When the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs commence on Friday, Sept. 30 (8 p.m. ET on FS1) as the Washington Spirit host the Chicago Red Stars, and on Sunday, Oct. 2 (5 p.m. ET; FS1) when the Portland Thorns welcome the Western New York Flash, 11 U.S. Women’s National Team players will see action with their respective teams as they compete against each other for a chance to claim the coveted NWSL Championship trophy.
The NWSL recently completed its historic fourth season, and amidst tough competition and passionate rivalries, four teams rose above the rest: Portland Thorns FC, Washington Spirit, Chicago Red Stars and Western New York Flash.
The Thorns lead the way with five WNT players, while the Red Stars have three, the Spirit has two and Western New York has one. All 11 players are of course key contributors to their clubs, which only strengthens the already existing bond between a domestic professional league in the USA and the National Team.
We take a look at the WNT players on each playoff team and look back at their NWSL regular season performances:
Portland Thorns FC
- Tobin Heath: Heath’s excellent year on the field has certainly drawn acclaim for her play both for club and the National Team. In 14 games played this season for PTFC, Heath set up 10 goals, a new Thorns and NWSL record for most assists in a single year, which has placed her in the running for the 2016 NWSL Most Valuable Player award. A handful of those assists were for her club and country teammates, Allie Long and Lindsey Horan. In addition to her assists record, Heath has scored one goal for Portland, and scored four goals while recording seven assists for the USA. The latter includes this perfect pass to Carli Lloyd in the WNT’s most recent game against the Netherlands on Sept. 18 in Atlanta.
- Lindsey Horan: Horan, who just completed her first regular season in the NWSL after playing professionally in France for three years, started and appeared in 15 games for the Thorns, scoring five goals. Out of those five, her most important one probably came this past Sunday when her diving header found the back of the net for the game-winning goal in the 3-1 Portland victory against SBFC that clinched the 2016 NWSL Shield. Horan has scored two goals for the USA this year, adding four assists and appearing in all but one game.
Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett will both play in their first NWSL post season this year for the Portland Thorns
- Allie Long: Long has credited the NWSL and the Portland Thorns with tremendous value in helping her grow as a player. After a two-year hiatus from international soccer, Long got called back into the WNT mix in April and quickly earned a starting spot. Long finished the Thorns’ regular season with six goals and two assists in 15 games (playing every minute), with all six goals coming over the final five games of the season. She has 28 career regular-season goals, which ranks in the top three all-time in the NWSL and is in the running for the 2016 NWSL Most Valuable Player award. Additionally, she notched her first international goal for the USA back in April 6, 2016 against Colombia, and now has three goals and two assist in her blossoming National Team career.
- Meghan Klingenberg: Her savvy and gritty play has made her a staple in the Portland backline where she has started all 14 regular season games in which she appeared. Additionally, she has played 20 games for the USA in 2016, including 18 starts while recording four assists.
- Emily Sonnett: In her debut NWSL season, the No. 1 overall pick of the NWSL draft quickly established herself as a starter from the get-go, featuring in the starting XI in all 15 games she played in, and logging in all 1350 minutes – tied for fourth-most minutes on the team with Allie Long. She is up for the 2016 NWSL Rookie of the Year award.
- Crystal Dunn: After winning the 2015 NWSL MVP award, Dunn came back this year full of confidence and has continued to shine on the field. Despite not lighting up the league in goals like she did last year, she has played a key role in the Spirit’s excellent season while scoring two goals with five assists in 13 games. Dunn has certainly shone brightly for the National Team, scoring 12 goals in 2016, third-most on the team (and including a five-goal game), recording five assists, and appearing in all 21 games for the WNT (only other player to do so is Press).
Crystal Dunn has scored 12 goals for the USA and twice for the Washington Spirit in 2016
- Ali Krieger: Krieger will captain the Washington Spirit as they go into the playoffs for the third consecutive year and will hope to go one step further this time around, making the championship game and competing for the league title. Krieger is part of a strong Washington backline that allowed just five goals at home all season, the fewest in the league. She started 14 games in the regular season and notched one goal to help the Spirit claim a home playoff game for the first time in franchise history. Krieger has appeared in 16 games for the USA this year. She made her Olympic debut against Colombia on Aug. 9, 2016, becoming the oldest first-time women’s soccer Olympian in U.S. history.
Chicago Red Stars
- Julie Johnston: She appeared and started in 12 games this season for the Red Stars and played every minute in all of those matches. She marshalled a back line in front of first year Red Star and fellow WNT teammate, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Johnston has scored three goals in 2016 for the WNT – the highest number of any defender on the roster – but has not found the net for the Red Stars this season. She will be looking not only to keep her net clean, but the playoffs would be a prime time to tally her first club goal of 2016. Furthermore, Johnston is up for the 2016 NWSL Defender of the Year award.
- Christen Press: A dynamic attacker with a tremendous shot with either foot, she has scored six goals for the USA this year and leads Chicago with eight goals (fifth-best in the league) in 14 games. Additionally, Press leads the league on shots on goals (39) and is in second behind WNY’s Lynn Williams in shots taken with 62. She is also in the running for the 2016 NWSL Most Valuable Player award. Press, who is one of only two players to have appeared in every WNT match in 2016, will captain the Red Stars into the post-season. She has 35 goals in 76 caps for the WNT.
Alyssa Naeher is up for the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award after earning a
league-leading six clean sheets with the Red Stars in 2016
- Alyssa Naeher: Acquired by Chicago from Boston for the 2016 season, Naeher started in all 13 games she appeared on this year, recording six clean sheets and tied for first place in the league. She is up for the 2016 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award. Naeher has also started three games for the USA this year and has a 3-0-0 record while allowing only one goal.
Western New York Flash
- Samantha Mewis: In just her second NWSL season, Mewis started all 14 games she played for Western New York this year and scored five goals, third-most on the team. She has played in 10 games for the WNT in 2016 and scored her first international goal this year – a long-range shot from just inside the box against Puerto Rico during Olympic Qualifying.