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:
#5 Goalkeeper: Haley Kopmeyer – Seattle Reign
Haley Kopmeyer was the second-to-last pick in the NWSL’s first-ever draft, all the way back in 2013. While not a consistent starter–most of her appearances have come while Reign #1 Hope Solo was away with the USWNT–when Kopmeyer started she was still one of the best in the league. And she’s only gotten better under Solo’s mentorship. And though Kopmeyer is the only person on the list that isn’t a full time starter, like we said, it’s with good reason. Playing backup to Solo doesn’t give a goalkeeper many opportunities to shine, but the thing about Kopmeyer is that whenever she’s had the chance to step into goal, she’s made a statement, helping the Seattle Reign secure the NWSL Shield in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Now, as the Seattle Reign prepare for the 2017 season, it looks at Kopmeyer is going to be able to take her part-time starting status to full-time. And fans of the Reign are more than sure of her ability to do it.
#5 Defender: Julie Johnston – Chicago Red Stars
Julie Johnston was selected by the Chicago Red Stars through the 2014 NWSL draft with the 3rd overall pick. Since then, she’s added a World Cup medal to her mantle and notched a spot on the Olympic roster the following summer. And while her performance in the 2015 World Cup introduced her to a global audience, as part of the much-lauded “Department of Defense” backline that matched a FIFA shut-out minutes streak, Johnson has been a favorite of Chicago fans since her first starts. She quickly became a staple on the Red Stars backline, providing strong leadership to help keep the defense organized against the many talented opponents they’ve faced. And while the 2016 NWSL season saw her battle through injury, Johnston still helped anchor one of the top backlines in the league, contributing to a league shutout streak that lasted from April into May. Hopefully, 2017 will see her fully healthy again, disrupting offenses and winning challenges, and once again keeping Chicago in the top of the table.
#5 Midfielder: Lori Chalupny – Chicago Red Stars
Over her long career, Lori Chalupny excelled for both club and country. Her time on the roster of clubs like the WPS’s Saint Louis Athletica and Atlanta Beat, and the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, was marked by her consistent and stable presence in the midfield. Chalupny, affectionately known as Chups, was the long-time Captain of the Red Stars and a crucial component in laying out Chicago’s offense while defending the backline until her retirement after the Women’s World Cup in 2015. If a solid ground attack and ball possession were the foundation of Chicago’s style of play during her time there, then Chalupny was the architect. An avid ball winner and pointed passer, she helped lay the blueprint for much of Chicago’s ground game. Playing the cog between between defensive and offensive movement is never an easy feat, and it’s a role that rarely gets the praise it deserves, but Chalupny always made it appear effortless. Not to mention flawless. And while Chalupny has moved on to other things–now coaching at Maryville University–her influence and impact remains visible, reflected in players like Danielle Colaprico and Arin Gilliland, who keep the memory of her organization, work ethic, and leadership on the pitch and off alive even in her absence.
#5 Forward – Sam Kerr – Sky Blue FC
There are few players in the NWSL more exciting to watch than Sam Kerr, so it was no surprise to see her name on our list of finalists. The Australian international has spent all four years of her NWSL play in the northeast, first at the Western New York Flash and now at Sky Blue FC. Just 23 years old, Kerr plays like a Tasmanian devil, blitzing around backlines with ease, and finishing goals with her signature flip. Already she’s counted in the NWSL’s Top 10 for goals and assists. And in the NWSL off-season, the talented forward can be found playing in the Australian W-League, this year with Perth Glory FC. Having recovered from some nagging injuries over the 2016 NWSL season–including reconstructive surgery for an ankle injury–it looks like Kerr is back in form and ready to take on 2017 in full form.