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:
#4 Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris – Orlando Pride
Ashlyn Harris evolved as a goalkeeper in 2016 by having to deal with the growing pains of an expansion team. The revolving starting backline in front of Harris suffered from national team call-ups, lack of cohesion, and injuries; the Pride as a unit gave up thirty goals. Harris had consistent career numbers with a 1.33 GA/G average, four clean sheets, and 62 saves. A real difference maker for Orlando, when Ashlyn was not in goal the Pride keepers gave up a whopping 2.00 GA/G. She won Save of the Week eight times and was named Goalkeeper of the Year for the league.
#4 Defender: Kelley O’Hara – Sky Blue FC
Versatility is a word all too often used in soccer when it shouldn’t be. With Kelley O’Hara it’s one of the most fitting descriptions you could use. O’Hara has played all over the field for Sky Blue and managed to be an integral part of the team wherever she’s lined up. Despite O’Hara being moved around for Sky Blue, when she’s given some freedom on the attack, she is one of the most creative players in the league.
#4 Midfielder: Heather O’Reilly – Arsenal Ladies formerly of FC Kansas City
No list of top women’s players would be complete without Heather O’Reilly. Known for her ferocity on the field, her unfailing energy, and her wicked services, she resists mediocrity with every minute played. Starting with the Boston Breakers from 2013-2014, she started 41 games, scored 14 goals – leading the team in 2014 with nine – and notched 11 assists. Her 2014 play earned her a place in the NWSL Second XI for that year. After being traded to FC Kansas City, O’Reilly helped lead them to the NWSL Championship in 2015, serving up a perfect assist for the game-winning goal. In two years with FCKC, O’Reilly collected five assists and scored three goals.
#4 Forward: Crystal Dunn – Chelsea Ladies (formerly of the Washington Spirit)
Over the past two seasons, Crystal Dunn has become one of the most dangerous forwards in the NWSL. After a mediocre start to 2015, Dunn used her snub from the World Cup roster to explode for 15 goals and run away with the MVP title. In 2016, Dunn became a playmaker, setting up five goals in the season, and scoring two goals in the NWSL Championship. In just three seasons, Dunn established herself as one of the top forwards in the NWSL and the world. The NWSL will lose one of its top forwards as Dunn is headed to Chelsea Ladies in 2017.