June injured and has only just begun earning second-half minutes. Stepping into her void was Andrews, who took a little while to adjust but has become a consistent midfielder. She’s more of an all-around central midfielder rather than a classic 10, but she has proven she can pull the strings at this level. She is a solid ball winner who has a higher tackle percentage than any other midfielder on the team. If a healthy Lavelle and Andrews can form a good partnership next year, Boston could have the makings of a very solid midfield with those two in front of Angela Salem.
Runner up: Ifeoma Onumonu
It took time for Onumonu to get minutes on the pitch, but she has demonstrated speed and tenacity in her 15 appearances. She has one assist for the year.
Chicago Red Stars
Kaskie is the only rookie who remains with Chicago after Morgan Proffitt was traded. A midfielder by trade, she has demonstrated her versatility by mostly playing defense. Despite her inexperience, Kaskie has shown no qualms in going toe to toe with the league’s best.
Runner up: N/A
FC Kansas City
Gibbons is the only player besides Nicole Barnhart to have played in every game for FCKC this season. After starting at left back, she moved into central midfield and has been key in the late turnaround for KC’s season. While Gibbons can and does offer defensive cover, where she shines is setting up an attack. FCKC likes to play out of the back, and time and again she provides an outlet for that first ball up the pitch.
Runner up: N/A
It’s somewhat remarkable that after having one of the worst professional debuts in the history of the NWSL, Campbell has gotten herself into Rookie of the Year talk. She is third in the league in save percentage and has kept Houston in games they had no business staying in. Campbell is an excellent shot stopper who can read a cross as well as any keeper out there. Bold and quick off her line, she is unafraid to play with her feet. She has 52 saves and three clean sheets. Campbell was included in the NWSL Team of the Month in July.
Runner up: Nichelle Prince
Out of all the rookies, Prince is among those who have grown the most. She reads the game better with each game and demonstrates an excellent work rate, with three goals and one assist to her name.
North Carolina Courage
It took a little bit of time for Hatch to break the starting lineup, but once she did, she made it very hard for Paul Riley to take her off. With five goals, she has the best shot conversion rate on the Courage. Hatch has a combination of athleticism and intelligence that ought to see her get a repeat USWNT look as well as a good shot at Rookie of the Year. She was named to the June NWSL Team of the Month.
Runner up: N/A
Initially drafted by Portland, Hill was traded to Orlando and after being in and out of the starting lineup, she’s become an important part of their undefeated streak. The striker shows all the early signs of a great forward – an ability to read the line and hold her run, a clinical finish, and strong off the ball movement that pulls apart defenders and gets herself into dangerous positions. Playing off Alex Morgan, she provides an important outlet when Morgan is taking up a majority of a backline’s attention. A bit of a goal poacher, she has three goals and one assist on the season.
Runner up: Danica Evans
Evans has a nose for goal and should eventually work herself into a starting lineup somewhere. She’s scored one goal this season.
In five appearances, Lussi has scored once and picked up two assists, although her record is marred by her three-game suspension. She brings a dose of pace and energy to a Portland side that, with the exception of Hayley Raso, can sometimes feel a bit too slow. Lussi is the kind of forward who constantly harangues a defense, forcing turnovers and jumping on mistakes.
Runner up: Savannah Jordan
A late arrival to Portland, Jordan has only had a couple of chances to demonstrate why she was still taken in the second round despite heading overseas for a period. She has already shown a keen eye for timing her runs, and all of her shots have been on target so far.
McNabb has played both in the midfield and on defense, and I gave her the nod over Johnson due to her consistency and ability to adapt to a starting role. Although she still makes the occasional mistake, McNabb has adjusted fairly well to the speed of play at the professional level and appears at home with her teammates. She reads the game well and easily adjusts her role based on her position, which cannot be said of everyone. McNabb has one goal.
Runner up: Katie Johnson
Johnson quickly became both a fan favorite and one of the most potent super subs in the league due to her explosiveness off the bench, notching four goals and two assists.
Sky Blue FC
It looked for a time like Sheridan was the most likely Rookie of the Year candidate and she should still be in the conversation, although her play waned over the last month. She is Sky Blue’s Iron Woman, playing more minutes than anyone else, and second only to Nicole Barnhart in saves. Playing behind a young, unstable, and often quite poor backline, Sheridan retained remarkable composure in her box, playing with a presence that belies her years.
Runner up: Mandy Freeman
Freeman held her own both alongside and without Christie Pearce and could develop into an anchor for Sky Blue’s backline. She has one assist on the season.
Dougherty-Howard is a dark horse for Rookie of the Year. A third round pick, she’s become a mainstay in Washington’s midfield. Although she has only scored one goal, her role in quickly restarting an attack would probably see her lead the team in secondary assists if they were tracked. She is an aggressive player who always gets herself in the mix, leading the team in fouls won. Her vision of passing lanes and ability to perfectly place a long pass is among the best in the 2017 class, and she has been a bright spot in an otherwise dim season for the Spirit.
Runner up: Mallory Pugh
A full season of Pugh might have seen her get the nod. She is everything that was expected of her, the brilliant plays of an international-level player mixed with the inconsistencies of youth. Going forward, Pugh is undoubtedly the lynchpin around which Jim Gabarra would like to rebuild his team. She has scored four goals and notched one assist.