As we look forward to the prospect of soccer returning to our lives at some point in the future, there has been a distinct and understandable lack of Orlando Pride news over recent weeks. Even as the NWSL's training moratorium was partially lifted and the players began to return to training. All that being said, I have wanted to take the opportunity to focus on some of the shining lights of our league.
The NWSL continues to make significant strides to cement it's place as the standard bearer for women's soccer the world over. The success of the USWNT and the lifestyle the United States offers, makes it a particularly interesting league for some of the world's greatest players. Here we countdown the 15 most inspirational players to grace the National Women's Soccer League. I of course used an incredibly complex algorithm of goals scored, personal trials and tribulations and all round GOATness. Yes, i'm aware that's not a word but it definitely should be. OK, full disclosure. I lied. There is no algorithm. These just happen to be some of the most inspirational athletes in the women's game and they have all played in the NWSL at some point in their careers. So here goes:
The Brazilian is arguably the most talented player ever to grace the sport. Prior to signing with the Orlando Pride, the forward had spells in the US with the Los Angeles Sol and the Western New York Flash. She has also featured for a host of clubs in Europe.108 goals in 154 appearances for Brazil says it all. Marta is a leader on and off the field and sometimes plays as though the ball is glued to her foot. Until she sticks it past your keeper. Deservedly makes the list at number 1.
2. Nadia Nadim Nadim's back story is one of triumph in the face of the most horrific circumstances. Nadim and her family escaped war torn Afghanistan, before finding themselves refuge in Denmark. She has since established herself as one of the world's most talented footballers. After featuring for both Sky Blue and the Thorns, she has since gone on to represent both Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain. Considering what she has had to overcome in her own life, to get where she is makes the feat all the more impressive. She's also pretty good with a ball at her feet. Makes the cut at number 2. 3. Megan Rapinoe Megan Rapinoe recently declared she would like to be considered for the position as Joe Biden's VP, should the Democratic hopeful succeed in November's election. Whilst the comment may well have been said in jest, it's not something we would put past the impassioned Californian. Rapinoe is a warrior on and off the field. And is a shining light to young girls everywhere. In many ways she has established herself as the flag bearer for the USWNT's fight for equal pay. Simply put, she doesn't take any s***. And she fights for what she believes in. She declined an invitation to the White House, as she felt that was the right thing to do. And you have to respect that. In this age where conservatives rule the roost it is so important for young girls and women to have such positive role models, especially one who champions the LGBT+ community as much as Rapinoe does. And Rapinoe certainly fits the bill. She's also pretty good at football. 52 goals and 168 caps for the USWNT for a midfielder says it all. 4. Tobin Heath The Portland Thorns attacker is simply one of the most dangerous players in the game. She's the complete player in a lot of ways. She is quick, two-footed, confident and damn near impossible to play against at times. Her valour and trickery on the ball make her one of the most feared players in women's soccer. Some say that inspiration itself is inspired by Tobin Heath. Who are we to disagree?
5. Alex Morgan In many ways the poster girl for soccer in the United States. Alex Morgan is not only a sublime finisher on the field, she has also written children's books and starred in her own movie. The USWNT legend also boasts an incredible 107 goals in 169 appearances for the red, white and blue. She has come under fire for her club form of late, but there is no doubting what an asset she is to the sport. 6. Amandine Henry A product of the famed Clairefontaine academy in France, Henry has overcome adversity to establish herself as one of the best midfielders in the world. She joined Lyon at just 18, and suffered cartilage damage in her knee. This injury kept her sidelined for 18 months. During this time the defensive midfielder almost walked away from the game. She has since played for some of the world's biggest clubs such as the Portland Thorns and Paris Saint Germain. She is now a fixture in a Lyon team which is widely accepted as the best club side in the game. Oh, and she also captains her country. Not bad, eh?
7. Christine Sinclair International footballs' most prolific goal scorer, across both the men's and women's game. I could leave it there really, but that would be doing the Canadian a disservice. The Portland Thorn continues to terrorise NWSL defenders into the twilight not her career. Her longevity in the game speaks for itself, and she will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time greats.
8. Carli Lloyd Another legend of the USWNT, and a World Cup winning captain. Lloyd boasts an incredible 123 goals in 294 games for the world champions. Yes. TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY FOUR GAMES. An international career spanning 15 years and counting. The Sky Blue midfielder/attacker became the first player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final since Geoff Hurst plundered 3 for England against West Germany in 1966. The first ever in the women's game. If anything number 8 feels a bit too low in this list for her, but that's a testament to those above her. Incredible player. 9. Julie Ertz Another member of the 100 appearances club for the USWNT. The Chicago Red Stars defensive midfielder has been an ever present for the club since being drafted in 2014. A model example of the perfect defensive midfielder. She does the ugly side of the game well, breaks up play and provides strength and leadership in the middle of the park. She's also pretty good as a defender as well. Any young player wishing to learn the defensive side of the game, would do well to learn a thing or two from Ertz. 10. Sam Kerr The Matildas striker is one of the best poachers the women's game has ever seen. She boasts around a goal every two games for club and country. The 26 year old captains her country, and is the only Aussie (male or female) to have ever been shortlisted for a Ballon D'or. If that's not an inspiration to any young Australian looking to make a career in the game, then I don't know what is.
11. Crystal Dunn
Dunn is one of the best wing backs in the world game, one who is equally comfortable play as a wing back or as an out and out winger. She has enjoyed huge success with the Spirit, Chelsea and the Courage. What truly makes her such an inspiration though is her mental fortitude. Dunn told The Guardian that as an African-American female she always felt she had to go above and beyond to get herself noticed. It's a sentiment that resonates with many in the women's game. Dunn, however, is helping to pave the way for black players in the women's game. The likes of her North Carolina Courage teammate Jess McDonald hold the torch alongside her now, and that is such a powerful and inspirational message to behold.p
12. Lindsay Horan Lindsay Horan is fast becoming one of the best play makers in the game. At just 17 years old she made the bold decision to forego her college career and make the move to France with Paris Saint Germain. That couldn't have been easy for her. To adapt to a new country, culture and climate at such a young age is impressive. Something far more experienced pros have struggled with. It was a move that paid huge dividends for the Colorado native, as she plundered 46 goals in 58 games. Her impressive form earned her a move to Portland, where she has continued to establish herself as one of the world's best for club and country.
13. Kim Little
It seems like there isn't much the likeable Scot can't do. Whilst with Arsenal the number 10 studied for a degree in Sports Studies. As a youngster she would travel three and a half hours from Aberdeenshire to Edinburgh just to train. Little had an impressive career at both Hibernian and Arsenal before making the move to the, then, Seattle Reign in 2014. Little scored 32 goals in 63 games, winning the MVP in 2014.
14. Becky Sauerbrunn Rumour has it, that if you look up the word 'rock' in the dictionary there is actually just a picture of Becky Sauerbrunn. OK, maybe not. But you take my point. An Olympic gold medal winner, and twice world champion with the USWNT says it all about the Missouri native. Having grown up with 2 big brothers she quickly developed the mental toughness and fortitude required to be a top notch centre back. Now the former Utah Royals defender, who often cuts an unassuming figure, is probably one of the best central defenders in the world.
15. Allie Long
Allie Long has been a stand out player throughout her college and pro-career she spent years training in an underground men's league in New York City. Something that you can imagine raised more than a few eye brows in her younger years. She quickly established herself as the best player on the circuit. Something she has taken into her pro career with the likes of the Thorns, Paris Saint Germain and, now, OL Reign.
So there you have it. Let me know what you think of this list, and if there are any you think ought to make the cut.