The Unknown International: Denise O’Sullivan


The NWSL may be the American soccer league, but many of its most talented players come from all over the world. This series takes a look at the best internationals in the NWSL, analyzing their role and impact on their national team and their NWSL club, as well as their overall style of play. This week, we will be looking at North Carolina Courage and Irish midfielder, Denise O’Sullivan.

Who Is She?

If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance that you recognize O’Sullivan’s name from her game-winning goal in the NWSL Semifinal match against the Chicago Red Stars. Denise O’Sullivan is a 23-year-old midfielder from Cork, Ireland. She is a versatile midfielder, who can be strong both on the attack and in the defense. Thus, her role on each of her teams has varied depending on where she was needed.

She played youth soccer in Ireland and made her senior debut in 2011 for Peamount United. After their exit in the 2011-2012 UEFA Women’s Champions League, O’Sullivan returned to her hometown of Cork and joined their newly formed professional women’s club, Cork City Women. After two years, another opportunity came knocking at her door — to join Glasgow City Women, one of the premier teams in Europe. O’Sullivan joined the team in 2013 and scored 33 goals in 65 appearances with the club. But in March 2016, O’Sullivan earned an opportunity to join the NWSL’s Houston Dash. She took advantage and joined them before the start of the 2016 season.

O’Sullivan spent the 2016 season and the start of the 2017 season with the Dash. In 2016, she started in 14 matches in 18 appearances and snagged two goals and three assists. But with a coaching change at the beginning of the 2017 season, O’Sullivan saw herself getting less and less playing time. She asked to leave the team, and a return to Europe seemed imminent, with offers from clubs in England and Germany. But in the end, O’Sullivan was picked up off waivers by the North Carolina Courage.

Irish National Team

O’Sullivan made her senior team debut for Ireland in 2011 and since she has garnered over 50 appearances for the Irish women. Ireland has been on the edges of qualification in Europe, narrowly missing the 2017 Women’s European Championship after having qualified in 2013. Similarly, they missed the 2015 Women’s World Cup, but they’re hoping to change that narrative in 2019.

They will face some tough competition in their qualifiers, having been drawn into a group including Norway, and the new European Champions, the Netherlands. But there are other problems that seem to be hindering the Irish women, like so many other women’s national teams around the world. In April 2017, they took a stand against what they deemed “gross inequality” in the Irish FA. They complained about basic things, like not having changing facilities and not having their own uniforms. The negotiations were tense, but in the end, the Irish women got what they wanted. There is still a long way to go on the path of equality, but they took a step in the right direction.

North Carolina Courage

O’Sullivan joined the North Carolina Courage during the 2017 season, after being picked up off waivers from the Houston Dash. O’Sullivan made 11 appearances with the Dash in 2017, earning one assist.

Playing in North Carolina, she was around some of the best midfielders in the world, including McCall Zerboni and Sam Mewis. But O’Sullivan wasn’t far behind, earning starts in both of the Courage’s 2017 postseason games. Her 90′ goal against the Chicago Red Stars sent her team to the championship. While her team wasn’t able to earn another trophy this year, O’Sullivan has proven that she is a different player in North Carolina than she was in Houston. It’s unsure what the offseason will bring for O’Sullivan and the Courage, but one thing is clear: despite being a late addition, O’Sullivan took her opportunity and made her moment in the spotlight count.

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