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FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017: 20-11

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20. Adrianna Franch

It wasn’t quite a revelatory season for Adrianna Franch, at least not for people who followed her career before she tore her ACL in 2014, went away to Norway and then made her return to the United States.

But it was certainly a year in which Franch seized control of her own narrative, one which brought a November call-up to the U.S. women’s national team. She played every game for the Portland Thorns in 2017 and led the league in saving 80 percent of shots on target.

It was a clear improvement for Franch over last season, when she was second fiddle to Michelle Betos. In 2017, Franch very stepped up to take over the No. 1 position, becoming a steady presence who didn’t just improve over previous seasons, but improved over the course of the season itself.

Her footwork still sometimes leaves a little bit to be desired. But her hands and her decision-making made her one of the most reliable ‘keepers in the league, and someone who can – and should – realistically challenge for a national-team spot. That league form makes her the top-ranked goalkeeper on this list.

– Steph Yang

19. Emily Sonnett

Emily Sonnett experienced an enigmatic year in 2017, excelling at the club level for the Portland Thorns while largely falling out of favor with the U.S. women’s national team.

In the NWSL, Sonnett earned Team of the Month honors in April and August and scored the game-winning goal in the Thorns’ playoff semifinal victory over the Orlando Pride. Sonnett started all 26 games this year for the NWSL’s stingiest defense and helped lead her team to a championship in October. After the conclusion of the season, Sonnett agreed to a loan stint in Australia’s W-League and will spend the winter with Sydney FC.

For the national team, she failed to earn an international cap in 2017 after serving in an alternate’s role during the 2016 Olympics. However, the defender did earn call-ups into three U.S. camps this year, including the team’s final gathering for two friendlies against Canada. Following her excellent club form in 2017, Sonnett appears to have once again drawn U.S. head coach Jill Ellis’ eye and could be in line for more opportunities with the national team in the year to come.

– John Halloran

18. McCall Zerboni

Long one of the most reliable and overlooked midfielders in the U.S., McCall Zerboni enjoyed her best season in 2017. In her first full season playing in the same midfield as Sam Mewis, Zerboni became one half of an impenetrable force that dominated matches week after week and helped the Courage win the NWSL Shield in the team’s first season in North Carolina.

Zerboni’s game is predicated on a rare combination of smarts and toughness. When she has the ball, Zerboni can be depended upon to make the correct pass, more often than not with accuracy. Her through balls from deep in the midfield have become as deadly as that of any American midfielder. Beyond that, Zerboni has never met a challenge she shied away from. Her work rate is relentless as she plays much of the game leaning right up against the line of what is and is not acceptable in terms of physical play.

In October, Zerboni was finally called into the national team and earned her first cap on her new home field. She was not included in the next and final U.S. rosters, and her call-up may have been a convenience play with injuries setting in and the match in North Carolina. Whether or not she gets back, the soon-to-be 31-year-old is no longer the best uncapped American in NWSL. She’s just one of the best Americans. Period.

– Dan Lauletta

17. Casey Short

It’s easy to be hyperbolic about the steep curve of Casey Short’s rise over the past year, but the numbers speak for themselves. After a strong club season in 2016, one that netted her NWSL Second XI honors, Short earned her first call-up to the U.S. women’s national team last fall. Since then, only one player – Becky Sauerbrunn – has earned more minutes with the U.S. than Short.

By now, the defender’s story is well-known. A star in the youth ranks, Short wrapped up her college career in 2012, but didn’t play in the NWSL until 2016. After suffering her third ACL tear while on youth national team duty in the winter of 2013, the Chicago native underwent a long recovery and then a year abroad in Norway before returning to her hometown Red Stars in 2016.

With the U.S., Short picked up 15 caps and 13 starts in 2017 while becoming a fixture on the American backline. At the club level, Short has continued to excel, helping Chicago to yet another playoff berth and earning NWSL Team of the Month honors for herself in May, June, July and September. At the end of the season, she was named to the NWSL’s First XI team.

– John Halloran

16. Rose Lavelle

At a time when U.S. Soccer supporters are clamoring for next-level players, those who can create and execute solutions only few see, 2017 saw Rose Lavelle announce herself as the prime candidate come the next World Cup.

Few will forget the U.S.’ inability to break down the organized Swedish defense in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals, and how the game was begging for a player like Lavelle. If she can stay healthy, the U.S. will be a more versatile and unpredictable attacking team. But that is the key for Lavelle: staying healthy.  

Her ascension to the senior international level this year was largely due to her new focus and commitment to the health and fitness aspect of the game. She earned her first senior caps (seven) and goals (two) in 2017 against top opponents, but even more impressive was the creative confidence she exuded in taking on players and how she destroyed lines.

This form continued right into the NWSL season, where she was the No. 1 overall draft pick, taken by the Boston Breakers.  Few rookies, if any, walk onto a team and take over, but Lavelle did just that. Unfortunately for her, injuries plagued the second half of her year. Suffice to say, if 2018 blesses Lavelle with a healthy campaign, get your popcorn ready. She is going to entertain.

- Aly Wagner, special contributor

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