The 2016 NWSL Rookies to Watch
Here’s a look at some of the fresh faces to keep an eye on when it comes to the Rookie of the Year race during the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season. I’ve got one rookie from each squad, trying to stick with those that won’t be missing time for the Olympics (which was essentially impossible for the Thorns, sorry).
What am I looking for in a rookie who could impress? Well, the first battle is making it into the starting lineup, and then they obviously need to be good. Stats help, but the history of the Rookie of the Year award has shown consistency helps more. Even with this in mind, there’s usually a rookie who comes out of nowhere, so this list should be fun to check back in on in the middle of the season.
More NWSL preview content, including team-by-team previews, our list of breakout stars to watch, and season predictions, can be found here.
Duh. This one is obvious. The Breakers moved up to grab her in the draft, and I don’t think there’s any doubt Westphal will be in the starting lineup all season long. Westphal suits up as a defender, but depending on how the season goes for Boston perhaps we could see her spend some time in the midfield. Westphal can be an exciting player, and she should feature prominently for the Breakers, but can she defend at the professional level? If she can, she’ll have a chance to be the first Breaker to win Rookie of the Year.
Chicago Red Stars
Okay, call out the SEC bias. Go for it. With that out of the way, let me just get this hot take out there, I don’t think fellow Red Stars rookie Katie Naughton is going to blow everyone away. That means I’m going to craft an argument for Raetzman. I’m not real sure where her minutes are going to come from, but I really hope to see her get a chance to show off her skills. She’s a little undersized, sure, but she reads the game well and as a result, can set teammates up with chances on goal like nobody’s business. I think she could be a great option for this team in the future. Raetzman maybe isn’t a ROY candidate right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we were singing her praises down the road.
FC Kansas City
Speaking of super sub, let’s talk about the potential for Alexa Newfield. She’s listed as a midfielder on the roster, but considering the Blues only have three listed forwards I think she may move up top. Newfield does an excellent job of making the most of her minutes, just check out the stats from her senior season at North Carolina, so if she gets a chance to be a late-game sub for Kansas City, she’s going to be a terror for opposing teams. There’s a possibility Newfield could end her first year with several clutch game-winning goals if she continues to be in the right place at the right time — like she usually is.
The Dash have their fair share of forwards, so it may be difficult for Daly to crack the starting lineup. With that in mind, and depending on how the highly touted Kealia Ohai and Chioma Ubogagu pairing works out, perhaps Daly ends up seeing a good amount of playing time. At the very least, when Janine Beckie potentially leaves for Rio, Daly should at least see an increase in minutes. If Daly gets a significant amount of playing time she could make a splash. No one on the Dash last year proved to be a consistent finisher, so the competition is by all means open. If she comes in hungry, keep your eyes on this one.
While listed as a midfielder, Witteman can also play defense so wherever she ends up playing in her first professional season, it’s going to be fun to watch. As has been well documented, Witteman has a heck of an engine and can really cover a lot of ground during a game. I’m excited to see her work effort game in and game out, and I think she can create more than a few chances for the Pride this season. Her numbers probably won’t jump off the page, but I think she’ll be consistently in the mix for the starting lineup and will continue to get better as she plays more.
Shock. Awe. Quelle surprise. The heir apparent to the Becky Sauerbrunn throne has a chance to take the NWSL by storm. Water is wet. Assuming that Sonnett plays up to her abilities and transitions well to the NWSL, perhaps the only thing working against her here is that she could miss time. When the only thing keeping you from potentially getting an award is going to the Olympics, you’re in a pretty good spot. That being said, as a defender Sonnett isn’t going to have the stats to go toe-to-toe with the offensive players, but if she shuts them down when she faces them, she has a shot for ROY.
Sky Blue FC
I absolutely believe Raquel Rodriguez likes a challenge. I absolutely know that Rodriguez is a proven leader who can will her team to a win. Rodriguez knows how to be in the right place at the right time, knows how to work hard for a full 90, and then some. Because of those traits — oh, and the fact she can play soccer pretty well, Rodriguez is going to make a name for herself in her first NWSL season. Is she going to solve all of the problems keeping Sky Blue from competing for a championship? No. But she’s not going to have a quiet year.
Seattle Reign FC
Who knows if any rookies are going to see time for the Reign in a lineup that is pretty much set and won’t be affected much by the Olympics. Defensively, the retirement of Steph Cox opened up an outside back position, which means that Pickett has an opportunity to fight for a starting spot. While I’m unsure she gets that spot, I think once Pickett does get a chance to see the field she’ll be a consistent defender who can rack up assists. There’s certainly not a lack of players to get on the end of crosses up in Seattle, so if Pickett can get enough playing time to display her skills, she could be one to watch come award season.
Williams is the rookie to watch in Washington. I’m not entirely sure where she fits in with all of the forwards currently on the roster, but a front two of Stengel and Williams wouldn’t be too shabby. Speed is the name of the game for Williams, so she’s certainly going to create some chances to score, but the question is whether she can consistently finish those chances. If Williams doesn’t have the finishing ability at the professional level, it could be an extremely frustrating debut. If she can finish, however, then there’s quite a lot for Spirit fans to be excited about in 2016.
Western New York Flash
I’m not sure there’s anything more that I want than a Makenzy Doniak who is completely motivated by her drop down the draft board and comes out absolutely firing to start her NWSL career. It will be interesting to see if Doniak is a starter or comes off the bench, but I definitely see Doniak getting her fair share of playing time under Paul Riley. Even if she does start off as a sub, she’ll eventually work her way into the starting lineup for the Flash. Doniak was as pure of a finisher at the collegiate level as we’ve seen in a long time, and if she can bring that to the professional level, watch out.