Mixed results for Canadians in NWSL this year


Canada's Christine Sinclair. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

With this being a World Cup year, it’s tough to accurately judge the contingent of Canadians competing in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Having the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June and July meant most of the players were away from their NWSL teams for much of the season and at times the transition back to the club game wasn’t easy for Canada’s national team members.

The majority of Canadians in the NWSL are allocated players, meaning they are designated to play in the league by the Canadian Soccer Association. Their salaries are also paid by the CSA. Each of the nine NWSL clubs also has four international roster spots, which can be occupied by non-American players selected in the annual college draft or signed as free agents.

Since the NWSL’s inception in 2013, a number of Canadians have come and gone. Most recently, Sophie Schmidt joined Desiree Scott in Europe, while others such as Emily Zurrer, Carmelina Moscato and Bry McCarthy were at one time allocated players.

What is clear is that only a handful of players from Canada are getting regular minutes in the NWSL this year. It’s a worrying statistic and it likely means some tough decisions are ahead for the CSA and the players when it comes to finding teams that will provide them with consistent playing time.

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of Canadians in the NWSL.

Just one Canadian has suited up for the Breakers this season. Striker Nkem Ezurike was a 2014 draft pick (8th overall) and the 23-year-old from Halifax has seen minimal playing time in 12 matches (417 minutes), scoring once and adding an assist.

She recently played for Canada at the Pan American Games and was part of a larger senior camp leading up to the Women’s World Cup.

Chicago boasts the most Canadian content in the NWSL with four players.

Forwards Adriana Leon and Melissa Tancredi have both found the back of the net for the Red Stars. They’ve proven to be complimentary scoring threats on a squad where American Christen Press leads the way with nine goals in 10 matches. Leon has been on the score sheet once in four appearances, while Tancredi has netted twice in seven games.

Rachel Quon has seen time in 16 matches for Chicago this season. While she hasn’t been the flashiest player, she’s been dependable for coach Rory Dames’ team. The defender, who is allocated by the CSA, last suited up for Canada in the fall of 2013 during a series of friendlies.

Karina LeBlanc is wrapping up her soccer career with a chance at a second NWSL championship. The veteran goalkeeper won a league title in 2013 as a member of the Portland Thorns. In Chicago, she’s split duties with Michele Dalton, but given her big game experience, LeBlanc is likely the favourite to start in the playoffs. In seven matches in 2015, she’s earned one clean sheet and has two wins.

Erin McLeod hasn’t missed a beat since the World Cup. She’s been a rock for the Dash, providing stellar goalkeeping behind a depleted backline, which has dealt with major injuries to both Lauren Sesselmann and Allysha Chapman.

Sesselmann has only played once this year for the Dash and that was prior to the World Cup. She continues to deal with a left knee meniscus injury. She is, however, very involved with the team off the pitch and was part of the club’s poignant anti-bullying campaign, where she spoke of the backlash directed at her after Canada’s loss to England in the quarterfinals.

After suffering an abdominal strain at the World Cup, Chapman has now healed and made her first start on Aug. 30 in a win against Boston.

Anything other Canadians achieved this season in the NWSL could’ve been overshadowed by a serious injury to Christine Sinclair after she was taken out by a reckless tackle in her side’s 1-0 loss to Sky Blue FC on Aug. 22. Luckily, the severity of the injury wasn’t as bad as initially thought. Word recently came down from the NWSL that Sinclair was dealing with a left ankle sprain and left Achilles tendon strain that has ruled her out for the season. She’ll finish 2015 with two goals and two assists in nine matches for the Thorns.

Kaylyn Kyle is a model of consistency for Portland. She rebounded from a hamstring problem picked up at the World Cup and has been a valued contributor. Head coach Paul Riley recently noted the midfielder’s impressive ball distribution and strength in the air.

Veteran defender Rhian Wilkinson has been on the mend since the World Cup with a thigh injury and was placed on the long term injury list.

With the departure of Sophie Schmidt, just one Canadian remains with Sky Blue FC. Jonelle Filigno has only been used sparingly in four matches (30 minutes) in 2015.

Diana Matheson has made a home for herself in the American capital. The team and fans were supportive as she nursed a number of injuries earlier this year. In her third tenure with the club, she’s scored twice in eight appearances, while providing plenty of leadership. That will come in handy with the Spirit making the playoffs for the second straight season.

She, along with Sinclair, are the only Canadian players to remain with the same clubs they were originally allocated to during the league’s inaugural season.

The Flash began 2015 with two non-allocated Canadians: rookie goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo and defender Chelsea Stewart.

Stewart, whom the Flash signed as a free agent after a trial, was released in July after three appearances (150 minutes).

D’Angelo was named the club’s starter prior to their opening match. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury kept her on the sidelines for a number of weeks and since then she’s rotated duties with Chantel Jones.

As an international player, D’Angelo told Sportsnet she has to perform well on a consistent basis and show the coaching staff she was worthy of being a college draft pick. She’s started seven times and with the Flash outside of the playoff picture, she’s one of the club’s bright spots.

Sandra Prusina is a Calgary-based writer. Follow her on Twitter

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