First-year players are few and far between heading into the 2018 NWSL season. Between the crunch of roster spots and experienced players already available, rookies are going to find playing time hard to come by, much less a roster spot.
Still, there should be a handful of players that can carve out spots in the 2018 Rookie of the Year race in the NWSL. And perhaps the ultimate winner starts the season off a roster.
Below is a look at six candidates.
M Andi Sullivan, Washington Spirit
The Stanford star joins up with home side Washington Spirit after the team finished dead last in 2017. Her transition and position at the pro level is worth tracking, as she’s already earning regular call-ups to the full USWNT. Sullivan’s as steady as they come in central midfield, and is going to be part of a young and exciting Washington corp.
D Elizabeth Ball, Portland Thorns FC
Only six of the 40 players picked in the NWSL draft ended up on rosters announced at the start of this week. However, Ball was one of two undrafted free agents to make a team from day one, as the versatile center back is part of the Thorns at the start of the season. She’s almost on this list by default, considering the cupboard is so bare, and playing time is likely to be difficult. That’s not to downplay her quality, as the converted striker logged more than 7,000 minutes at the back for Penn State and could surprise given the opportunity. Of course, her status on the roster could see her nudged off if the Thorns need to make a midseason addition just as well.
M/D Rebecca Quinn, Washington Spirit
The Spirit picked Sullivan and Quinn back-to-back in the 2018 NWSL Draft, using the second overall pick to grab Quinn, a Canadian international from Duke. While Sullivan and Quinn could form an intriguing double pivot, Quinn spent time as a center back in college. If preseason is anything to go by, the rookie will learn on the job at both positions, paired with Sullivan in the midfield or in central defense. The Spirit could have some growing pains early in 2018, as they incorporate the new faces into the team, though by season’s end could develop into something special.
M/F Savannah McCaskill, Sky Blue FC
Stats are often leaned upon the most to decide individual honors, so it’s not a stretch to label McCaskill as the clubhouse favorite for top rookie honors at the start of the season. The South Carolina star was draft by the Boston Breakers before the organization folded, ending up with Sky Blue FC via the dispersal draft. A creative force in the final third, McCaskill’s bright forays with the USWNT indicate that she is up for the challenge of a new level. If she can compile goals and assists, that is certain to help her make a case for the best first-year player in the league.
F Darian Jenkins, North Carolina Courage
If McCaskill’s the favorite at the start of the season, Jenkins is the sleeper pick. Drafted last year by the Courage, Jenkins didn’t play in 2017 due to a broken leg suffered in the 2016 college season at UCLA. The high-flying forward has the traits to succeed in the NWSL – plenty of pace and athleticism. She scored four times in four games in the preseason and given the fact the Courage sits deep and looks to attack on the counter, Jenkins could thrive. Provided she’s eligible, like McCaskill, Jenkins could end up putting up the numbers that garner attention.
F Michaela Abam, Sky Blue FC
While fellow first round pick Imani Dorsey is back in school, Abam is on the Sky Blue FC roster from day one and gets the chance to team up with fellow rookie McCaskill along with the newly acquired Carli Lloyd. Abam was inconsistent at times with West Virginia, though she fits the mold of what NWSL looks for in its attackers: a good enough soccer player and a better athlete. If Abam can be consistent, she'll catch the attention of opponents and teams this season.