FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017: 50-41
50. Lauren Barnes
In 2016, Lauren Barnes earned her first U.S. women’s national team call-up and became the first player to dethrone Becky Sauerbrunn as NWSL Defender of the Year. Her success continued into 2017, as Barnes helped Melbourne City win the W-League Grand Final.
Back in Seattle, the versatile defender’s consistency and burgeoning leadership became more critical due to the departure of several longtime Reign starters. In August, Barnes became the first in American women’s pro soccer history to play 100 regular-season games for the same club.
She also showed a little more bite compared to previous NWSL seasons, earning her first straight red along with an additional suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
Although the club is changing head coaches, the ever present “Lu” will certainly be an integral piece of Seattle’s 2018 plans.
– Jen Cooper
49. Amy Rodriguez
The extent to which we saw Amy Rodriguez on a soccer field in 2017 covered less than one full hour. But what an hour — 57 minutes, to be exact — it was. Rodriguez returned from maternity leave to take her place in FC Kansas City’s opening-day starting lineup.
And it was like she never left. The player affectionately known as A-Rod looked her old self, slicing her way between Boston Breaker defenders with her patented off-the-ball runs. Right after halftime she scored Kansas City’s second goal of the game in what ended a 2-0 win.
That was all for Rodriguez, though. Less than 10 minutes after the high of returning with a goal, her left knee gave out. Surgery followed to repair an ACL tear and her season was over. In the immediate aftermath of her injury, Rodriguez spoke like a woman who had already made the decision to rehab and return for 2018 — something that should earn her a higher place on this list a year from now.
– Dan Lauletta
48. Ashley Sanchez
Sanchez’s name is still associated with sports fans’ favorite topic: potential. The 18-year-old UCLA freshman is still in the category of ‘next big thing’ for the U.S. women’s national team. At least, that’s the hope.
Sanchez to date has been making her mark at the youth levels of the U.S. program, earning valuable time training with the senior team along the way. She’s the atypical American player who is willing to take on defenders – even when outnumbered – without fear of what might happen if she loses the ball. That obviously requires a learning curve, but there’s plenty of time to mature, particularly at UCLA and without any inherent pressure surrounding whether she’ll play a role at the 2019 World Cup.
That room to grow was evident in her first collegiate season. Her output of six goals and 12 assists is a nice first-year tally, and Sanchez started almost every match as the Bruins marched to a 10th College Cup berth.
– Jeff Kassouf
47. Abby Smith
When Smith came out of Texas before the 2016 NWSL season, the national team was in the distance. Thanks to a ruptured patella tendon, though, Smith’s first pro season was largely a lost one, leaving her to play catch-up in a deep U.S. women’s national team pool. Come May 2017, after a strong start to her second season, Smith had made up that ground, earning her first senior-team look for friendlies in Norway and Sweden.
In some ways, Smith is the complete package in goal, combining strong ball skills with a good penalty-area presence and good instincts in reacting to both shots and play building in front of her. The only two things she lacks, at 24 years old, are elite size (5-foot-9) and experience. The first, her athleticism can help overcome; the second, time takes care of on its own.
She is the Breakers’ clear No. 1, and with more experience in goal, she’ll likely surge up this list. Whether she gets a real shot at the national team, though, remains to be seen. Like Adrianna Franch and Katelyn Rowland, Smith seems caught in a numbers game that keeps much of the world from seeing her talent.
– Richard Farley
46. Sydney Leroux
It’s always difficult coming back to full-90 fitness after taking time off, but the pressure was especially on Leroux to do it after teammate Amy Rodriguez tore her ACL in her first game back for FC Kansas City.
Perhaps Leroux was a little slower getting to max RPM than she would have liked, but when asked to adapt to KC’s new circumstances, she did her best to establish partnerships with Shea Groom and Brittany Ratcliffe while also scoring six goals herself this season.
Leroux is not quite the force of nature she used to be, but she can still help produce momentum and create chances; she was sixth in the league in shots in 2017, with 52 total. The 2018 NWSL season could be a tipping point.
– Steph Yang