FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017: 40-31
40. Christina Gibbons
Drafted by FC Kansas City in January 2017 with the No. 5 overall pick, Christina Gibbons turned out to be a veteran player disguised as a rookie, albeit a rookie who was one of the most decorated soccer players in Duke history.
To start off, Vlatko Andonovski used the defender as an outside back. Gibbons held her own on a backline known to be stingy, but halfway through the season, she was shifted to midfield. Her 'I’ll fill in anywhere I need to' attitude, combined with her technique and composure on the ball, paid immediate dividends, as she netted her first professional goal and assist in her first start at center mid. And with the change, KC’s offensive output nearly doubled in the second half of the season.
Outside of NWSL, Gibbons started four games at outside back for the U-23 national team. She’s playing abroad for the first time — in midfield — with Melbourne Victory, a team that finished last in the previous W-League season.
Both the Victory and NWSL fans in 2018 should expect to see more of the Gibbons Effect. And perhaps there’s a senior U.S. women's national team call-up coming, too.
– Jen Cooper
39. Katelyn Rowland
Rowland makes our list by relative surprise, based on where she was the prior year. She entered 2017 as the No. 2 goalkeeper for the North Carolina Courage, which as the Western New York Flash won the 2016 NWSL title with Canadian international Sabrina D’Angelo in goal.
But by early June, Rowland, who had long sat on the bench waiting for her opportunity on several teams, assumed the starting role and put together one of the better NWSL seasons from a goalkeeper, allowing just 13 goals in 18 games.
Rowland is an athletic shot-stopper capable of coming up with big saves at clutch moments. If there’s one criticism of her, it’s the need to establish consistency. She largely did that in 2017, however, and the real thing she lacks right now is experience. She has none at the senior international level, and she’s more than a longshot to enter the picture for the 2019 World Cup, based on how exclusive that competition appears to be.
But at 23 years old, it isn’t a stretch to think she has enough potential to be in the conversation for the next cycle. That’s on her to prove in the coming years.
– Jeff Kassouf
38. Yael Averbuch
Averbuch’s value to a team must take into account her abilities both on and off the field. Off it, she’s an important voice in women’s soccer as president of the NWSL Players Association. That kind of leadership can’t be discounted in terms of boosting team unity.
Then there’s Averbuch’s work at center back, which was not her natural position when Vlatko Andonovski shifted her there from the midfield back in 2015. This season especially, Averbuch had to form a coherent unit with Becky Sauerbrunn as KC struggled farther upfield. She could be relied upon to anchor when Sauerbrunn pushed forward, and she was a consistent presence over 23 games.
Look at KC’s goals against average compared to other mid-table teams: 31, compared to Sky Blue’s 51 and Seattle’s 37. And both Averbuch and Sauerbrunn were in the top five for pass attempts in the league from the regular season, a a group which included elite midfielders like Lindsey Horan and Sam Mewis. Averbuch was key to FCKC’s ability to recycle calmly out of the back, something that became even more important while their forwards labored to put it together.
– Steph Yang
37. Jessica McDonald
McDonald’s MVP-caliber 2016 was followed by a season of challenges, with injuries and competition for her starting spot limiting her to 1121 minutes, almost 800 fewer than the year before. After 10 goals and nine assists during the Western New York Flash’s title-winning season, McDonald was limited to four and three in her return to North Carolina, where she went to college.
McDonald remains one of the most intense, committed, defend-from-the-front forwards in the NWSL, however. A threat on the ground or in the air, on the break or in possession, McDonald remains a top NWSL striker, albeit one competing with two other U.S.-caliber talents. From her willingness to play in defense, as we saw earlier in the season, to the long throws that add another dimension to the Courage attack, McDonald’s list of skills may be as long as anybody’s in the NWSL.
Perhaps just as important are the qualities McDonald brings to the locker room. Universally respected by teammates, admired for her ability to meet the challenges of long-term injury (patella rupture in 2010), motherhood, and five moves in five NWSL seasons, the 29-year-old has established herself as a valued, veteran leader.
– Richard Farley
36. Kealia Ohai
Following a breakout campaign in 2016 in which she finished tied atop the NWSL scoring charts and set a U.S. women’s national team record by scoring only 48 seconds into her national team debut, Kealia Ohai looked primed for new heights in 2017.
And in Houston’s season opener, she picked up right where she’d left off the year before, torching Chicago’s defense and slotting home the game-winning goal. Ohai then followed that up in Week 3 with another game-winner on her way to NWSL Team of the Month honors in April.
Her year soon took a turn for the worse, however. She went scoreless in her next seven matches before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. She failed to earn a cap for the U.S. in 2017 and missed the roster for both the SheBelieves Cup and the team’s summer trip to Europe.
Looking forward, there’s no reason to believe Ohai won’t come back stronger. A natural winner, Ohai helped lead the U.S. U-20s to a World Cup title in 2012 and followed that up with an NCAA championship for the University of North Carolina. Possessing speed, strength, endurance and a knack for goal, the 25-year-old attacker still has a bright future ahead.
– John Halloran