The NWSL may be the American soccer league, many of its most talented players come from all over the world. This series looks at some of 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 Washington Spirit and Argentinian striker Estefania Banini.
Who Is She?
Estefania Banini is a 27-year-old striker from Mendoza, Argentina. Like many of her fellow female footballers, particularly from Latin America, Banini struggled to play the game that she loved as a child. Her parents took her from club to club in Argentina, until they finally found a team that would take their five-year-old daughter. Despite these difficulties, Banini found success. She spent three years with Colo-Colo in the Chilean women’s league, winning the championship each season. When she came to the United States, some coaches expressed hesitation in what they perceived as a lack of professional experience. But she proved them wrong. She joined the Washington Spirit and played a critical role in their run to the NWSL Championship in 2016. She has been compared to fellow Argentine striker Lionel Messi and Brazilian superstar Marta. But struggles with her federation have left Banini struggling to break out on the international stage.
Argentina National Team
Argentina has one of the best men’s national teams in the world, with two World Cup titles and an appearance in the 2014 World Cup Final to prove it. One might think, then, that they would have at least a decent women’s side as well. But this has not been the case. In fact, Argentina’s women’s team has been largely silent for the last few years, to the point of falling out of FIFA Rankings due to their inactivity. Banini earned her first cap in 2010 but has seen few opportunities to play for them in the years since. Before their friendly against Uruguay this August, the team hadn’t played since 2014. With a shift in management, the AFA recently began to prepare for the Women’s Copa America, to be played in Chile next year. This seemed like a positive sign, but the team is now on strike–due to lack of payment and poor training conditions. Banini has been working against the odds her whole life and will continue to do so as the Argentina women’s team fights for respect.
While Banini has struggled with her national federation, she has found nothing but success at the club level. After three years and consistent championships with Colo-Colo in the Chilean league, Banini signed with the Washington Spirit and joined the NWSL. She started in the first four matches for the Spirit in 2015 before an injury sidelined her for the remainder of the season. But she came back in 2016, earning 9 starts in 13 appearances and playing in both postseason games. Even in limited time, her five goals were enough to earn her the Spirit Golden Boot. But amidst the Spirit’s roster restructuring last winter, Banini looked overseas and chose to play with Spanish side Valencia. However, midway through the 2017 season, she rejoined the Spirit. She earned 6 starts in 9 matches with the squad, and while they will not be traveling to the postseason this year, many are interested to see where the squad goes in the future. In particular, the partnership between Banini and Mallory Pugh was something to watch this season and could be something to keep an eye on in the future. Only time will tell.