Part of the reason U.S. soccer wanted a sustainable professional league is that the club teams provide a training ground for scores of aspiring national team players. If we look back at the first two attempts at a domestic pro league, players like Heather Mitts and Shannon Boxx used WUSA to forge their way onto the national team where they were both staples for a decade. From WPS emerged the careers of Yael Averbuch, Jill Loyden, and most notably Becky Sauerbrunn. The NWSL is not yet three months old, but that doesn’t make it too early to speculate as to which young American players are on the cusp of being called up for a look. After all, September camp is looming and the team has a new coach who seems intent on expanding the player pool.
Here are five players who could warrant a look this fall. Note that this list is just for fun and not based on any inside knowledge. Some of The Equalizer colleagues were consulted for this practice but the opinions are mine:
Erika Tymrak, FC Kansas City: The 2nd round pick began the season as a reserve and immediately impressed in stints off the bench. She made her first start June 6 thanks to some lineup shuffling necessitated by a red card, and has not lost that spot since. The 21-year-old has four goals and is technically one of the best midfielders in the NWSL with an ability to control possession in tight spaces. Tymrak has some history in the national team pipeline having been part of the U-17 World Cup team in 2008 that finished runner-up to North Korea.
McCall Zerboni, Western New York Flash: Zerboni would be a classic case of using the professional league system to make it to the international level. She started out as a bench player on the 2009 Los Angeles Sol and worked her way up to being a key contributor to the 2011 Western New York Flash, scoring four goals and helping the team to the championship. A versatile player who is best in some sort of attacking midfield role Zerboni is just 26. She was briefly a member of the U-17 national team a decade ago.
Leigh Ann Robinson, FC Kansas City: Robinson was probably the best left back in the NWSL—until switching to right back in a lineup overhaul a few weeks ago. She is not a flashy player, just a steady outside back with an ability to play a dangerous long ball and make the occasional foray into the attacking third. Like Zerboni, she is 26 and began as an extra piece in WPS four years ago before blossoming into a starter for the Philadelphia Independence. Robinson will be 27 next month and has no history in the pipeline so it would seem now is the time if she is to get a shot.
Mariah Nogueira, Boston Breakers: A find for the Breakers with the 13th pick in the college draft, the former Stanford Cardinal has locked down the defensive midfield in Boston. A member of the U-23 national team a year ago, Nogueira may still be a year or two away from competing with the best players in the country but she is a player on the rise at a position that figures to be up for grabs heading into Canada 2015.
Kathryn Williamson, Portland Thorns FC: Rachel Buehler’s central defense partner has played every minute for the stingiest defense in NWSL and has yet to miss a beat even when Buehler has gone out of the lineup to join the national team. Two years ago she went as far as a U-23 training camp, but if she continues her progress it could well be a similar opportunity with the full team. An argument can be made that Williamson has been the stronger half of the Thorns center back combo.
And a few others who just missed the cut:
Lori Chalupny – Far and away the most deserving, she has been absent from the national team for more than three years due to concussions that have not kept her away from league action.
Becky Edwards – Thorns midfielder was a virtual shoe-in until a torn ACL ended her season.
Allie Long – Edwards’ midfield mate in Portland, Long was a leading candidate at the start of the season but has been up and down playing in what has been a mostly dysfunctional midfield.
Alyssa Naeher – Buried in a deep pool of keepers her second stint in Boston got off to a rocky start before being named The Equalizer Player of the Week for Week 13.
Katy Freels – One of the most improved players from the start of the season until now is more likely a year or so away.
Hard to believe there are only six weeks to play in the NWSL season. Each week until it’s over we’ll take a brief look at how the teams stand as it pertains to the inaugural NWSL playoffs. This week, the Reign or Spirit — but not both — can be eliminated from contention. Clinching though, will have to wait at least one more week for all other teams.
Sky Blue FC (9-3-3, 30 pts)
Max points: 51
This Week: vs. Breakers (Sat)
Snapped a season-long three-game winless streak by grinding out a 1-0 win over the Spirit last Saturday. They should have Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord, and Sophie Schmidt back this weekend and it bears reminding they have been the best team in the league this season with hardly any contribution from Brittany Bock.
Portland Thorns FC (8-4-2, 26 pts)
Max points: 50
This Week: vs. Flash (Sun)
The Thorns’ season-long inability to connect through the midfield has finally caught up with them as they have been shutout in three straight matches. Tobin Heath should be available this weekend and could make her first NWSL appearance, something that can only help a struggling side.
FC Kansas City (7-4-4, 25 pts)
Max points: 46
This Week: at Red Stars (Sun)
Missed a chance to leapfrog the Thorns on Sunday when held to a scoreless draw at home by the Flash. The Blues have not lost in five matches but have some of the most disappointing draws of any team this season including last Wednesday when they conceded a late penalty to a Spirit team that had not scored in almost six games. They could easily jump into the top two and they could just as easily slip out of the playoff picture if they keep conceding ill-timed penalties.
Western New York Flash (6-3-5, 23 pts)
Max points: 47
This Week: at Seattle (Thu); at Portland (Sun)
A bit unlucky not to leave Kansas City with three points and a 3rd place standing, but the Flash maintain a game in hand on FCKC and actually have a tremendous opportunity to wind up top of the table. A victory in Portland this weekend will put them at least on level terms and they have one more home match against Sky Blue, who they match up very well against. The only team to start the same back four plus keeper in every match is reaping the benefits of that continuity.
Boston Breakers (5-5-4, 19 pts)
Max points: 43
This Week: at Sky Blue (Sat)
Don’t look now but the Breakers are 2-0-1 in their last three and knocking at the door to get back in the top four. Saturday’s game at Sky Blue will be their fourth meeting since June 1 and the first where both teams will be at full strength. Alyssa Naeher was the key cog in the clean sheet in Portland on the weekend. It will take a stronger defensive effort in front of her to finish the job of catching someone in front of them.
Chicago Red Stars (4-6-3, 15 pts)
Max points: 42
This Week: at Spirit (Wed); vs Kansas City (Sun)
The Red Stars deserve credit for evolving into a difficult side to play against, but it remains a steep climb to the top four. They play a rare midweek match on full rest Wednesday before returning home to play a Kansas City side that will look nothing like the one they split six points with last month. It’s a good week to grab full points and they just might need all six to stay in touch with the race.
Seattle Reign FC (2-9-3, 9 pts)
Max points: 33
This Week: vs. Flash (Thu); vs. Spirit (Sun)
It’s nice to be a Reign fan for a change, but that doesn’t mean talk of reaching the playoffs has any legs. They’re off the bottom of the table but still have the lowest maximum total points having played one more match than Washington. If they lose twice this week and the Flash and Kansas City both win Sunday, the Reign will be officially eliminated from the post-season.
Washington Spirit (1-8-4, 7 pts)
Max points: 34
This Week: vs. Red Stars (Wed); at Reign (Sun)
New coach Mark Parsons continues to promote the idea that the rest of this season is about developing a style that will carry the club into the future. That’s a good philosophy to have for a club all but assured of missing the playoffs. For now they’ll be working on getting their first win, and first goal in the run of play, since May 16. Like the Reign they can be eliminated if they lose twice this week, the Flash win twice, and Kansas City wins.
Where are the goals coming from
Throughout the season The Lowdown will track where the goals are coming from in terms of the different levels of roster building. Last week was a bit light in terms of scoring with no team scoring more than two goals and the Blues and Flash putting on a scoreless draw Sunday. Here’s how the goals break down with Week 13 totals in parenthesis:
Allocated players – 71 (5) *
United States – 41 (3)*; Canada – 18 (1); Mexico – 12 (1)
College Draft – 13 (1)
Free Agent – 34 (2)*
Supplemental Draft – 14
Discovery et al. 11
Own Goals – 1
*-Includes goals scored by players who have joined other teams since originally joining the league
Note: Free Agent refers to any player signed during the free agent window immediately following the college draft; Discovery includes any player acquired through means not included in any other category
— Jason Rittermeyer, who was a contributor to the gameday process for FC Kansas City, lost his life in an auto accident July 4. Rittermeyer’s girlfriend Aleah Lucas and his three children — Noah, Sage, and Anna — were also killed. Rittermeyer worked for Nations Holding which is the parent company and was called “invaluable” in getting Verizon Wireless Field ready for each game. The Blues had a moment of silence for Rittermeyer prior to Sunday’s match against the Flash.
— Sydney Leroux is the first NWSL player to 10 goals, having scored five in her last three games.
— The closest pursuer to Leroux with eight goals is – Lauren Holiday? You know her better as Lauren Cheney, and you may have heard she married NBA player Jrue Holiday over the weekend. The name change is effective immediately and is already reflected on FC Kansas City’s website. This might be confusing for awhile but if Lauren Holiday plays anything similar to the way Lauren Cheney did the first half of the season we will all get comfortable with it sooner than later.
— Jessica Fishlock and Kaylyn Kyle are the first two players to get to the brink of a suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. Both picked up their fourth bookings of the season last Wednesday in the Reign’s 1-1 draw against Boston. There is no make-good policy to erase the cards so Fishlock and Kyle will have to go the rest of the season without a card.
— Colleen Williams has a torn ACL and MCL according to a post on her personal twitter account. The injury occurred early in Saturday’s Spirit match at Sky Blue when she landed awkwardly after going up to contest a header. The Titusville, NJ native made her first two professional starts in the two games since Mark Parsons took over as Spirit head coach.
— Here are the remaining players who have yet to miss a minute this season: Leigh Ann Robinson (KC), Jen Buczkowski (KC), Kathryn Williamson (Por), CoCo Goodson (SBFC), Lori Lindsey (Was), Adrianna Franch (WNY), Estelle Johnson (WNY), Alex Sahlen (WNY), and Brittany Taylor (WNY).
— NWSL makes it television debut Sunday on FOX Soccer with, um, the two bottom teams in the league squaring off. The Spirit will visit the Reign at 8:30 pm EDT. The league decided to put all regular season television matches on fields without football lines. Of course that does not explain why they bypassed the Flash and Thorns—Abby vs Alex—for the TV debut.
— A report out of Germany says that German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer is headed to play in the Australian W-League before coming to the NWSL in 2014. Angerer, according to the report, said the NWSL team is decided but cannot yet be announced.