Who doesn’t love a good ranking?
Backline Soccer decided to rank the NWSL’s best all-time goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards. We tried as much as possible to stick to NWSL play and keep any national team performance out of our decision-making.
How did we get to our finalists? A brutal two-round process that left each of us at our collective wit’s end trying to separate the best from an already stellar pool of players.
In Round One, Backline Soccer crew members each chose 30 field players and 5 goalkeepers from a list of the nearly 300 players who have ever taken the pitch in the NWSL. And then, in Round Two, we separated the top seven players into each of their positions and ranked them from 1 to 5.
Like we said. Brutal.
But we did it anyway. And here are our choices:
#2 Goalkeeper: Alyssa Naeher – Chicago Red Stars
Alyssa Naeher was originally drafted by the Boston Breakers back in the WPS days. She remained with the club as the NWSL was launched. After 3 seasons and having faced many goals against her, a trade was made with the Chicago Red Stars.
2016 saw Naeher’s star shine a bit brighter than seasons past. With a new team, and having National Team duties for the Olympics, the former Breaker developed a strong bond with her new back line in Chicago. She won player of the month for May. The monthly honors were a first for her, recording a 485-minute shutout streak from April 16th to May 22nd.
Naeher ended the 2016 season as one league’s top goalkeepers and was a finalist for NWSL Goalkeeper of the year.
#2 Defender: Christie Rampone – Sky Blue FC
When the math was being added up to see how the ranking would shake out it was the position of defender that had one of the closest calls. And for good reason; Christie Rampone and the next player on our list have both been awe-inspiring center backs in the league. Christie Rampone started playing before anyone on this list. She is still faster than nearly anyone on a pitch and rarely looks rattled. She played all 1800 minutes of the 2016 season for Sky Blue, something only a handful of players did in 2016. Having Rampone on the backline is a steadying presence on what has been at times a fluctuating Sky Blue backline.
#2 Midfielder: Lauren Holiday – FC Kansas City
There are very few players who have had the honor of having their numbers retired by their clubs. Lauren Cheney’s number 12 was retired in 2016 by FC Kansas City. In 2013, Holiday received the Golden Boot and MVP awards from the NWSL. Holiday played a key role in the 2014 and 2015 NWSL Championship titles for the Blues, with two assists in the 2014 win. In the 2015 Championship game, Holiday was named the MVP of the match. Often considered one of the best playmaking midfielders in the game, Holiday was an important part of the FCKC midfield for three years. Despite her retirement after the 2015 season, Holiday still remains one of the top midfielders in NWSL history.
#2 Forward: Christine Sinclair – Portland Thorns
In the world of sports, many a player has been given the label of legend. Few deserve the title more than Christine Sinclair. The Burnaby, BC native, who has smashed almost every record in the Canadian record books in her nearly two-decade international career, has proven time and time again that she is one of the sport’s all-time greatest players. Her four years in the NWSL with Portland have been no exception. From carrying the Thorns to the inaugural championship in 2013 to earning the club’s first NWSL Shield in 2016, and all the highs and lows in between, Sinclair’s superb playmaking and nose for goal have forever endeared her to the hearts of both the Portland supporters and the supporters of women’s soccer worldwide. While the end of her magnificent career edges closer, Sinclair is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Her time in the NWSL have shown even without the Canadian crest over her heart she would still be one of the greatest forwards in the world.