FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017: No. 10, Abby Dahlkemper
U.S. women’s national team coach Jill Ellis made it clear that 2017 was going to be a time for experimentation and for broadening the player pool. Plenty of players were given opportunities and a few, like Dahlkemper, staked a claim.
Dahlkemper had only two caps coming into 2017, but by the end had earned the confidence of Ellis as the preferred center-back partner of Becky Sauerbrunn. Dahlkemper finished the year with 11 caps. As is the case with most great center backs, her consistency is her greatest attribute. Whether starting and leading her NWSL club, the North Carolina Courage to the league final or earning her first start for the U.S. team, Dahlkemper is the same player.
As much as 2017 was a breakout year for her on the international level, you could easily make the argument it wasn’t due to a massive change in form, but rather a recognition of her ability by others. She continued to show her intelligent positioning and ability to read the game, her ridiculous set piece delivery, comfort on the ball and competence in the air. She has always had great range in her passing out of the back, but in the latter part of 2017, she started to hone in on when to play those diagonals balls.
If anything should surprise you about Dahlkemper in 2017, it shouldn’t be that, in a league defined by mastery of the transition game and often exposed center backs, she stood out and led her team to back-to-back NWSL final appearances. What should surprise you is that her arrival to the U.S. senior team was perhaps the most pivotal gain in a surprisingly rocky year for the Americans.
The center back position has not been highly scrutinized by supporters, mainly due to the dominant performance of the Sauerbrunn-Julie Ertz pairing at the 2015 World Cup. Nonetheless, Ellis tinkered with it this year and Ertz fell out of favor, opening the door for Dahlkemper. Dahlkemper’s quick assimilation meant Ertz could be used in the midfield, which single-handedly turned the results of important matches. There is no certainty this move was a harbinger of next year’s lineups, but it certainly changed the likely narrative of the U.S. team in 2017.
This year, Dahlkemper laid a great base to build upon with the U.S. team as it heads into World Cup qualifying in 2018. If she stays true to form, her consistency for North Carolina and the U.S. will remain. The next layer for her is to take it another notch up in both offensive and defensive speed of play at the international level.
Aly Wagner is a special contributor to FFT USA's USWNT 50 Best countdown.