Ranked! Who is the best forward in the USWNT's deep, diverse pool?
8. Jessica McDonald, North Carolina Courage
McDonald used a 10-goal, nine-assist 2016 campaign with Western New York to earn her first international appearance on Nov. 10.
This year, amid injury concerns and more competition in North Carolina, McDonald’s numbers have fallen off. With four goals and two assists (18 appearances), McDonald doesn’t appear likely to get a U.S. women’s national team recall.
That’s not to say Jill Ellis couldn’t use her. Numbers be damned, McDonald is still largely the same player that competed for last season’s MVP award. She’s still a great target out of the back, decent playmaker, ferocious presser, penalty-box threat and, if you need it late, player who is capable of launching a long throw.
She is unlikely to take a starting job away from the U.S.’ bigger names. But if injuries happen, and Ellis can leverage the oversized 23-women World Cup squads to take an extra forward, McDonald’s skillset wouldn’t be the worst option.
7. Ashley Hatch, North Carolina Courage
With five goals in just over 1,000 minutes, Hatch has had a productive rookie season. Whether that’s enough to justify another look in the national team, though, is another matter.
Since making her debut with the U.S. in Oct. 2016, Hatch has yet to get another look in the squad. Given Hatch’s physical talents, though, that second look may only be a matter of time.
Her speed and tenacity going toward goal explain why she’s already averaging 3.4 shots per game, and while some of that number is because of a seeming shoot-on-sight mentality, her athleticism and attacking instincts help her generate those chances.
Her aggressiveness is part of the reason why North Carolina regularly outshoots its opposition, and although more experience in the NWSL should lead to more quality in those chances, her ability to be this prolific, this early is a good sign for the future. Once more of those shots start finding net, Hatch will get her second look.
6. Lindsey Horan, Portland Thorns
Horan has been played as a midfielder since joining the Portland Thorns last season from Paris-Saint Germain, where she proved a prolific forward. Since then, the 23-year-old has slipped deeper and deeper in coach Mark Parsons’ formation, to the point where she’s now occupying a double pivot with Amandine Henry.
For the national team, though, she has played primarily as a forward, with Ellis recently using her as the target component of a two-woman partnership with Christen Press. So far removed from her club role, it was no wonder Horan failed to distinguish herself, but her coach’s choice did highlight an ongoing problem. Horan is so versatile, and her coaches have used her in so many ways, that she may not have one true, best position.
In terms of the forward pool, that gives her a versatility that could come in handy. She can be a No. 9. She can play in tandem with another target. She can drop off and play in support and, if the formation needs to be changed on the fly, she can slide into a number of roles and save the team a substitution.
That’s not exactly the profile of a starter, right now, but it does give Ellis a lot to work with. Eventually, both club and country need to decide what Horan should become.
5. Lynn Williams, North Carolina Courage
Williams’ drop from last year’s 14-goal, six-assist, MVP-winning campaign has diminished her stock in the eyes of some, but just as with Hatch, the shot totals provide a silver lining.
Last season, on a Western New York Flash team that was consciously trying to outgun opponents, Williams averaged 3.9 shots per 90 minutes. This season, the Courage has evolved, is seeking to control play more, yet Williams is still averaging 3.5 shots per 90. And she’s doing so while continuing her relentless running, elite pressing and underrated holdup play.
With only six goals this season, Williams’ finishing has been an issue, but that gets to a point that still plagues soccer analysts: How much of what we see in a season’s worth of results is true, repeatable finishing skill, and how much is just variance?
It’s entirely possible Williams isn’t a 14-goal-per-season player. But it’s also possible she’s not the six-goals-in-18-games player she’s been in 2017. If the truth is in the middle, she is still a very good national team option.