By Becca Rightnour / @BeccaFCWrites
So recently it was reported by multiple sources that Sacramento is close to landing a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) expansion team. This exciting news got me thinking, excluding the US National Team players, what player from each of the nine current NWSL teams would I like to see play in Sacramento? Now my selection process excluded current US internationals as well as Candian internationals, but former internationals were not ruled out. With that in mind, here are the nine players, I would personally like to see play for the future Sacramento NWSL team.
From OL Reign, I would love to see a defender like Julia Ashley, at twenty-three she is a younger player with a bright future ahead of her. A former North Carolina Tar Heel, she knows what it takes to bring a championship mindset to the team. She was selected as the 6th overall pick in the 2019 College Draft by Sky Blue FC, but was traded to OL Reign where she signed a three-year contract in 2020. Ashley, while never being called up to the USWNT’s senior team, has some experience playing for the U-20 & U-23 teams. She also has experience playing for Adelaide United in the W-League over in Australia, where she made 8 appearances. I think her overall consistency as a tenacious defender, would make her the perfect asset for a new team, that will be trying to find chemistry.
Chicago Red Stars
From the Chicago Red Stars, I would pick Californian native, Katie Johnson. Johnson plays as a forward for the Chicago Red Stars and was picked sixteenth in the 2017 NWSL College Draft by OL Reign. She has had some unfortunate luck, being traded from the Reign to Sky Blue and then finally to the Red Stars, but has managed to score nine goals between the three teams. She has international experience playing for the Mexican National Team, and I think her ability to score would be an asset to a future expansion team in Sacramento. Given the opportunity to settle in and make the team her own, Katie Johnson could become the goal-scoring machine she was in college, where she scored 24 goals in 83 appearances for the USC Trojans.
From the Houston Dash, I would pick Christine Nairn. Nairn is another player that has been traded around the league frequently, but she would be a good pick for Sacramento. At twenty-nine years old, she has the veteran experience and is currently tied for being the all-time assist leader in the NWSL with 25. Christine Nairn would be an excellent choice as her presence in mid-field is often a difference-maker. Her career highlights include scoring over twenty goals in her seven seasons in the NWSL. She’s also scored ten goals playing on loan in the W-League for the Melbourne Victory. Nairn would actually be quite the steal if the future Sacramento expansion team was able to nab her.
Sky Blue FC
From Sky Blue FC, I would pick Paige Monaghan, another strong attacking forward. Monaghan was the tenth overall pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft. Since playing for Sky Blue she has managed to score two goals in twenty-three appearances. Monaghan is still young and her college record speaks for itself, she won multiple athletic honors while attending Butler University, and as a member of the Bulldogs, she scored 22 goals with 18 assists during her time there. Given a consistent backline and team, I think it’s fair to say that Monaghan could really come into her own and make a mark. Paired up with a strong midfielder like Nairn, Monaghan could blossom and help the team score multiple goals. Currently, Monaghan is in the shadow of Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh, so a fresh start would be good for her.
From the Orlando Pride, I would pick the Australian midfielder Emily Van Egmond. Van Egmond has been playing for the Pride since 2018. She’s a gritty midfielder who knows how to control a game and make a difference. While she has more success playing in the W-League, Van Egmond has been around the NWSL since it’s inception in 2013. At twenty-seven she is still a player in the prime of her career. I think pairing her up in midfield with Christine Nairn, who she has played with before, would really solidify the middle of the pitch and would be a good investment for a future Sacramento team. Van Egmond’s height also makes her useful for set pieces, since she’s taller than the majority of other NWSL players.
From the Washington Spirit, I would pick goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Aubrey Bledsoe since entering the NWSL had continually proved to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league. She was the 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, was a two-time player of the week in 2019, and was also ranked in the best XI of the year as well. Bledsoe is a rock in goal and definitely a player that can be counted on to anchor the defense and keep them organized. If the expansion team could get their hands on her, she’d be their starting keeper for sure. Bledsoe also currently holds the titles for the most saves in the NWSL.
From the Utah Royals, I would pick defender Katie Bowen. Bowen was drafted sixteenth in the 2016 NWSL College draft, by FC Kansas City and when they folded in 2017, joined the rest of her team in Utah. Bowen plays internationally for New Zealand and despite being a defender has scored at least three goals for both club and country. Tactically Bowen can play center-mid which she does for her national team or right-back which she does currently for the Royals. Bowen’s consistency in the backline and veteran leadership would make her a great addition to the team. She’s still twenty-six so she had some time really make an impact on whatever team she’s with.
From the Portland Thorns, I would pick forward Tyler Lussi who secured her in the twenty-first overall pick of the 2017 NWSL College draft. I think Lussi would really benefit from a change in the environment because she’s often overshadowed on the Portland Thorns. In her three seasons with the Thorns, she’s managed to score four goals in thirty-two appearances. When she was playing in college for Princeton she managed to set many records, including winning Ivy League player of the week nine times in her four years there. She also fifty-three career goals in sixty-eight appearances. If the Sacramento Expansion team was to select her, I think Lussi could get back to her scoring ways.
North Carolina Courage
From the North Carolina Courage, I would select Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton who plays as a forward is a highlight reel all on her own. She is tied for the most goals in a game, with four that she scored against the Houston Dash. As a member of the North Carolina Courage, which was formerly the Western New York Flash, Hamilton has been part of the team that has won three NWSL Championships in 2016, 2018, and 2019. She also helped them secure the NWSL Shield three years in a row from 2017-2019. She would definitely be the type of player that a franchise could build their whole team around. Hamilton is a powerful and dynamic striker that would make an immediate impact on an expansion team.
Sacramento to NWSL
When Sacramento gets their NWSL team, I’m going to be excited to see they decide to pick in the expansion draft. It will be interesting to see if they’re going to be more offensive or defensive-minded when it comes to selecting their players. If you want to know more about the NWSL and women’s soccer, be sure to check out the Our Cup of Tea podcast. Also don’t forget to support the other professional women’s soccer teams in the Sacramento area, like the California Storm.