With the most recent FIFA window behind us, National Women’s Soccer League action returns this weekend. And with it, the league is approaching an important landmark. The 100th round of regular season matches is only a month away and with nearly every team having some sort of playoff experience in the prior four seasons, clubs will be hitting the century plateau very soon. And for a one team, FC Kansas City, that 100th total match will come this weekend.
So that got us thinking. With this important landmark shortly arriving, which NWSL players will be garnering Centurion status this year and who will get there first?
With the landscape of professional women’s soccer in the United States being very turbulent since the country’s first venture in 2001, hitting 100 domestic appearances at the top level hasn’t been feasible until very recently. But with the current US entity of the professional game outlasting it’s predecessors and reaching a fifth season, that milestone has now become a reality.
All For One Club
In the first stage in the “Race to 100”, we look at players who are closing in on their 100th appearance, and in doing so, by playing only for one club. Since the league’s inception in 2013, there are less than two-dozen players who have played all five seasons with their original club.
It would come as a surprise to many that the team that finished second-from-last in that 2013 season still has the most players on their current roster from that first season. Lauren Barnes, Kiersten Dallstream, Jess Fishlock, Haley Kopmeyer, Megan Rapinoe and Elli Reed have all been retained by the Seattle Reign as the club transitioned from that rocky first season to being an annual contender for the NWSL Championship.
Leading the way for both the Reign and the entire NWSL in terms of both regular season and total appearances (which, for context in this piece, will be a combination of regular season and postseason games played), is Lauren Barnes. The former UCLA Bruin has been a constant in Laura Harvey’s defense since the organization’s opening match and has hardly left the pitch.
Barnes has amassed 93 regular season appearances and started all four playoff matches in 2015 and 2016, giving her 97 total appearances for the club. What is even more amazing for her as during this run, she has missed only one match in the clubs’ history, which came in the 2014 season, and has started all but one match that she has played in.
Another day one Reign standout that is closing in on the century mark is Jess Fishlock. Similar to Barnes, the Welsh international has been the heart and soul of the team’s setup since the club’s first match and has been a fan favorite. Fishlock sits at 90 total appearances and barring a set back, she will become the second Reign centurion by the end of the season.
Both FC Kansas City and the Portland Thorns each have multiple players that have played for their respective team since 2013 and each team has three players with 70-plus appearances for their club. The Blues have Nicole Barnhart leading the way with 93 appearances, while Erika Tymrak has 88 games under her belt and Becky Sauerbrunn, despite missing a good chunk of games for national team duties, has amassed 77 appearances. In the Rose City, Allie Long leads the Thorns with 90 total appearances, while Christine Sinclair has 75 and Mana Shim trails her by a pair of games for third most.
Throughout her career, Barnhart has been one of the most consistent contributors at the club level since her debut at this in 2009 with the WPS’ FC Gold Pride. Most notably, she has been one of the best when it matters the most, as in her eight postseason appearances between WPS and NWSL, she has been on the winning side in six of those games, with three titles to her name, and has never lost a playoff game in regulation. And even at age 35, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that she will be between the posts for a few more seasons with FCKC as her form hasn’t dipped in the slightest.
One of the designs of restoring a professional women’s soccer league in the US a decade ago was to broaden the pool of potential US National Team players while providing a place to play week in, week out on the domestic front. Plenty of players in the WPS days were rewarded with National Team opportunities for their consistent club performances and in the NWSL, that opportunity remains the same. Many people point that Allie Long’s rise to becoming a constant USWNT starter was helped by her solid performances on a weekly basis for the Thorns. Long played in 46 of a possible 49 matches in her first two seasons in Portland, and because of her consistent contributions to her club, she has since etched her name as a regular starter for the USWNT, making close to 30 appearances for her country since her first call up in 2014.
Of the rest of the original NWSL clubs, only the Washington Spirit came in as a new entity, as Boston, Chicago, Sky Blue and Western New York all had history in previous leagues (more on that in a moment). And there is only one player that remains in the nations capital from the Spirit’s inception, and that would be Tori Huster. The former Florida State Seminole originally started her career with the Western New York Flash in 2012, and since then has been a rock in the center of the park for the Spirit. She has currently amassed 87 appearances for her side, the sixth most in the league for one team, and should hit the 100 mark before the year ends.
The Teams With Previous History
Of the original eight NWSL teams, the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC and the Western New York Flash (now North Carolina Courage) all had participated in previous women’s professional leagues. While none of the players from those four franchises will reach 100 NWSL appearances by the end of the year, each team will see a player hit the century mark in career appearances across multiple leagues.
The Boston Breakers have been around since the early days of Women’s professional soccer in the United States, first fielding a team in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) in 2001. Between playing in WUSA, WPS and the NWSL, along with putting out a team in the WPSL-Elite league, which filled the gap in 2012 after WPS folded and before the NWSL came around; the Breakers have been in existence for over a dozen seasons. Which is why it is so intriguing that only one player in the clubs’ history has made over 100 appearances. That player is the legendary Kristine Lilly, who played for the Breakers for all three seasons in WUSA and two seasons in WPS before retiring in 2010, making 102 total appearances for the team across the five seasons.
Now enter Julie King, a former two-sport star at Auburn University and current captain for the Breakers. She has been with the club since that WPSL-Elite season in 2012 and is currently sitting on 95 total appearances, tied for second most in franchise history. She is poised to pass Lilly’s appearance mark by the end of the summer, which is a feat in itself due to the journey King has endured since arriving in 2012.
During her tenure in Boston, the Breakers have experienced more than their fare share of rough patches, including the hiring and firing of a couple of head coaches, and are the only original NWSL club yet to experience playoff soccer.
But King has stayed the course with the team throughout the process and has risen through the ranks, eventually earning the captain’s armband and having guided the Breakers to a decent start in 2017, sitting only five points out of a playoff position.
The Chicago Red Stars, similar to the Breakers, fielded a team both in the WPS days and the WPSL-Elite season prior to joining the NWSL ranks. While no current Red Stars players date back to their WPS days, Alyssa Mautz has been plying her trade in the Windy City since that 2012 WPSL-Elite season.
In addition to her 80 NWSL total appearances, she featured in 13 games in the Red Stars run to the 2012 WPSL-Elite title, which ultimately fell short in the final as they lost to the Western New York Flash on penalties. [Editor’s note: A sincere hat tip goes to Breakers Communication Director Ryan Wood and the Red Stars Communications team of Justyne Freud and Paige Ziegler, as they were a massive help in obtaining accurate statistics from that 2012 WPSL-Elite season].
Unlike the previous two teams in this section, Sky Blue did not field a team in that WPSL-Elite season, but have been in existence since the first WPS season, including winning that 2009 WPS title in dramatic fashion by winning three straight road playoff matches in eight days.
Leading the charge then for Sky Blue, and still to this day, is Christie Pearce. The legendary center back has been played in every season of US professional women’s soccer, including being a player-coach for the team during that WPS title run while being three months pregnant in doing-so, and has featured for the New Jersey based side for seven of those seasons (’09-’10, ’13-present).
She has amassed a whopping 111 career appearances for Sky Blue during that time and that number may very well be the most appearances any player has ever made for one club in US Women’s professional club soccer history. And who knows, judging by the fact that she still can track down attackers half her age, she could very well keep playing for Sky Blue beyond this season.
Taking Multiple Routes to Get to 100
While this piece features the players who are approaching the 100-appearance milestone for one club, it should be noted that another half-dozen players are also closing in on the century mark, but in doing so by playing with more than one team. It is still an accomplishment to reach this mark, regardless of how many teams a player has featured for, because in the young history of this league, these players have been impact players wherever their travels took them.
Those players are:
– Christine Nairn (Seattle ’13, Washington ’14-16, Seattle ’17-pres) – 96 games
– McCall Zerboni (Western New York ’13-14, Portland ’15, Boston ’16, Western New York/North Carolina ’16-pres) – 95 games
– Brittany Taylor (Western New York ’13-’15, FC Kansas City ’16-pres) – 93 games
– Jessica McDonald (Chicago/Seattle ’13, Portland ’14, Houston ’15, Western New York/North Carolina ’16-pres) – 90 games
– Merritt Mathias (FC Kansas City ’13-’14, Seattle ’15-pres) – 89 games
– Angela Salem (Western New York ’13-’14, Washington ’15, Boston ’16-pres) – 87 games
– Jasmyne Spencer (Washington ’13, Western New York ’14-’15, Orlando ’16-pres) – 87 games
A couple of notes about this group. Every player in has reached the NWSL playoffs at least once, except for Jasmyne Spencer. During her time in the league, the hard-luck striker has never been on a team that has finished higher than 7th in a season, despite scoring 10 goals in her career and never failing to register a point every year.
In Brittany Taylor’s run, she has started and played the full 90 in every match of her career and has only missed three matches (one in ’13, two in ’15) overall.
Zerboni has also had an interesting streak in her own right, as not only is she closing in on 100 career NWSL appearances, she is also one appearance away from 100 for the Western New York Flash, now North Carolina Courage. After two seasons in WPS, she joined the expansion Flash ahead of the 2011 season and helped them win the league championship, appearing in 15 total games.
She then played in 15 matches for the Flash in their WPSL-Elite title-winning 2012 season, before making 60 appearances across two stints in their NWSL era. Since the franchise relocated to North Carolina, Zerboni has started all nine games for the team, giving her the total of 99 appearances between the two clubs and will hit a pair of milestones in the coming weeks.