NWSL: Breakout Players for Each Club Ahead of the World Cup – Part 1

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 27: Houston Dash midfielder Veronica Latsko (12) moves the ball down the pitch during the soccer match between the Washington Spirit and Houston Dash on May 27, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 27: Houston Dash midfielder Veronica Latsko (12) moves the ball down the pitch during the soccer match between the Washington Spirit and Houston Dash on May 27, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

In the first of a two-part series, Rachael McKriger looks at five players from five NWSL teams that will have a breakout season in 2019 — a World Cup year.

COLUMN — The National Women’s Soccer League is about to enter its seventh-ever season. That’s a historic number for the league, as no other professional women’s soccer league has lasted in the United States that long.

This year is a particularly special year, too.

The world is experiencing another FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer in France. The league will take a 12-day break from June 3-14 for the tournament. However, the break only covers the first group stage match for all teams and only a handful of the second group stage matches.

Because of that, plenty of players are going to miss league action.

There are currently 19 countries represented in the NWSL — 11 of which have qualified for the World Cup.

Large chunks of players from Canada, Australia, Brazil and, of course, the United States will be heading to France. That gives space for other athletes and players on reserve rosters to be called up and thrust into action.

Team-by-team, here are nine players that can have a breakout season in 2019.

*Note: All of these picks are subject to change, as players could be traded before the season starts, during a summer transfer period or throughout the season.

Chicago Red Stars: Emily Boyd, Goalkeeper

Emily Boyd got some NWSL regular-season action in her first professional campaign.

Boyd was selected with the No. 15 overall pick in last year’s NWSL College Draft. She spent her college career at the University of California, Berkeley, where she made 85 appearances, recorded 297 saves, allowed 66 goals, and recorded 36 shutouts.

In the NWSL, she was chosen to be Alyssa Naeher’s backup in Chicago.

Naeher will surely be on the plane to France – seemingly as the U.S. Women’s National Team’s starting goalkeeper – so Boyd will need to be ready to step in. Last year, she made two appearances, totaling 180 minutes, recording clean sheets in both matches. She made one save against Sky Blue FC and four saves against the Washington Spirit.

It’s unlikely that Boyd would remain the starter when Naeher returns, but if she can keep up her clean sheet count, she could give Naeher some pressure. A chance to prove her value around the league for a future starting role.

Houston Dash: Veronica Latsko, Forward

Part of me wants to believe that Sofia Huerta is going to go to the World Cup. Either way, if she doesn’t, she’ll still remain a starter and a key fixture at the Houston Dash. However, forwards like Nichelle Prince of Canada, Kyah Simon of Australia and Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa are certainly bound to fly to France.

That leaves room for Veronica Latsko to start.

Latsko was one of the rookies last season to get plenty of minutes on the pitch. A former student-athlete from the University of Virginia – where she scored 26 goals in 93 appearances – Latsko started nine out of her 21 appearances in 2018. Latsko recorded four goals and slid two assists to teammates. She tied with fellow rookie Imani Dorsey of Sky Blue FC with four goals – and Dorsey ended up winning rookie of the year.

Latsko has the opportunity under new head coach James Clarkson to be a breakout star. She had a promising rookie season that included a start in her first-ever league game.

Under Vera Pauw, former Dash head coach, Latsko began seeing more playing time toward the end of the season. Now, she has the opportunity to become a regular starter.

North Carolina Courage: Yuri Kawamura, Defender

North Carolina is going to be missing a lot of players to the World Cup.

A decent chunk of the team’s attack is going to be in France, with the possibility of Jessica McDonald, Merritt Mathias and Lynn Williams finding their way onto Jill Ellis’ roster. Almost guaranteed a spot are Crystal Dunn, McCall Zerboni, Abby Dahlkemper and Samantha Mewis on the U.S. roster. Meanwhile, Debinha is bound to wound up on the Brazilian roster and Abby Erceg captains the New Zealand roster.

At 29-years-old, Yuri Kawamura is looking for a comeback season, not a breakout season. Last season, Kawamura suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the International Champions Cup final against Olympique Lyonnais.

Don’t worry about Kawamura joining the Japanese roster. She retired from international soccer in 2017 after 32 appearances. She was not on the Japanese roster that won the World Cup in 2011, but was on the 2015 roster.

Throughout her career, which started in 2002, Kawamura has made 236 competitive appearances and scored 36 goals. With the absence of Erceg, Dahlkemper and potentially Mathias, she’ll be relied on for leadership and defensive capabilities. She’ll want to have a comeback season after missing out on North Carolina’s championship run last season. After her injury, she was backed up by her teammates and head coach Paul Riley.

“Yuri has amazing resolve character, strength and fight,” Riley wrote on his personal Twitter account. “We will be with her every step of the way. She has strength and courage to return to top level.”

Now is Kawamura’s time to build up confidence and be a leader on the Courage.

Orlando Pride: Haley Kopmeyer, Goalkeeper

This situation is a lot like Boyd in Chicago – but with a different level of experience.

Haley Kopmeyer is a former started in the NWSL, as she recorded 47 appearances for the Seattle Reign from 2013-17. She remained patient, waiting behind and learning from Hope Solo. However, in 2016, after the Rio Olympics, Solo didn’t return to competition. Instead, Kopmeyer stepped into the starting role and retained it through 2017. However, in 2018, she was traded to Orlando.

There, she went back to a backup role, right behind Ashlyn Harris.

Harris is another player almost guaranteed to join the U.S. Women’s National Team roster for France. Harris had a rocky season last year. She missed a handful of matches due to injury, which resulted in Kopmeyer starting three matches, recording one clean sheet, and 14 total saves against Seattle, twice, and Sky Blue FC.

Kopmeyer could retain the starting spot, especially with the addition of a new head coach – who, as The Equalizer first reported, is slated to be current Birmingham City coach, Marc Skinner. Kopmeyer could even potentially fight her way through training camp and preseason to be the starter, although Harris being on a USWNT roster could have an influence on her being a starter.

Either way, Kopmeyer is going to be the number one with Harris at the World Cup.


Portland Thorns FC: Angela Salem, Midfielder

Just like the North Carolina Courage, the Portland Thorns FC are going to be missing a lot of players this summer.

For the USWNT, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, and Emily Sonnett are projected to head to France. Adrianna Franch has the potential to go as a backup goalkeeper to Naeher. For Australia, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord and – should she be recovered from injury – Hayley Raso are projected to be on the roster.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Andressinha can always be named to the Brazilian roster while Christine Sinclair is a safe bet for Canada.

Four of those players are midfielders. Heath and Horan, especially, will be a big dent in the midfield. However, Angela Salem is the perfect player to replace one of them. Salem was arguably the best player for the Boston Breakers in 2017. However, after the club folded, she was picked up by Portland.

Salem has competed throughout the NWSL, featuring previously for Sky Blue FC (when it was in the former WPS), Western New York Flash, Washington Spirit, and Breakers. She made five appearances last season, starting one match.

When the World Cup comes around Salem will certainly be a key fixture for Mark Parsons. An underrated player that has plenty of NWSL experience, Salem can become a real threat for a strong Portland team.

Part Two

Check back next week for Part Two with a look at players who could break out in 2019 for the Seattle Reign, Sky Blue FC, Utah Royals FC and the Washington Spirit.